Thursday, April 30, 2009

Which is Better: Compost or Disposal?

This is the first in a series of "Which is Better" articles. Many times we want to do the right thing, but honestly don't know which is the better choice. Feel free to suggest your own topics and I'll go hunt down the answers!

While I think composting food scraps is a great idea, I confess I have never done it. When our garbage company offered to compost it for us, I was happy to hop on board, but I wondered if it really made a difference. Wasn't I already grinding up most of that food in the garbage disposal? So, which is better - sending the food down the disposal or letting the garbage company pick it up with your yard waste?

The hands-down winner on this question is composting. Why? Well, if you think about it, garbage disposals use electricity and water to send the food down the disposal and through the sewer to the treatment plant where it will eventually be disposed of in a nearby large body of water. With composting, there are resources involved - primarily, the gas in the trucks that do the pickup, but then the food scraps are turned into a beneficial use. In the Seattle area, it all goes to Cedar Grove which then turns it into a variety of compost products that are sold to gardeners. Basically, less resources go into disposing of the food scraps and it gets put to a good use rather than just dumped in the ocean.

That leads us to two common questions...

1) Doesn't it smell? Honestly, my answer is no, it doesn't. Find a good container and take it out daily and you're fine. We just use leftover grocery bags (from those trips when I forgot to bring my reusable bags) in our regular under-the-sink garbage bins, but there are other options available.

2) What can I compost? Check with your local company, but in our area, all food scraps are acceptable - the scrapings off the dinner plate, leftover kids lunches, you name it. Soiled paper products (pizza box, used paper towel, etc.) can go in as well as long as they aren't plastic-coated (typically, it would be shiny - e.g. milk carton, juice box, frozen food container). The food scraps and acceptable soiled paper items then all get tossed into our yard waste bin along with grass clippings and weeds.

For me, it is a fairly easy way to reduce the waste generated by our household. It's strange to think that eight weeks after leaving my house, my garbage is being turned into compost. Maybe I'll get some of it back when I pick up some compost for my garden!

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