Recipe #1: Composting Food Scraps

Sustainability Life Recipes Series...

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What practical things can we do in our daily lives to protect our living environment, save money, and contribute to good jobs for people in our community? We’ve done the research alongside our partner Get Your GreenBack Tompkins, and these 13 steps in the areas of local food, building energy, waste reduction and transportation are a great place to start. The Sustainability Life Recipes series will focus on ways to save money, go green, and learn about resources to support your journey. Have an idea? Send us a note at sustainability@cornell.edu.

The secret's out: it's composting. Composting is nature’s way of recycling. Take old food scraps, the leftovers from dinner, or something gone moldy - and turn it into a new resource.

According to a survey by the American Chemistry Council, the average household throws out $640 of food each year. Furthermore, 76% of Americans admit to throwing out leftovers on a monthly basis. Since data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that the average American household spent $4,015 on food in 2015, this means we're throwing away almost 16% of the food we buy -- and that's not a number to be proud of.

Composting happens naturally, and with just a few pointers it can be done very simply in your backyard. Composting helps cut down on one of the major sources of waste we send to landfills, saves money and gives us in return rich soil for gardening.

COSTS & SAVINGS

You can start a compost for no or little cost, and easily save $100 or more each year from avoided trash tag and pick up fees. By composting you have less trash and have to take the trash out less often as you no longer have stinky, rotting food waste in your can. Use composting as a way to save money by:

  • cutting down on trash bags needed to dispose of food waste;
  • eliminating the need to purchase expensive fertilizers for your garden;
  • growing even healthier, more abundant food at home with compost you made yourself! 

Tompkins County residents may also choose to recycle food scraps at one of the County’s Food Scrap Recycling drop spots

For all your composting questions, call the Tompkins County “Rotline” at 607-272-2292.

WHO SHOULD COMPOST?

Everyone can compost.

  1. Have space? Try backyard composting with any number of bins, or no bin at all.
  2. No space? Try composting indoors with a worm bin, or participate in the Food Scrap Recycling program (Tompkins County Residents).

Cornell employees

  1. Use of the many composting bins around campus - just remember, food scraps and napkins only. Compostable service ware is no longer accepted in Tompkins County. Read about why here and here.

COMPOST AT HOME

While you can compost just by chucking all your food scraps and yard waste in a pile in your backyard, if you want to produce quality compost in a relatively short amount of time with little odors you want to keep three principles in mind:

  1. Materials- the microbes that break down the scraps into soil work best with a proper ratio of high-carbon materials (“browns”) and high-nitrogen materials (“greens”). For good results, follow the “lasagna method” (pdf) and alternate layers of greens like food scraps and grass clippings with browns like fallen leaves or old shredded newsprint.
  2. Size- try to build a pile that is at least three feet cubed (picture a short washing machine). Build a bin this size with welded wire (pdf), which is inexpensive and easy to set up. You can also purchase an “Earth Machine” bin from the TC Solid Waste facility for $40, which is $60 off the regular retail price (discount only for Tompkins County residents).
  3. Moisture & Aeration-Lasagna composting (pdf) (video)will ensure a good balance of moisture and aeration. Throw in twigs now and then to create air passages. If your pile gets occasional rain and you add the proper mix of browns and greens you should have enough moisture for an optimal composting environment.

Find much more detailed guidance about composting on the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County website.There you can learn about ongoing classes and workshops (including composting with worms), and about becoming a trained Master Composter.

FOOD SCRAP RECYCLING DROP OFF

If you can’t set up a home composting bin, you can still compost easily:

  1. Drop Off Spots - There are currently six drop-off spots around the county where you can take your food scraps.
  2. Containers - Caddies, bags, and transportation containers are available free of charge from the Solid Waste Division office or at any Drop Spot.
  3. What to compost? All your food scraps, including meat, paper plates and cups and napkins. Pet waste and yard waste are not accepted. For a complete list of what can be composted, visit the Food Scraps Recycling website.


John Milich calculates he saves over $100 just by composting his leaves each year. Photo: Iris Milich

GOT QUESTIONS AND/OR IDEAS?

This series in partnership with Get Your GreenBack Tompkins. Get Your GreenBack Tompkins is a community-initiated and community-supported campaign that works collaboratively to help people and organizations take key steps in the areas of food, transportation, waste and building energy that simultaneously reduce our community’s carbon emissions, save money and create a socially just local economy. http://www.getyourgreenbacktompkins.org/

Views expressed in News posts may not be those of Cornell University. No endorsement is implied.