Katherine Rodriguez emptying the compost bucket into a larger bin. | Photo by Ahmed Al-Sakkaf

So You Want to Compost

Composting can be one of the most beneficial ways to handle waste
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Composting can be one of the most beneficial ways to handle waste

Learn the steps to compost.

Every Wednesday, the trash bin, filled with whatever waste was tossed during the week, goes to the curb to be picked up by Recology and shipped off to a landfill.

Forty percent of the waste that ends up in landfills is food waste, according to Recology. This can include raw scraps from food preparation, old sandwiches left to rot and unwanted leftovers. When food scraps end up in a landfill, the material is not just waste, it’s being wasted.

“The average American generates 4.4 pounds of garbage a day,” the Recology site says. “Don’t let your food scraps go to waste.”

Illustration by Collin Slavey

It’s a big deal if food waste gets tossed into landfills. Besides taking up space in our already overwhelmed landfills, food waste doesn’t decompose properly in such settings. For example, an apple that falls above ground breaks down into useful nutrients like nitrogen, which enriches the soil. Underground the apple isn’t able to break down.

Buried in a landfill, the apple is in an anaerobic environment, meaning that it is starved of oxygen. Anaerobic decomposition creates some nasty byproducts. The most malicious of these byproducts are methane and liquid leachate. Both of these are pollutants with consequences.

“Fortunately, avoiding these pollutants is simple. Just compost it,” international waste management firm ToWaSo said. “Food and yard waste can be reused and turned into nutrient rich compost. Composting exposes the green waste to oxygen, allowing it to decompose as it would in nature.”

Humboldt State does compost food waste. According to an email from TallChief Comet, the director of sustainability, energy and grounds keeping with Facilities Management, HSU compost is managed in two ways. The Waste Reduction and Resource Awareness Program manages the composting bins on campus, while food waste is diverted from dining services.

“The on-campus composting process is handled by WRRAP and is using the material from the public compost bins scattered around campus,” Comet said in an email. “This material goes into an Earthtub composting vessel, located at Facilities Management and processes about 10,000 lbs (5 tons) of material per year.”

“The average American generates 4.4 pounds of garbage a day. Don’t let your food scraps go to waste.”

Recology

“The food-waste diverted from all the dining locations on campus is collected by FM waste and recycling staff into a large pre-composting container,” Comet said. “About every three weeks it is transported by Recology (a local waste hauler) to a vermicomposting facility in Dows Prairie run by The Local Worm Guy.”

Comet emphasized that it is important to keep contamination out of the materials’ stream, and if someone is in doubt about whether or not to compost, trash it.

“The best effort students can make is to not generate waste in any form to begin with,” Comet said. “For compostable waste they can achieve this by not purchasing more than they will use/consume during the anticipated period.”

But composting may very well be appropriate. Composting may seem like an intimidating, tedious and smelly thing to do, but with a bit of practice it becomes second nature. Working with local resources like the Campus Center for Appropriate Technologies can help prepare a student for their own compost bin.

Jacob Gellatly, an active member of CCAT, recommended that students learn about composting.

“Before a student starts composting they should learn a few things,” Gellatly said. “It is critical to get educated on the process of composting. Learn the recipe.”

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