Atmosphere

One Man's Trash...

Why composting should be a household practice in Denver.

April 2010

When the city of Denver announced that March would be the final month of the city's composting program—a federally funded pilot project offering regular compost pickup for 3,300 households­—some particpants questioned it as a step away from sustainability. Fine, said Denver: We'll keep sending trucks to pick up food scraps from those households willing to pony up $88 for nine more months of service. The fee, though, raises another question: Do you really need the city to help you compost?

Turns out, you can turn potato skins and banana peels into nutrient-rich soil yourself. Judy Elliott, lead trainer for the Denver Urban Gardens (DUG) Master Composter Training and Outreach Program, says it's well worth it—and easier than you think. "Composting is part of people searching for ways to live sustainable lifestyles," says Elliott, who also teaches free Learn to Compost classes at DUG (www.dug.org). "It requires almost no special equipment or expenditures, just the commitment to help turn waste into resources."

Fifty-seven percent of Denverites' garbage is organic material, which breaks down anaerobically (without air) inside plastic garbage bags at the landfill, creating methane, a greenhouse gas that can remain in the atmosphere for decades and exacerbate climate change. Even with a simple indoor tumbling bin, which rotates to increase oxygen flow and speed decomposition, a household can shrink its landfill output by almost half. Got little kids? Watch worms do all the work in a "vermicomposting" bin. If you don't have a garden or plants to reap the benefits, donate the compost to a neighbor, local farm, or school garden program. Citywide composting may also help reduce river pollution, as nutrient-heavy compost can effectively take the place of chemical pesticides.

Still nervous to start the pile? Here, we debunk several composting myths.

  • Myth: Compost piles smell.
    Vents in the bins maximize airflow, and oxygen reduces anaerobic microbes that create odors. If you combine carbon (leaves, cereal, newspaper) and nitrogen (fruit and veggie trimmings) materials in pieces smaller than two inches, keep the soil moist, and turn it often, odors will be minimal.
  • Myth: Compost attracts pests.
    To stave off critters, leave out meat, fat, cheese, and bones, and bury food under carbon-rich materials.
  • Myth: You need a lot of space.
    If you have just a few spare feet in the corner of your yard or deck, a basic three-foot, black-plastic storage container will be inconspicuous.