When you live in a city like New York, it’s not the easiest to compost. Most people who are interested in composting have some kind of space where they can build up their own compost pile at home. But when you’re one of the dozens of apartments in a building, with a tiny shared courtyard space, you can’t exactly build up your own pile, now can you? So I had to learn a different method to compost in NYC. And surprisingly, it’s an easy one.
I’ve now successfully been composting for four years in New York, and while it does take a little bit of a commitment to keep up with it, I am proud when I think about how much waste I’ve removed from landfills and responsibly composted instead. It’s even allowed us to get a smaller trash can in our apartment because we’re not throwing out much actual trash anymore. At this point, a large percentage of our waste is either composted or recycled.
So, how exactly does it work? Let me walk you through the process.
I keep a bin in the fridge.
While many bins advertise they can be left on a counter for food scraps, I would advise against it if you’re only throwing out your compost once a week. Why? Bugs. It can get gross…trust me, I know from experience.
Instead, I keep our bin in the fridge. It’s a smaller one (ours is from Net Zero Co), and we line it with compostable bags. The bin also has a charcoal liner to keep it from smelling. But the fact that the bin is in the fridge helps with the smell already.
I compost all food scraps and brown paper items.
When I’m cooking at home, I place a small bowl on our counter to throw all of the food scraps in. This includes onion and garlic skins, eggshells, potato and carrot peels, apple cores, pepper stems, and seeds…even coffee grinds and used tea leaves. The list clearly goes on and on. When I’m finished with cooking, I’ll get the bin out of my fridge and compost what’s in the bowl, then back in the fridge it goes.
I also will compost any brown paper items that we have—like leftover egg cartons, empty toilet or paper towel rolls, and compostable baking liners.
I place the compost in a brown paper bag and bring it to the farmer’s market.
Now I live in a neighborhood in Brooklyn that doesn’t have a brown-bin program—meaning there aren’t any brown bins in my neighborhood for compost pick up. So instead, I bring it to the farmer’s market.
How does this work? I rely on brown bags! I keep a stash of brown bags from grocery shopping, takeout, etcetera, and then when it’s time to drop off the compost, I take the compost bag out of my bin and place it in the brown bag (to avoid leaking when I transfer it), then bike it over to our local farmer’s market.
If you’re in New York City and not sure if you’re neighborhood has a brown bin program—or where the closest farmer’s market is for compost collection—you can find out all of that information through Grow NYC.
If I can’t make it to the market, I freeze the compost.
Whether it’s a weekend getaway or it’s just a rather cold day in NYC, I’ll have weeks where it’s not feasible to get to the farmer’s market. So instead, I just take that brown bag full of compost and place it right in the fridge. Yes, it does take up some space, but that’s the kind of commitment you make to reducing your waste, right?
Why I choose to compost
It may seem like a lot of work when the trash bin is literally right there…but, quite honestly, the whole process gives me joy. I know I’m making a big impact by doing this. I mean, four years of food scraps not in my trash bin? That’s a lot of trash when you think about it.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, 24% of waste in landfills comes from wasted food, some of which can easily be composted (around 35.3 million tons in 2018). Either at the industry level (companies will literally throw out food if it’s not cosmetically pretty enough for the store, which companies like Imperfect Foods try to save) or even in our own homes (“expiration” dates for food that’s not actually expired, etc.).
A small bag of compost each week may not seem like a big deal, but think about what that looks like over time. The average human alone will throw out 4.7 pounds of trash in a day. By composting, you’re reducing a significant amount of trash going into landfills and helping to cultivate good soil that could be used elsewhere.