No, this is not a blog post about my deep-rooted philosophical musings, its not a deconstructionist critique of banana peels, or a rotting pile of irony. I really only included the word "postmodern" in the title because I thought it had a nice ring to it, but now I'm stuck with it so I might as well find a way to tie it into what this post is actually about, which is...
But we're not there yet; bear with me.
Because I'm sure you're burning with curiosity, allow me to philosophize for moment. Postmodernism a slippery term that represents a broad reactionary movement rather than a definitive concept. To put it simply, it is a mode of discourse that reflects an attitude of skepticism toward grand modernist and enlightenment ideologies, characterized by a rejection of intrinsic meaning and the universal validity of binary oppositions, identity, hierarchy, and categorization. Postmodernism says that experience is subjective and truth is relative, and that eclecticism and diversity hold greater value than the "progress" and cultural homogenization that defined the modern era and have shaped much of the way America and the economic power houses of the world have developed.
So how does this relate to composting? In his paper, Changes in Waste Recycling and Composting Practices Associated with the Stages of Economic Development, A.T.M. Nurul Amin posits that, "monopolistic production structure and absence of an egalitarian distribution system, particularly from the global viewpoint, have led to centralization of production and an unequal distribution system with the resulting effect of an affluent life-style that has become environmentally unsustainable and lack of meaning in the quality of life." In reaction to this, postmodernism and its critique of urban-industrial development has paved the way for the environmental consciousness that so many of our generation share and cultivate. "The postmodernist view, attitude and enlightenment have been changing the life-style of a good proportion of citizens who tend to consume less, generate less waste, discard less, reuse more, recycle more and give more to others who do not have enough" (Amin 2006).
Look at that, I tied it in! Apologies if that got heavy. I, too, went into this expecting a playful composting experiment. The fun stuff is coming, I promise. But, now we both have a rudimentary understanding of the ties between postmodernism and the environmental movement! You're welcome.
Despite our best efforts, we throw away an obscene amount of food, the majority of which ends up in landfills where it most definitely will not decompose nor become radiant nutrient-dense soil. Researchers estimate that collectively, as Americans, we waste about 55 million tons of food a year, or 40 percent of the food supply. When food in landfills begins to rot, it releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas. In fact, combined with producing and processing, food waste makes up nearly 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, according to CleanMetrics CEO Kumar Venkat.
Here's a scary chart on greenhouse gas emissions from wasted food.
So what can we do? Well, you've probably heard a lot of the working solutions already. Go plant-based (the majority of that food waste is made up of animal products, which require far more resources and energy to produce), buy less and be more intentional about what you do purchase, use services like Imperfect Foods to reduce corporate waste. But if you're still finding wilted greens and moldy tomatoes in your kitchen at the end of the week, then try composting! Turn those icky neglected veggies into beautiful organic soil!
If you live on a farm or are a suburban garden fairy, chances are you already compost in some way to supplement animal feed or fertilize crops. Us urbanites, however, may not be so familiar with the practice. I was lucky enough to grow up with an avid gardener as a father and have been composting most of my life, but I recently realized how disconnected I was from the actual process. We had a bucket in the kitchen for collecting scraps and a pile out back that I would occasionally dump the bucket contents onto, but my dad took care of the science. Now I find myself living in an urban apartment trying to seek out methods of leading a more eco-lovin' life, so it's time to figure this shit out for myself. With bae's help, of course.
There are myriad ways to compost in both urban and rural environments and I did a fair amount of research before my ADHD fully took over and I found myself falling down the rabbit hole of postmodernism. I never claimed to be neurotypical so you're just going to have to deal with that. Anywho, the least involved option I found was a subscription to a compost collection service. These are super convenient, you pay for a subscription and they give you a bin and pick up your compost just like garbage and recycling services. Most compost collection services even allow you access to a certain amount of the completed compost for use in your own garden. If you're feeling slightly more active, most also have drop-off sites. Some such services in the Greater Cincinnati area include Better Bin Compost, GoZERO, Local Compost, and Queen City Commons. If this doesn't fit into your budget, I encourage you to do some research into your own neighborhood to see if there is a community garden or compost pile you could bring your scraps to. I'm in full project mode at this point and am a big fan of convenience (read: I want to throw my scraps out in my backyard without taking off my pajamas), so I'm opting to go full DIY.
I have access to a small shared backyard space but it's not large enough to start an uncontained pile so I set about looking for bins. I found tumblers and hot composters and bins with fancy drawers at the bottom but all these ranged from about $85 to $200.
Here's what we did instead:
Bought a bin! We're making a knock-off tumbler so we opted for a round bin with a secure lid. We were hoping to find one with wheels to make life a little easier but that wasn't in the cards. We went ahead and grabbed a few bricks while we were out as well.
Drilled lots of holes in the bin. The compost needs plenty of air and drainage to properly transform into rockin' soil. Make sure you do this on pavement or over a tarp to collect all the little bitty bits of plastic!
Set bin on top of bricks. We're all about that drainage, remember? This will help prevent excess moisture from getting trapped in the bin.
Filled her up! This is where the real fun begins. Composting isn't just about throwing a bunch of food scraps into a bin and calling it a day, there is a science to it. Like a delicious cake (or an onion if you're of the ogre persuasion), compost bins have l a y e r s. They also require the proper ratio of nitrogen to carbon, most recommend 1:2 or 1:3 in terms of volume, but more on that later.
Let's start with the layers:
Sticks & Twigs
Brown Material (we used smaller twigs, dry brush, dead leaves, and shredded egg carton)
Green Material (food scraps & lawn clippings
You'll want to moisten the dry materials and water the contents of the bin from time to time.
Now back to those ratios. Nitrogen and carbon are typically referred to as green and brown material, respectively, and both are vital to the decomposition process. It's important to remember to add brown material to your bin every time you throw in food scraps, or green material, to maintain the proper ratio (1:2 or 1:3). Too much green material and your bin will begin to stink to the high heavens and attract all sorts of hungry little critters. Here is a great graphic from NPR's Life Kit to help break it down. Pretty pictures always make things easier to understand, and your brain must be tired from all that postmodernism talk.
We're coming up on fall (I know, what the hell, right?) so as the trees shed their leaves, consider stockpiling some to use to offset the green material throughout the winter!
Compost needs to be aerated every so often, which is why we went for a round bin. All we have to do is turn it on its side and roll it around a bit. In a few months, we'll have some luscious homegrown soil!
We use a small counter-top bin to collect scraps throughout the day and then dump them out every few days. This is the one we use. It comes with a charcoal filter in the lid to allow airflow while controlling any smells. Not sure what you can compost? Here's another handy graphic that sparks joy.
And there you have it! DIY Compost Tumbler checked off the list. One step closer to saving the world. If you don't have any outside space, you can create a mini version of this to keep on your balcony, or somewhere inside if you're brave. Here's a great tutorial. Now instead of filling landfills with our food scraps, we can return them to mama earth.
Check in on my Instagram page @hoopyruby for updates on our composting journey and remember,
"We don't need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly." ~Anne-Marie Bonneau, Zero Waste Chef
Need a more in-depth guide or help troubleshooting? Here you go!
Do you have any tips, questions, or funny stories about composting? Let me know in the comments!