Ask Eartha: Composting at elevation in Colorado not as hard as you think (column)
May 12, 2016
Why should I compost? Why is it good? Is it hard to do? — Bobby, aged 7, Dillon
Those are great questions! First off, I want you to know that composting in Summit County is super easy. I'll get into more details below, but, basically, all you need to do is collect your food scraps and drop them off at either the Frisco or Breckenridge Recycling Centers for as low as $10/month.
But let's take a look at your first two questions: Why should you compost and why is it good? There are LOTS of reasons! Adding compost to soil gives plants all the building blocks they need to grow big and strong — nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and lots of other micronutrients. It's sort of like a human taking a multi-vitamin. Additionally, putting compost in soil helps the soil keep water and improves air circulation — water and air are both very important to growing plants.
Compost also helps keep our air clean. Most households throw away about 474 pounds of food a year, which is about 1½ pounds of food per person per day! If you piled all the food scraps by all the households in the USA on a football field, it would be more than five miles high. Wow! When people don't compost, those food scraps end up in a landfill (A large place where trash is kept); and, because landfills lock in layers of trash keeping oxygen out when those scraps of food decompose — or break down — they create methane gas, which is very bad for humans to breathe.
Lastly, we live in a big country that is very beautiful. Throwing food scraps away with garbage and putting everything into a landfill takes a lot of space and is not very pretty. Right now, some cities, like New York, where there are lots of people and lots of trash, have run out of landfill space. They load their garbage into trucks and driving it 600 miles away to dump in a landfill that still has space. All that trash is a mix of everything people throw away, but paper, plastic and food scraps are most of what is in the pile. Food scraps can be composted, so imagine how much smaller those landfill piles would be without those things!
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Now that you know why it is good to compost, let's look at how easy it is to compost! First, collect all your unusable food scraps — basically anything that comes from the refrigerator or pantry. Do not include any paper, plastic or paper coated in plastic. You'll want to collect over time, so work with your family to figure out how you want to store the food scraps until you have enough to take to the Recycling Center or start your own compost pile.
Personally, I like to store the scraps in a brown paper bag in the freezer. The cold helps it, so there isn't any smell. You can also store them in a lidded kitchen compost pail (basically, any container with a lid). You'll want to make sure the container is easily washable, though, so when the food scraps break down, it leaves goo. Every couple of days, you'll want to empty out this small container to something larger like a 4-5 gallon bucket. Keep the bucket near your backdoor, and, after dumping the small container into it, add a damp paper towel on top or sprinkle some sawdust, leaves or dirt on top to cut down on the smell. Once the bucket (or the bag in the freezer) is full, take it to the Recycling Center in Breckenridge or Frisco. To join their program is only $15/month or $35/quarter or $120/year (which is only $10/month!). They take care of the other things needed to compost: air, water, heat and space.
If you have space where you live, you can also compost in your backyard. There is a lot of information online, but you'll need a bin, brown "stuff" (dry leaves, paper) and green "stuff" (food scraps), water and a way to mix everything together. If you really take care of your compost, you can have rich, black dirt in no time!
Composting is good for us and the environment, and it is fun! Start collecting food scraps today! 😀
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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