And now, for the most glamorous story you’ll read all day. Whether you’re an organics-bin pro or a composting newbie, it’s time to take stock in your trash—small switches can go a long way.
It can be easy to dismiss composting as a waste of time because organic materials decompose and emit greenhouse gases whether they’re in a landfill or a compost pile. But understanding the difference between the gases emitted is crucial to grasping the importance of composting. When your banana peels, coffee grounds, and forgotten (now rotten) tomatoes end up in a landfill without oxygen, they produce methane—a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than the carbon dioxide composting mostly produces.
The seemingly small decision to trash your organic waste instead of composting it has major consequences over time, as it contributes to atmospheric warming. Besides the initial decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, compost produces nutrient-dense fertilizer that can actually aid in carbon sequestration, rendering it a much-needed win-win for the environment.
Despite the significant benefits of composting, only 6.3 percent of food waste in the United States was composted in 2017, and a whopping 30.6 million tons ended up in landfills (Environmental Protection Agency). On the local level, Hennepin County reported in 2016 that 25 percent, the highest percentage of all of its trashed material, was organic, and Ramsey County asserts that more than 30 percent of its waste is organic. Obviously there’s a lot of room for improvement—and living in a state like Minnesota, with a relatively comprehensive compost operation, makes it possible to contribute without having to do all of the dirty work.
Check out Minnesota Composting Council’s website to determine which program works best for you in your neighborhood.
Get Started Without the Stink
Over time, you’ll probably develop your own system for composting based on what works best for you and your family, but we compiled some tips to make the start-up a little less intimidating.
Designate a container for wet kitchen scraps and line the bottom with newspaper to absorb excess liquid. If you’re a Ramsey County resident, you can pick up a free food scraps starter kit and approved compostable bags from any drop-off site. Reuse a half-gallon ice cream container, coffee grounds canister, or yogurt tub for collection if you aren’t provided with a formal one—just be sure to poke some holes into the container to allow for a bit of airflow and odor prevention. (Looking for a less DIY option? We like this one, from The Container Store—it’s easy to clean and keeps stink at bay for days!)
If you’re like us and would prefer to go a bit longer between trips to the drop-off facility or out to your compost cart, consider keeping your food scraps container in the fridge or freezer to prevent rotting and the associated stench. When you are ready to dispose of the waste, transfer it to a BPI-certified compostable bag (look for this logo) and tie it to ensure its contents are secure. You can keep a paper bag or another compostable plastic bag under your kitchen sink or in the bathroom to collect odorless assorted paper items separately. Note that most municipalities, including Minneapolis, require that all organic waste (except for delivery pizza boxes and cardboard egg cartons) be bagged in either compostable plastic or paper.
Live in Minneapolis or St. Louis Park? Be sure to sign up online to have your organics picked up free of charge and a cart will be dropped off at your home. If you live in a condo or apartment building without an organics cart, you can drop off organics at an approved dropoff facility, like a park.
Meat and Tea and Hair, Oh My?
Fruit and vegetable scraps are well known for their compostability, but what about meat and dairy products? Both Hennepin and Ramsey Counties accept them, so don’t shy away from including that moldy parmesan you forgot about or the excess fat from that Saturday night steak in your compost collection. Pretty much all food waste is fair game—from nuts, bread, and cereal to fish, beans, and bones. Even unwrapped candy (with the exception of gum because apparently it contains plastic??) can be composted.
Your morning routine is ripe with compostable items too—coffee grounds and filters, tea bags (remove plastic labels and staples), cotton balls and paper-stemmed swabs, facial tissues, and hair and nail clippings can all make their way into your compost.
The greasy pizza box from your late night, food-soiled napkins and paper towels, wooden chopsticks, and any compostable or BPI-labeled cups, plates, bowls, cutlery, and to-go containers are good to go in the compost.
While you’re at it, feel free to toss in any houseplants and flowers that fell victim to your subpar green thumb, popsicle sticks from that day in May that finally hits 55 degrees, dust bunnies you accidentally unearth when searching for something under your bed, and wooden toothpicks which served their purpose unearthing kernels from your teeth after an extra-large-sized movie theater popcorn.
Some municipalities accept yard waste within their compost programs, but both Ramsey and Hennepin Counties do not. From mid-April to November, you can put your yard waste out in a separate bin or cart next to your garbage cart for a special collection in Minneapolis. Both Hennepin and Ramsey Counties offer several drop-off locations for yard waste if your municipality doesn’t offer a collection service.
Animal waste (even in your compostable doggy bag), microwavable popcorn bags, styrofoam, fast-food wrappers, feminine hygiene products, condoms, ice cream containers, dead animals, and “biodegradable” labeled items (including diapers) are all among the wide range of items that Hennepin and Ramsey Counties don’t accept for composting.
If in doubt, check with your county to verify whether or not an item is compostable.
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