ROP Earth Matters: Compost(ing)

The Island Now

— to convert a material, such as plant debris, to compost
— a mixture that consists largely of decayed organic matter and is used for fertilizing and conditioning land

Growing up in Europe with a German mom and Hungarian dad influenced many of my beliefs. Both my parents lived through the Second World War and endured hardships that shaped their lives and habits. Having little means making the most out of everything you’ve got. And composting is an integral part of that. Why throw away something that can help you grow food or beauty? It isn’t and wasn’t even a matter of money, but a matter of principle.

I grew up collecting fruit and vegetable peels in small containers on our kitchen counter and dumping them regularly in a bin erected in a corner of our property where collected kitchen scraps would turn — over time — into compost. And, naturally, I continued this habit after I moved out from home wherever I went.

Only much later I learned about the incredible benefits of composting your kitchen and garden waste:

— About 30 percent of what we throw away could instead be composted. Doing so would reduce landfill volume dramatically — a great incentive for our always strained municipal budgets.

— Compostable materials that are rotting in our landfills produce methane gas, which is formed when organic material decomposes without oxygen being present. That’s bad, since methane gas is about 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide and therefore contributes, if we believe our scientists, significantly to climate change.

Yes, like everything, we also can make composting difficult and expensive. But that’s not the way my parents taught me. You don’t need a worm farm (yuck) or backbreaking turning of the compost or a special composter made from plastic.

Don’t be scared. Start slowly. Pick a couple of items from the list below and start collecting them first in a small container, preferably with a lid, on your counter and then in a corner of your yard. Once you get comfortable with the idea and process, pick a couple more items from the list. It will soon become second nature.

What to compost:

— Fruit peels. A favorite are banana peels.
— Vegetable peels. Think potatoes and carrots.
— The parsley that we forgot in the back of the fridge.
— Coffee grounds. Yes, filter and all. But not those little plastic pods – I bet you knew that.
— Tea bags and loose leave tea. No need to remove those small staples from the bags.
— Eggshells. Yes!
— Leaves, dry or green. Don’t add sticks or even branches.  They take a long time to break down.

You will be amazed how fast all turns into compost. Did you know that banana peels and coffee grounds are great fertilizers? And eggshells keep the slugs out of your garden and away from your flowers and basil plants. Once the compost is ready (you will know), spread it on your vegetable or flower beds to fertilize and mulch.

A provision in the New York state budget requires large generators of food waste to recycle inedible food scraps at compost facilities and anaerobic digesters, which produce energy and a nutrient rich soil amendment (compost), instead of dumping them in landfills where they release methane — a potent and dangerous greenhouse gas, as mentioned above. So, if the law will require large generators to compost kitchen scraps, why not adopt the same practice voluntarily at home.

Inspired? Go ahead and build a compost bin, no great skills required as my husband will readily attest. There are a lot of interesting and easy DIY compost bin designs available on the internet or you can design your own.

And remember, everything you compost will no longer add to Long Island’s waste problem. A very good feeling.

P.S. I am sad to see so many of you still allowing and paying to have outdated two-stroke engine leaf blowers used on your properties. Rakes would be faster and benefit all of us, especially the landscapers who can’t escape the toxic fumes from the engines strapped to their backs.

Juliane Saary-Littman

Port Washington

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