Commentary – Beware of composting; it is habit forming

Pearl Lorentzen

Spring makes winter’s accumulated waste visible. We are conscious of litter, but what about biodegradable waste?

It will decompose in the landfill, people say.

This is true to a point. As it breaks down in the dump, it creates pockets of methane and the loam created cannot be used.

In March, with snow on the ground, I didn’t ask if there was a place to compost. When I travel, I often throw fruit and vegetable waste into the garbage. I’d composted for years, but surely it wouldn’t bother me to just throw it away.

I was wrong.

I cringed with each cabbage leaf, onion peal, and egg shell I threw out. When I took the garbage out, the smell of decomposing food and the condensation on the lid irked me. I realized I’d been composting for 15 years. It was a habit.

I’d lived in four cities, a small town, and on a retreat centre. Without having to set it up, I composted in all in each place. My parents trench compost. In Vancouver, the landlady had a composting container. The retreat centre had two big composting bins, and we fed some food waste to the chickens. In Edmonton, I joined a community garden with compost bins. In Japan and London, England, the city collected food waste separate from recycling and garbage.

In Edmonton, my sister and I had a tiny garbage bin, a compost bucket with a filter to keep the smell down, a large recycle bin, and a separate container for refundable cans. Most weeks our landfill garbage was the size of a grocery bag.

A cousin from the southern states couldn’t figure out how to throw anything away, but to us it was simple.

In all of these cases, I stepped into existing composting systems.

Coming to Slave Lake, I figured out the recycling, but I didn’t see a place to compost until I noticed my neighbours had a winter’s worth of compost on their garden.

This style of composting is called trench composting. It requires a bit of space, but not a lot of work. You dig a trench, dump your food waste in, and cover it. Over winter it can sit on the ground to be buried in spring.

They agreed to let me add my compost to theirs.

I told this story to Aaron and Winnie Lehman, who told me one of the local doctors composts in their compost pile. They do a three-step compost, one pile of leaves, a pile of the current food, and a pile from the year before. In the spring, they spread the oldest on the garden and move last years to the old pile.

This is similar to the composting I did in Edmonton and at the retreat centre. The key is to have two piles.

I told this story to my roommate who said, there was a round compost box behind the shed, but it was full of grass clippings since she didn’t know how to use it. I cleaned out half of the grass and started adding my food waste. This is the style of composting I did in Vancouver, a layer of food waste, then a layer of grass or dried leaves.

Items which can be composted are egg shells, fruit and vegetable waste and loose tea or coffee. Meat and dairy attract animals so should not be composted.

I have never tried indoor composting systems like vermicomposting or bokashi, but am intrigued.

Which ever method, composting is a good habit to build. But be careful. It’s hard to stop.


Share this post