Worrying about the local and global impacts of our trash? Wish you could reduce your trash by a quarter and decrease your greenhouse gas emissions overnight without too much work? You’re in luck! From the local to the global, composting your food scraps does all that and more.
Starting July 1, 2020, Vermont law will require us to keep food scraps out of the trash. It’s easy to get started composting. First, find a medium-sized bucket with a lid for your kitchen scraps. Keep it on the counter, under the sink, or next to your chopping area. You can repurpose an old bucket or tub (e.g. large sauce or peanut butter) or buy a nice one. If you have a dishwasher, it’s convenient to use something that fits. Empty the container before your food scraps get funky and give it a quick wash before you refill it. The lid and washing take care of odor, but to contain smells even more, store your food scraps in the freezer or cover them with a layer of coffee grounds, wood shavings, sawdust, or dried leaves. To make it easier to clean the tub, put a handful of dry plant material in the bottom of the empty tub, too.
You have choices on how to get your scraps composted. Many people love to compost at home, where they can watch their food scraps shrink and turn into “black gold,” every gardener’s dream. Others prefer to let someone else compost, so they drop their scraps off or get them picked up from home. Every transfer station in Vermont accepts food scraps for composting, as do many compost facilities, and some other sites.
Your neighbors, local waste district or town (find at 802recycles.com), or your transfer station attendant can tell you where you can drop-off food scraps in your area or if there is a compost pick-up in town. Many waste districts teach free backyard composting workshops and sell discounted backyard compost bins.
If your office doesn’t have a compost bin, it’s easy to bring bananas peels and tea bags home in empty lunch containers, or maybe you can start a program. Someone at your office might be happy to bring food scraps home or you might be able to hire a hauler to pick up the scraps. You can find a food scrap hauler at VTrecycles.com. If you’re on the road, keep an eye out for a green bin or apple core symbol — those often label food scrap bins.
Finished compost has many amazing properties—it’s full of nutrients, so it restores depleted soils and feeds plants. It’s relatively stable, so it stores carbon in the soil as well. It also absorbs and holds onto water, a key benefit during hot summers and droughts. Compost balances soil chemistry, promotes a healthy soil ecosystem, and more. Even if you don’t compost and garden at home, it feels grounding to be part of this cycle from plant to eater to soil to plant.
Finally, composting your food scraps instead of trashing them reduces climate-warming emissions from the landfill. Food scraps in the landfill produce methane, a greenhouse gas 84 times more powerful than CO2 over a 20-year period. (In contrast, composted food scraps release CO2 as they decompose. For plants, they took that CO2 out of the atmosphere as they grew.)
Once you start composting, it’s hard to go back — I know from experience. It’s empowering to shrink your trash by a third, and it feels good knowing your food scraps will restore soils. This summer join the 60% to 70% of Vermonters who already compost. Learn more about composting and other ways to reduce your waste and handle it safely at VTrecycles.com.
Emma Stuhl works for the Solid Waste Program of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.