Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Circle of Life (and Compost)

Shortly before New Year's my compost bin reached capacity. Since I've never lived in any one place long enough to fill an entire Earth Machine, I wasn't exactly sure what to do.

My short term solution was this: empty the bin and cover the compost with a tarp until Spring. Would that be enough to keep out the foxes, raccoons and teenagers who hang out in the woods behind our house? Only time will tell.

Most of the compost was frozen solid, but the oldest stuff had stayed loose due to heat released by what Wikipedia so poetically calls "the microbial oxidation of carbon." As far as I'm concerned it was that or magic, since I have no way of proving either. But as a result I was left with the doughnut shaped ring of frozen compost pictured at top. What better embodiment of the notion of "closing the loop?"

A doughnut made out of decaying vegetable scraps and eggshells might not appeal to some, but I was intrigued. Here was a chance, on the eve of a new decade, to come face to face with the Ghost of Food Scraps Past. In an era when most of our garbage is whisked out of sight before we think twice about how much of it we produce or where on earth it goes, here was an opportunity to take a closer look at my personal consumption.

What I learned is that I eat a lot of eggs (the shells take a while to break down) and that things that say they're compostable, like potato starch forks or corn plastic bags, certainly don't seem to be.

In looking through the strata, I was able to recall some specific meals. There was a layer of corn cobs from a corn stock I made last winter, and the skin of a pumpkin that I'd peeled for a curry. When I had dug out the center but not yet lifted off the ring, the pile looked very much like a puehr cake.

And now that I think about it, there's plenty of puehr in there.

Absent from the compost pile was all of the junk that we couldn't turn back into dirt (besides the wine bottles I'm saving for another garden barrier, the egg cartons I keep forgetting to return to the farmer, and the bones that I bury in the woods). For instance, there were none of those eerily bandage-like spongy things that come under packaged meat.

Luckily, most waste can be composted or recycled and we don't produce very much trash. Or at least that's what I think. If there were a special cubby just for me at the garbage dump, and at the end of the year I could see all of the useless junk I sponsored, I'd probably be surprised.

But at least some of my waste will end up back in the garden, assuming those teenagers don't get to it first.

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Erica Kagan said...

A thought... there are reality t.v. shows about everything from forcing people to downsize their belongings and free themselves of clutter to people transforming themselves via a makeover... to who loses the most weight, or competitive dating shows. And then there are shows about people not doing much of anything particular with some sort of premise... Why not have a really revealing show that focuses on just how much garbage and what type of garbage we discard. A person's trash is supposed to be a good indicator of that individual's lifestyle. Most people don't want to look at garbage or think about garbage. Yet, there's plenty of garbage on tv already. right? Why not air out some trash instead of dirty laundry on air? It might just make people pay more attention to what they throw away, and how they go about doing so.

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