Composting Can Make You Feel Better About Your Garbage

It’s no small feat to get a group of people, big or small, to adopt new behaviors. Thankfully, we’re adaptable creatures and, before long, ideas that seemed ludicrous at first become the norm.

Think about kids rolling around in the way-back of a station wagon barreling down the highway—that seems alien today. Or how a night out used to mean you’d practically need to burn your clothes because they stank of smoke. Recycling has become so normal today that I cringe whenever there’s only a single garbage can on hand.

Will composting be our next societal adaptation?

Americans generate more than 250 million tons of trash per year. Thirty-five percent of that is recycled, but that leaves the vast majority of our refuse in landfills.

Thankfully there’s action to take, whether you’re a homeowner or a renter. Composting is a fantastic way to keep organics—like food scraps, napkins and lots more—out of landfills and put to good use. And getting started is easier than you think.

(Video by Trevor Vaubel)

If you’re a homeowner:

Green America offers a helpful rundown of your options for composting, from a low-maintenance pile tucked away in the corner of your yard to a tumbling barrel to help speed the composting process along.

You can find these bins at your local garden stores or you can order them online from sites like Amazon. Before you make the purchase, check with your local garbage company, public works or recycling association. The county where I live offers discounted compost bins for residents.

Eggs, pineapple and other organics collected to compost. Rewire PBS Our Future Composting
TIL that egg shells are a welcome addition to the compost heap.

Depending on where in your yard you place your pile or bin, you might find it helpful to have a countertop collection container. Ecokarma offers reviews of 10 different countertop options. I use the Exaco Kitchen Compost Waste Collector and found that, while it works well to contain smells, we have had some issues with gnats when we haven’t been diligent enough in our walks to the holding bin.

Don’t stop at food scraps when you think of composting. You can add your lawn clippings and other yard waste to your collection pile or bin, too. Just make sure larger pieces have been chopped or shredded first.

If you’re an apartment dweller:

Worm composters are one of the go-to methods for people who want or need to compost indoors or who don’t generate a high volume of organic waste.

A worm bin like the Worm Factory 360 has a small footprint and can be used year round with monthly compost harvests. The worms, red wrigglers that you can find at bait shops or from some online retailers, are so efficient at their work that odors aren’t an issue. Just keep an eye on the temperature, these little guys like it warm (65 to 75 degrees).

Collection services and locations

You can still reduce your landfill footprint without indoor worms or trips to a yard-side compost pile. A 2015 survey by BioCycle identified 198 communities with curbside collection of food scraps, serving almost 3 million households. And some organizations are now making it even easier, providing a bin and offering a pickup service on a regular schedule. Other communities might not offer door-to-door service but do have collection sites where you can drop off your organics.

A line of community organics recycling cans. Rewire PBS Our Future Composting
No garden? No problem. Recycling your food waste doesn’t mean you yourself have to compost.

The accumulated compost mountains built by these types of collection services are so large and generate so much heat as they decompose that you can often include meat and bones in with your fruit and veggie scraps.

To take advantage of these services, use a countertop collection bin like the Exaco I mentioned above or one provided by your composting service. Freezer composting is another method, where you avoid any possible smells and gnats by collecting your organics in your freezer until your drop-off or pick-up day.

As tricky as you make it

Composting can be as complex or as simple as you make it. You can simply dig a trench in your yard and dump it and forget it or collect your scraps and drop them off somewhere on your way to work. Or you can more actively manage your compost pile to ensure it creates a rich resource for your garden.

Whichever route you choose, any action taken will help reduce our dependence on landfills. And while it might seem hard to get started, before long composting will take as much brain power as putting on your seatbelt.

Marissa Blahnik

Marissa identifies as a Leo, an only child, a Jersey girl, a musical theater geek, a media producer and a champion of cheese. She cut her teeth with Court TV’s documentary unit in NYC, earned her stripes developing cable programming with Powderhouse Productions in Boston and in 2009 jumped into public media with Twin Cities PBS in Saint Paul. She’s adapted well to the North Coast lifestyle and thinks everyone needs a little hygge in their heart.