Fall, the season of harvest is here! At least it feels that way in many cities today. Today I’m writing about composting the easy way – by having someone else do it for you. It’s harvest time on the farms and we’re bringing back more produce than ever, producing more vegetable trim and garden waste than usual. But it’s also back-to-school time and not necessarily a good time for anyone to set up a new project in the backyard. And what about those who live in cities and have no backyards?
Composting — the amazing process of turning your plant- or animal-based “garbage” into a rich, fertile soil amendment — is really important, because we are depleting our topsoil at an alarming rate. We are burying food waste among all the plastic bags and old sneakers in landfills, where it will not decay. It does no one any good there. So we need to make sure that organic matter gets back into contact with the natural world that keeps us alive. No soil, no food. I know it’s a headache to think about, but it’s true.
Can I Have Someone Else Compost For Me?
I first got super excited about composting around 2002 (can’t remember why), and I convinced my parents to build a bin at their house in Massachusetts. We built it together with really sub-par carpentry skills, but it held their kitchen scraps, fall leaves, grass clippings and other detritus for years, providing broken-down organic material for them to use in filling in gopher holes and eroded garden beds over time. These days they use a black plastic composter that is a bit more easily managed than the big pile they used to turn with a pitchfork. But it feels great to know that we’ve saved over 10 years’ worth of their kitchen scraps from the landfill.
I had to live vicariously through my parents back then, because I had nowhere to build a compost bin of my own. I never quite convinced myself or roommates that a worm bin would end well, and at that time there was nowhere to take kitchen scraps or have them picked up. In Philly, I composted at the community garden where I had a plot. Back then, around 2000-2005, there weren’t many options. Heck, they still hadn’t instituted curbside recycling in Philly. I remember carting my plastics and glass containers to a central drop-off point on Saturday mornings.
5 Cities That Help You Compost
Well, we’ve come a long way since the turn of this century. San Francisco was the forefather of organics collection, introducing municipal collection in the 1980s. More recently, Boulder, Denver, Seattle, Portland, OR have added curbside pick-up.
Now even New York has Zero Waste goals and is doing much more in terms of municipal composting. But it’s not curbside yet in most places, and progress is slow. In the meantime, youth in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn have their own bike-powered program: BK Rots.
Start-ups in 10 Cities that Can’t Wait
Sometimes when government action is slow in coming and people are not advocating for the Earth, entrepreneurs take matters into their own hands. Throughout the US, small start-ups and organizations of all kinds are taking advantage of the value inherent in our organic waste. And customers are flocking to them. Here are 10 cities
- Sacramento, CA is home to the Green Restaurants Alliance (GRAS), a non-profit that composts restaurant waste at local farms.
- Washington, DC and surrounds have Veteran Compost, a social enterprise that aims to employ veterans and keep food waste out of landfills through commercial and residential collection. Households get compost back twice a year or can donate their share to community gardens.
- Austin, TX is where you can spot Compost Pedallers picking up compost by bike. Customers are rewarded with points good for free pizza, coffee, yoga, T-shirts from hip, local shops, or — wait for it — finished compost!
- Boston’s bare-bones-styled Bootstrap Compost collects compost by bike, T (subway), vehicle and any means necessary. They service a wide range of schools and companies as well as residences.
- Nearby Falmouth, MA‘s woman-owned Compost With Me is doing similar things “down the Cape,” as they say. The largely bike-powered operation uses simple 5-gallon buckets and local farms to add organic matter to the Cape’s sandy soils. They also aim to develop decentralized community composting operations throughout the Cape.
- Chicago’s Healthy Soil Compost company recently started up a year-round bike-powered service, too. At $40/mo. for weekly collection, it is a bit higher in price than other cities, but those winter bikers need that pay for extra Wheaties, I think! They work with a commercial earthworm farm to get that food waste converted quickly into brown gold.
- Milwaukee‘s Compost Crusader services multi-unit buildings, companies, and events that want to reduce their waste.
- Los Angeles: LA Compost, which started as a team of volunteer bikers, has grown into a strong, far-reaching organization. They have created community compost hubs throughout LA County at a university, a museum, and 6 other sites.
- Philadelphia: I’ve written before about how affordable yet awesome Philly is. At $15/mo., Bennett Compost‘s weekly residential pick-up service is hard to beat. However, they are pickier than outfits like Veterans (above) – no meat, oils, or dairy products area allowed in Bennett’s bins.
- In Portland, ME, Garbage to Garden uses soap locally made from cooking oils to keep their residential compost bins smelling fresh. They promise a composting process “so easy, you won’t even get your hands dirty.”
- Wow, I have more than 10 here. This last bonus one is a big one! In many cities and regions of North Carolina now, CompostNow collects all food scraps including meat, bones, pizza and the boxes it came in!
Composting from sea to shining sea. Thanks, eco-preneurs! Cities, take note. These bikers are onto something.
Cover photo courtesy of Compost Pedallers, Austin, TX.