Reuse, reduce, recycle. I've heard and repeated that mantra a million times since I first heard it in the second or third grade. In fourth grade, we did an entire musical on recycling and sustainability. That’s when it really sunk in.
My class, Mrs. Pollack’s, was responsible for providing the dancing to a love song about recycling aluminum cans. It was called “Don’t throw it all away,” inspired by the fact that aluminum cans can be used over and over again. As the lyrics stated, “We could go on forever. A lifetime is not too long. Yes we’ve got it all, so don’t throw it all away.”
The melody and words to that song somehow got filed in the permanent storage area of my brain so that, 20 years later, I still cannot pitch a can.
Like that song, the habit of recycling has become so ingrained in me, it is second nature. My mother required it in our household, and I carried the habit with me to college and on into my own home when I married.
About five years ago, I started thinking about what else I could do to further reduce my own consumption and carbon footprint. I was good at the first R, but what about the other two — reuse and reduce.
Then I learned that food waste in the United States accounts for 35 million tons of trash a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s significantly more tonnage going into landfills than paper and plastic, according to the EPA.
American households throw away up to 40 percent of food purchased each year. That was mind-boggling for a lot of different reasons.
About the same time, I got the gardening bug, so composting just made sense. I could reduce the solid waste my household pitches each week by reusing it as free garden fertilizer. Win, win.
My husband Carl agreed. He designed and constructed a three compartment compost bin for our yard. It has an open-bottom wooden frame, with the tops and sides constructed of screens mounted on hinges. This provides for easy access and proper air flow.
Into it go fall leaves, grass clippings and weeds I pull from my flower and garden beds along with all household food waste excluding meat and dairy. It turns out that really is a lot, even for two people.
Think about all those egg shells, stems from kale and collard greens, peels from bananas, potatoes and apples. Then there are those stray bendable carrots and celery that always seem to appear at the bottom of the vegetable drawer.
A main compost ingredient at our home is coffee grounds and filters. Yes, filters break down quite quickly. I recommend the unbleached ones.
We also throw in ash from the charcoal grill and a bit of “stall muck” we import from my mother-in-law’s horse farm.
We fill up one bin, and with some regular turning, it all breaks down in about a year. We have all three bins in different phases going now.
The composter has easily become my second favorite yard accessory, right behind the raised garden beds Carl also built me. The beds, where all that rich, dark compost goes, produce a plethora of summer vegetables without chemical fertilizers.
The bin is home to all the giant wiggly nightcrawlers we need to support our summer fishing habit. Thanks to it, we can also say no thanks to nightcrawlers pre-packaged in styrofoam containers.
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at (606) 326-2653 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.