Too Good to Waste

In my last post, I wrote about how recycling should be the last stop on the road to reducing your carbon footprint—your last-ditch effort to avoid accumulating plastics in a landfill for a thousand years. It’s a subject that means a lot to me. To be honest, for someone who has spent most of her life trying to acquire new knowledge, I am frequently amazed at how much time I spend talking about the things that we throw away and equally amazed at how much I did not know before.

For example, have you ever researched how much stuff you should actually throw into your trash? Of course, this varies a lot from place to place but I am willing to bet that no matter where you are, it’s probably less than one would think. How often have you started your day by eating a banana, scrambling some eggs, reading the paper, brewing coffee, and then tossing the remainder of all of these things into the trash without giving a second thought to that peel, those eggshells, that newspapery, or those coffee grounds? This is where compost comes in.

Composting is the process of using organic materials to create an amendment for soil. Your fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds, even newspaper can be used to provide essential nutrients for your garden. You simply toss the appropriate materials into a tumbler or a bin designed for this purpose, ensure adequate air flow, and make sure it turns over from time to time. Over time, you will have a delightfully rich, dark material to use in your garden.

Now you might wonder, as I have wondered, how this is any different from just tossing it into a landfill where it will eventually decompose. The truth is, landfills are a very particular type of system. The sheer volume means that often there is no access to the things organic material needs to break down properly, such as air and sunlight. What’s worse, organic material that does decay in a landfill often ends up releasing methane—a greenhouse gas that is a major contributor to climate change. Simply put, landfills were not meant to be big composting piles. The purpose of a landfill is to bury trash, not to return nutrients back to the soil. But at a time when people are frequently loading their gardens with fertilizers to try to replace nutrients lost over the seasons, and with agronomists fretting about the number of harvests left for us at our current rate of consumption, it is worth considering another way.

Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to undertake a project that would help the members of my community learn more about the waste stream. In addition to hosting a community event and creating fun new stickers designed by a local student, we were also able to purchase bins to help revitalize our composting program and make the process easy for College of Menominee Nation staff and students. These small bins make it into large tumblers and a three-bin compost system, reducing the amount of waste that we contribute to the landfill. Most importantly, it provides an easy way to help return nutrients to the soil, reduce your footprint, and bolster the gardens that are so important to both our physical and emotional health. And to me, that seems like anything but a “waste” of time.

Jasmine Neosh is a student at College of Menominee Nation.

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