Friday, April 6, 2007

City-Wide Composting

Hi, my name is Molly, and I am pleased to be living in a city where:

  • I don’t need a car (can get by walking and taking the bus)
  • They’ve just passed a law prohibiting plastic bags (see Sara’s earlier post with her appropriate concerns about replacing these with other disposable items).
  • There is city-wide composting!

If you guessed I live in San Francisco, that blustery coastal bastion of liberalism and yes, hippies, you're right. But once again, this hippie haven is leading the nation to greater environmental and consumer awareness.

City-Wide Composting!!

It’s true. The city provides complementary plastic bins where you can put ALL food scraps. This includes usually-unorthodox items for compost like meat, cheese, grains and even brown paper! I think this is because these items do biodegrade and relatively quickly, but they emit a bad odor, which is why they’re not recommendable for household composting systems.

So San Franciscans dump their food scraps into these green bins, which get collected along with the garbage, and all this compost is shipped off to one of three locations, all less than 70 miles away, where organic farms dump all the compost into these long bags and pump them with oxygen.

This aeration speeds up the decaying process. When you compost in your backyard, the matter goes through the same process, just more slowly. Because the aerating machines require energy, I see this as a slight kink in the system, but it's still far better than other systems that do not productively use this delicious, carbon-rich matter! The thoroughly converted matter—having spent but two short months in the conversion process—is then used as top-notch fertilizer for organic farms! One lucky farm in particular, Jepsen Prairie Organics, facilitates this whole composting process and sells the compost to other organic farms. I’ll say that’s a sweet deal they’ve got! These organic farms then sell their goods to, hopefully, San Franciscans and other locals. In theory, this is a closed-loop local food production system, and proponents claim it is. For more info., check it out:

If you do NOT live in San Francisco or a city with a composting system, do not despair! You, too, can compost! You have a few options:

  1. Set up a worm composting system. This is a great way to deal with your household food scraps. Stay tuned for more on this! If you are simply too squeamish about wormies, though:
  2. Find your local community garden and ask if you can compost your food there. I bet they say yes!
  3. If there’s no community garden, pool together with friends and neighbors to start a common compost pile where someone has a garden. Set up a rotation, and I bet you only need to tend it a couple times a year. Depending on how much fresh produce you eat, you could probably last a while, too, before taking your food scraps to this common place. In other words--It's easy and low-maintenance!

Here’s a tip that I’ve learned from my fellow San Franciscans: Keep your in-the-meantime compost bin in the freezer so you don’t smell the decaying food. (And for household and community garden compost piles, avoid composting meat and dairy products because of the stench).

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