You, Too, Can Be a Master Composter

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Tompkins Weekly 04/08/2013

By Braeden Cohen

What do decay, fungi, worms, nematodes and bacteria all have in common? They are all things that can help you save tremendous money and energy on waste disposal and produce a powerful, free soil amendment for your garden.

Each week I watch my two housemates take two full barrels of trash to the curb, and on them are the infamous purple garbage tags. I think we all know the drill by now, twenty-one dollars for six of those purple stickers that make your trash magically disappear. For two barrels each week (that must not exceed 50 pounds) one sheet is three weeks of trash pick-up, at seven dollars a week, and 364 dollars a year. I don’t know about you, but I am 23 years old, fresh out of college, riddled with debt, and like most people these days, trying to save money anywhere I can. If only they knew about the Compost Fair.

Twenty-one dollars, who sets the price anyway? Why does it even cost 21 dollars…? Where does it go? These are all valid, important questions that most people are too busy to even think about. Well, Tompkins County Recycling and Solid Waste tells me that we produced 150,731 tons of waste last year. The trash generated by the 41,674 households gets hauled to Seneca County and dumped in a landfill. That’s a lot of houses, a lot of trash and a lot of driving. With gas prices these days, no wonder it costs so much. Then there is the tipping fee for each ton of waste that is brought to the landfill. It seems to me that we spend an awful lot of money and energy on a polluting, “out of sight, out of mind” approach to dealing with our trash. Landfills are a significant contributor of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

What if I told you now, that you could reduce the amount of trash you generate by 30%? What if I then told you that you could do that for free! How? By composting. Every person has billions of potential “employees” at your disposal that will turn your food scraps and organic waste into life a sustaining and vital agricultural product. Most of them you cannot see, but these “employees” are the fungi, bacteria, nematodes and worms I mentioned earlier. If given the right opportunity, these organisms will literally do this as if they were born to do it.

Composting is just one of the ways in which Tompkins County residents doing their part to reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills and has helped Tompkins County divert 60% of its waste from the landfill. Sixty percent diversion translates into 88,496 tons of waste responsibly managed using the 4 R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle, rebuy). The goal is to achieve 75% diversion by 2016. So my housemates would only have to use one garbage tag a week, the rest would be composted or recycled. I am proud to be a resident of a county that is taking strides to in waste reduction and recycling.

One organization that has been at the forefront of this waste diversion initiative is Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, more specifically the Master Composter program. For over 20 years they have been training people to teach and spread the gospel of home composting. Home composting is one of the most immediate ways to reduce waste and save money (and there are many ways to do it). Not only will you save money on garbage tags, but you will save Tompkins County money too. The less waste produced, the less they have haul and pay to dispose of, the less greenhouse gasses produced and water contaminated. The less miles driven, the less fuel burned, and the less pollution produced, too.

Braeden Cohen, of P&S Excavating/Cayuga Compost, is a master composter trainee.

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