When we put something in the trash, we have decided we’re done with it. We’ve used it up and worn it out. But we are not truly done with it, because trash has to be taken somewhere, by someone, and dealt with in some way. Can we “reuse” that garbage instead?
In fact, trash can be quite valuable if it can be composted.Turning garden waste, vegetable peels, coffee grounds, corn husks, grass clippings, leaves and overripe fruit into compost has big advantages for each of us, and for the whole town.
- Composting keeps waste at home so our taxes aren’t spent collecting and disposing of it.
- The end product, compost, is gold in the garden. Incorporated into garden soil, or spread on top like mulch, compost enriches the soil and keeps it moist.
- The compost you make is free. You might pay $9.00 a cubic foot for it in a store.
- Free compost replaces much of the fertilizer you would buy for your garden, or your flower bed, or your foundation plantings.
- Composting improves Sterling soil while reducing the algae in streams and ponds caused by fertilizer run off.
Here’s how you know composting is a good idea: farmers do it, for all the reasons of cost and effectiveness. Mike Pineo, for example, produces about 100 yards of compost a year on his farm, and it all goes right back on his fields. Ask any farmer you know, he or she will tell the same story.
Composting is also business. Rocky Acres Farm sells composted manure, farm loam, and composted wood chips, mostly to local residents. Bob Nickerson at Dunwishin has a digester for the horse manure on his farm. He says he produces 12 yards of compost every six weeks. He has a digester that feeds water and oxygen into a load of manure, causing temperatures that exceed 160 degrees for at least three weeks. The end product is high in nitrogen, free from pathogens, and amends the soil without the chemical burn sometimes caused by the phosphates in fertilizer. Nickerson tills most of it into his own fields, but also sells to local residents. Given his location in the watershed, it is important that what he spreads on his fields doesn’t result in runoff that will produce algae blooms or harm the Wachusett Reservoir.
Some municipalities get involved in composting, and some make money from it. Brattleboro, Vermont famously composts 64% of its solid waste. In 2018, that amounted to 2,615 tons that never made it to the landfill, saving $24,000 in tipping fees. The compost is sold locally, and has an international reputation for excellence. Food waste is collected curbside, and unlike other trash, pick up is no charge.
If you aren’t composting your yard and plant waste, now is a great time to start. The next few months generate lots of waste, and if you start now, you can be using compost from it next spring. Just remember, no fat, dairy or meat. Composting that type of food waste requires high temperatures, so it’s not a home hobby project.
Wachusett Recycling Center offers a fantastic bargain: large black Earthmachine composters are selling for only $25. Kitchen scrap buckets are also available for $4. I am very happy with my black rocket ship. I dump vegetable peels and coffee grounds in the top, and lovely dirt comes out the bottom. Or you can go high-technology, or at least high-touch, and get a compost tumbler. Composting is much faster it you turn the pile over, and the tumbler makes that almost effortless. Or if you have a lot of space you are willing to share with critters, you can just heap the waste out back somewhere.
Whichever rapid or leisurely approaches you use, eventually there will be rich, free, composted soil at the bottom.