Join Me in My Foray Into Composting
City dwellers can do it, too.
Published Feb 12, 2020 12:00 AM
I’ve dutifully forsaken plastic coffee cups and straws for their reusable counterparts. All my lightbulbs are LED. I’ve pledged to only buy secondhand wherever possible, and I never go grocery shopping without my canvas tote bag. But the farther down the climate change–related panic spiral I fall, the more conscious I am about all the little things I’m not regularly thinking about. For example, food waste. As someone who can count on one hand the number of times she’s used Postmates (choice overload!), I generate a lot of it cooking at home. So I made a decision: It was time to start composting.
Organic waste in landfills is a big generator of methane, according to the EPA. Composting helps reduce it, though there is another benefit: If you have a backyard, it’s basically gardening gold. (Compost is a cheap, homemade alternative to regular fertilizers, lessening the need for them while still enriching the soil with nutrients.) I wanted in, but there was one minor roadblock in my way: I live in a small, six-floor walk-up in New York City—an area not exactly conducive to the activity.
That’s where Bamboozle’s countertop bin comes in. Available in two colors and made from biodegradable, durable bamboo fibers, it’s both eco-friendly and stylish. I love that the lid includes an odor-blocking carbon filter, so it can stay safely perched atop my rolling cart without making my kitchen smell like a walk-in trash can. I chose the white option and welcomed it home.
Armed with my sleek new tool and some basic information, I started my monthlong investigation into the art of city-friendly composting.
Assemble Your Ingredients
The secret formula for a healthy compost is 25 parts carbon-rich (or “brown”) material to 1 part nitrogen-rich (or “green”) material. (Others recommend a 4:1 ratio, but the gist is you want significantly more brown than green.) Brown items tend to be on the drier side—paper, straw, crunchy leaves, and vegetable stalks. Green things are mostly kitchen scraps—coffee grounds, eggshells, fruit waste—but can also include grass clippings and fresh leaves.
Since I live in a city famously not renowned for its natural wonders, gathering these materials mostly entailed me running around Central Park, scavenging for fallen leaves and hoping that they hadn’t been used by a dog in need of a toilet. Not ideal, but they got the job done. I also tossed in some paper towels and newspaper clippings, preshredded for a seamless breakdown process. The green bits were easier to gather—everything from my morning dark roast grinds to pear peels found their way into the bin.
Wait and Watch the Magic Happen
I’ve been at this for just about a month, and while my pile definitely isn’t at the finished stage (which should apparently look something like crumbly topsoil), I can already see the breakdown starting. Two key factors that make this process easier: Keeping your compost in a warmer area and being sure to “turn” it—for a countertop composter, this means mixing—about once a week.
The downside to apartment composting: Smaller piles generally take longer than their larger, backyard counterparts. Lucky for me, this isn’t a problem since I don’t have any pressing gardening projects that require fresh compost.
Choose a Best Disposal Method
This was my biggest question mark heading into this experiment—it’s not like I have a yard in which to deposit my eco-friendly creation. I did some digging (no pun intended) and came up with a few options.
- Portion it off for windowsill greenery. For me, that’s my herb babies: tiny terracotta pots of rosemary, basil, and thyme that line my kitchen’s windows and will likely need a nutrient boost post-winter.
- Donate it to the neighborhood. Most cities have some form of community garden, and depending on the rules, you may be able to use your goods there.
- Drop off the scraps. One of my favorite New York City fixtures is the weekend farmers’ markets—and it turns out, some of these locations have compost drop-off bins. Check your local spot to see if something similar exists.
- Request a brown bin. Another NYC-specific feature is the Organics Collection Program, although most major cities have something similar; CompostNow is a good resource. Domino lifestyle editor Rebecca Deczynski swears by this method. She brings her compost to municipal containers every week, which are then taken to regional composting facilities—in some cases, it’s even converted to renewable energy. Win-win.
Ready to take the plunge? Here are a few other small space–friendly compost bins I considered. Pick your favorite and start saving those leftovers from your morning smoothie.
See more ways to be eco-friendly this year: The First Step to Going Low Waste Is Surprisingly Simple A $40 Tool That Will Make Every Load More Sustainable Yes, You Can Recycle That