City Composting — A Yuppie Hippie Monetary Conundrum
Passive composting is not a thing.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that every yuppie hippie hailing from the Pacific Northwest gives many a decaying banana peel about the importance of diverting trash from the landfill. Reinforced by harrowing documentaries, books, and updates about the planet and how it’s on fire, it was inevitable that I would eventually find myself cramming food scraps into my freezer and messily schlepping my defrosting waste to the nearest compost drop-off location in my new city — Washington, DC.
The problem with living in a tiny apartment with no outdoor space in a city that does not provide composting services is that passive composting is not a thing. No, I cannot dig a hole in the ground and dump my food scraps in the trench, waiting for nature to do its thing and turn waste into nutrient-rich soil. No, I do not have space to DIY via large and unsightly plastic bins, which would require monitoring the ratio of greens to browns and perhaps getting assistance from red wrigglers. Furthermore, the management of the lifecycle of food scraps to compost is a logistical nightmare. It takes time for nature to turn scraps into compost, and I generate new food scraps constantly. Would this mean adding new bins to hold fresh food scraps, while older food scraps wait for the time and oxygen required to decompose? No, I’ll not engage in this madness.
Instead, I started freezing all my food scraps and dropping them off at the Dupont Farmer’s Market for $2 a pop. Yes, you have to pay someone to take your compost away, and yes, you have to carry your frozen scraps to to the Farmer’s Market every weekend. Plus, those scraps took up all the space in my freezer, meaning I couldn’t buy low-cost frozen foods or make meals in bulk. Composting quickly become a tedious, loathsome task that I resisted, rather than a feel-good endeavor. I started changing my diet and planning my meals to avoid food waste specifically so I could stretch out the trips to the farmer’s market, but it still felt like a slog.
So I started brainstorming. What if I found a way to house food scraps in a more convenient manner to lengthen the time between these errands, but still have empty space in my freezer? I could live with that.
Thus began the journey of exploring alternative composting options.
When I lived in an older building, I opted for a privately owned compost pick-up service, operated by veterans. For $25 a month, I could pay someone to drop off a clean bin with a locking lid at my door every Friday morning in exchange for a bin full of scraps. I built this expense into my budget, happy to be free of my least favorite weekly errand. Now that I live in a condominium with security, rules, and regulations, I don’t have the luxury of employing this service. While I’ve suggested the condo board look into making this service available for interested residents, I’ve also researched the ways through which I can extend my compost drop-off errand to every other week by employing a secondary option.
If you google “indoor composting methods,” you’ll be faced with many, many gadgets. Some are powered by electricity and additives like sawdust pellets to expedite the decaying process and make it possible to compost with just one smallish bin. Some are not true composters, but dehydrators that turn food scraps into more manageable (and unstinky) organic matter that can then be buried or otherwise disposed of in nature. These options, while smaller in square footage and sleeker than plastic Sterilite bins, are all expensive and anathema to the very core of sustainability. While solving the problem of diverting food scraps from the landfill, which would then give off toxic methane gas, they are expensive starting at $249 and require electricity and time-consuming cleaning and maintenance. That’s a lot of effort, money and recurring resources/expenses to stay true to my hippie heart.
Then I learned about bokashi composting, an anaerobic fermentation process that transforms food waste into fermented organic matter. Like all the other options, the output would eventually need to be let loose into the wild, but this method had one tremendous leg up over the other options — its anaerobic nature. I could store food scraps in a completely secured bin that didn’t have to be kept in my freezer, and not have any odors to contend with.
There were two downsides: first, the required additive, a probiotic that would pickle the scraps is an expensive recurring expense. I could DIY my bokashi bran—it’s made up of bran, unchlorinated water, molasses, and a microbe-rich solution—but the process is cumbersome and the materials just as expensive as the store-bought bokashi. The other downside is that I’d still have to take my fermented waste to the farmer’s market.
But this seemed like the cleanest and most efficient option, and I decided enough was enough. So I threw some money at this conundrum and bought a bokashi kit. Sixty dollars could buy me the most acceptable option that would result in fewer trips to the farmer’s market and a freezer meant for food to eat, rather than food to decompose. I’m hopeful that this cobbled-together solution would only be for the interim, until I convince enough neighbors to hop on the composting bandwagon and get in on a giant communal compost bin and an equally giant contract with the compost pick-up service.
Michelle Song finally rage-quit her corporate gig and is now pursuing other interests such as being a mother to a fur baby, writing for fun and dreaming up the second act of her work life. She is also an old millennial, unlikely to be found on Instagram, or God forbid, Snapchat. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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