A new fact for foodies: Composting is the most direct way you can impact climate change, says Shawn Garcia, former director of the Lower East Side Composting Project and Democratic district leader in New York. Why? Doing so can reduce food waste, limit methane gas emissions, help grow plants in fertile soil, and even give back to your community. Benefits big and small abound, but getting started can be daunting.
Not to mention, the best planet-friendly methods vary depending on your living situation. If you're a city dweller with limited space, a countertop compost bin is a must. Country living? Take advantage of your wide open range by creating a dedicated composting area. And for the suburbanites, it's easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy (quite literally, pea scraps and lemon carcasses are both compostable!) to level up your backyard garden.
Ahead, experts explain how to turn trash into a new kind of treasure, wherever you live:
If you live in the suburbs...
1. Get worms in on the action.
The little slimy guys eat your leftovers, converting that waste into finished compost, says Garcia.
Order a pound of worms online, then put them in a plastic container with moist, carbon-rich materials like cardboard or paper (outside works just fine, if you’re not into sharing your home with crawly companions!). Toss in your scraps as needed, and in about a month—voila!—fresh compost.
2. Harness plant power.
Green thumbs, unite! Once you’ve made your compost, amp up the health of your home garden by mixing the compost into your existing soil to create an enriched mix, says environmental scientist Laura Young, a sustainability communicator. Hot tip: Stir in the 'post thoroughly (get those hands dirty!), don’t just plop it on top.
3. Drop off your debris.
If you have compost to spare, find a local drop-off center. Check with your city or town council to locate yours and get involved. "It’s a great way to build community around battling climate change," Garcia says. Simply store your compost in a small bin, then drop it off on a weekly basis. Even better: Volunteer to help your compost site turn, chop, and use the organic waste in local soil.
If you live in a city...
1. Invest in a compost bin.
You might not have a full-on garden (or TBH, any outdoor space) to dump food waste in, but you'll almost definitely have room for a small electric composting bin, like the Lomi ($499, pela.earth/lomi). It does the dirty work for you while sitting pretty on your counter, says Young.
2. Freeze your food.
If you don’t want to invest in a fancy bin, put your prep or leftover scraps in a small reusable plastic bag and store in the freezer, Garcia says. That will save you precious counter space and kill fruit fly larva, so you can avoid explaining about "that smell" to guests.
3. Subscribe to a service.
Programs like BK ROT pay teens from underserved communities to pick up food waste from your home, says NYC councilmember and BK ROT founder Sandy Nurse. "This should be a job," she adds, explaining that cities should invest in programs that pay thriving wages to people who maintain composting systems, since they have such a crucial environmental impact.
In the meantime, it's a good idea to donate what you can to your local composting program as well as using it to show community leaders it's a necessary and valued service. Every pickup program has different standards, so check terms before subscribing.
If you live in the countryside...
1. Embrace your space.
Lots of acres = lots of opportunity for composting. Find an open area on your land that sits in direct sunlight, Young says. Get large wooden pallets to create an enclosed compost structure, then dump in your scraps as needed, being sure to mix it regularly.
2. Plan(t) ahead.
Determine where you’ll grow plants or crops next season, then throw your compost and scraps in that general area—no need to "be tidy" with it, Young says. Rotate and break up what you dispose of a few times per year. When you're ready to plant, rich soil will be waiting.
3. Diversify your fertilizer.
You likely have bushels of trees, branches, and grass to add to your compost, but "make sure you’re not letting that greenery just sit on its own," says Young. That can create a nitrate-heavy formula with a nutrient makeup that inhibits plant growth. Balance out that nitrogen with carbon-based products, like paper and cardboard, for a healthy mix.
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