Composting in the City!
By Laura Cipullo and the Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services Team
Composting and CITY living don’t seem like they should go together but let’s make it work in spite of their differences.
Before we approach the difficult nature of composting in our city, let’s first address why composting is something to get into in the first place. There are two major reasons; 1) it’s a great way to use and decrease waste which is a big help to our environment and 2) you can grow your own food—which comes with a series of great benefits including cost efficiency and access to healthy/organic foods. When we see the advantages, it’s hard to wonder why everyone doesn’t compost! Except for that one major reason—it’s kind of gross, isn’t it?
Composting is the breakdown of organic material-waste. Organic waste that we breakdown comes in two different forms—dry material and wet material. Dry materials are generally referred to as “recyclable” and they include newspaper, cardboard, certain plastics etc. Wet material-waste includes fruits and vegetables, eggshells, coffee grinds, tea bags, etc. We use both to compost, but the wet material is the most crucial.
Now, lets get into the dirt:
Step 1: Find a space to compost. It can either be a pile in your backyard or a terracotta pot (with a lid) on your balcony. Either way, you want a controlled space.
Step 2: Separate your organic waste into dry and wet. Collect leaves, twigs, weeds and garden waste—or get some dry organic fertilizer from your local hardware store—and combine the waste in your compost pile or pot.
Step 3: The process happens naturally but to help it move along, you can add lime-juice or yogurt to assist the initiation of decomposition.
Step 4: Continue to add to the top of the pile and wait it out. The soil will become dark and rich at the bottom—that’s the good stuff! Even if you don’t use it, you have already done something great for the environment by reducing your waste.
Step 5: Use it! The dark, rich soil is great to sprinkle over your garden to help enhance its growth and fill your produce and plants with an incredible healthy dose of vitamins and minerals. It will give them great color, taste, and nutrient density.
I pride myself on my cleanliness so I really needed to research the health and safety benefits of composting in my tiny New York City apartment. I was very curious about the smell. While it would seem that composting would generate quite the stench, if appropriately assembled, there should be no smell at all. Another worry of mine was my lack of outdoor space, which I’m sure rings true to many other city dwellers. Because composting is the chemical breakdown of organic waste and it requires live cultures to properly biodegrade, access to outdoor space—even just a fire escape—is important. This brings us to our first set of tips!
Tip 1: If you don’t have outdoor space—like me—get creative! All buildings have a roof. Rally some of your neighbors to talk to building management about starting an urban garden. They may be more receptive to the idea then you think!
Tip 2: If composting doesn’t seem realistic for you, check out local Farm Shares (you can do this through a google search) to support your regional farmers and seasonal produce. This is also cost effective and environmentally friendly.
Now, what’s the point of composting? The product of breaking down this wet organic-waste is compost, or soil. We can use this soil to then grow our own fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. The nutrition community is always talking about eating clean and buying local and organic in an attempt to better understand where our food is coming from. What better way to do this then growing food yourself? You can’t get more local then that! This brings us to our next tip.
Tip 3: Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty! Even though the idea of using waste to generate compost to then grow more food seems dirty—it is actually the greatest example of clean eating out there!
Composting and growing food allows you to know exactly where your produce is coming from. It is a great money saver and an even better gift to the environment. It is a wonderful activity for children—especially the picker eaters out there. Research shows that if kids know where their food comes from and play a role in preparing their meals, they will be more likely to try something new. Growing food gives children such an integrative and profound understanding of where their food comes from—and it’s also fun! This brings us to our final tip.
Tip 4: Save your leftovers! We could all learn a few lessons from some of the NYC schools. A lot of them are saving students lunch left overs to use towards composting.
There are so many reasons to give composting and urban gardening a shot so let’s get our hands dirty NYC!
For more information on compost collection in NYC or tips, visit http://www.nyc.gov/html/nycwasteless/html/compost/composting_nyc.shtml.