Thanksgiving is a joyous time of year to celebrate our abundance. Unfortunately, much of it goes out with the trash after the gathering. “Two hundred million pounds of turkey thrown out, alongside more than 150 million pounds of side dishes like veggies and potatoes and 14 million pounds of dinner rolls,” laments the Center for Biological Diversity, a sustainability-focused nonprofit. In addition to the tremendous waste of food and money, this organic refuse also generates methane in our landfills, a contributor of greenhouse gasses. Composting is one approach to reducing this problem.
California, which already has robust recycling mandates, decided to add green waste to its requirements, starting in 2022. It’s still being rolled out across the state, with some areas not yet up and fully running. While California was the first state to implement this requirement, it likely won’t be the last.
According to Better Earth, an environmental organization focused on packaging and global issues, “Major cities like Seattle, Austin, Portland, Boulder, Denver, New York City and more are launching or even mandating city-wide composting programs.” Can Washington State or Oregon be far behind California, with New York and Colorado becoming eventual players too? What starts in California rarely ever stays there.
What does this composting rule mean for the single family or multi-family resident? It likely means having a place in your kitchen for scraps between trips to the curb or community bin. The approaches will vary. Here are some options to consider for your convenience, kitchen style and capability. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all option because everyone cooks differently, has differently sized spaces, gardening needs, and trash schedules.
If you have a garden, you might already be composting. In fact, you might have a much more elaborate setup than the type described in this piece. Kitchen composting capability is not a substitute; it’s a convenience for those without gardens or year-round composting.
Benefits include better plant growth, soil enrichment (which adds nutrients to your produce), water absorption for keeping plants from drying out too quickly and naturally suppressing weeds and pests, according to the US Composting Council, a trade organization for the composting industry. Reducing the need for pesticides and improving the quality of your plants have definite health benefits.
The most basic kitchen solution is to use one of the lidded plastic baskets being made available for free by municipalities in which composting is now required. They’re often distributed at farmer’s markets and similar events, and can be stored in a cabinet or even your fridge or freezer, depending on space. (I keep mine in my mostly-empty freezer.) You want this receptacle to be convenient to where you prep your food, so you can easily scrape compostable foods into it.
There are bins you can purchase from home stores (for about $25 to $60) that offer carbon filters and/or replaceable liners and/or sealing lids for better odor reduction and storage needs between trash days. These units don’t compost, but they do make composting requirements more convenient.
There are now countertop appliances made for ‘composting’ your kitchen scraps. Purists will say they’re not truly composting your waste, and at least one manufacturer advises mixing the output from their machines with potting soil before adding it to your plants. There are various appliances on the market for this purpose and, as it’s a relatively new category, they tend to be costly, ($250 or more), and are still being refined.
That being said, these machines are a tidy way of processing and condensing your food waste to reduce trips to the curbside bin. They do take up a bit of room on your countertop, if that’s where you’re using it, and can be heavy if you’re planning on moving it into a cabinet between uses, but if you have the room, they’re sleek and reduce the volume of food waste and the inconvenience of dealing with it.
A stylish option is to have a receptacle for holding food scraps built in. Some are designed to be installed in a cabinet. Others go into a countertop. If you’re not planning on remodeling your kitchen or replacing your tops, adding a composting bin to a cabinet with an organizing accessory is the easiest option.
Putting it close to where you prep your meals – ideally close to a sink – is going to be the most efficient. These will cost several hundred dollars ($400 or more), plus installation if you’re not doing it yourself.