“Can I Compost This?”

10/03/2019
by Sierra Guardiola

Much to my surprise, and pleasure, as I walked around The Commons this past weekend during the annual Apple Festival in Ithaca, I saw multiple bins labeled “composting” placed next to trash cans. There were people manning these trash areas and using extended claw arms to sort through scraps that attendees were throwing into the trash. They were picking through to remove compostable items that would have otherwise ended up in landfills. This got me thinking, why is it challenging for us to participate in composting, and how much unnecessary waste does our aversion create?

The Environmental Protection Agency reported that in 2015, 23.4 million tons of municipal solid waste were composted, with yard clippings making up 21.3 million tons. The EPA also reported that food scraps and yard waste make up 30 percent of trash produced, when it could be composted instead.

Besides stopping trash from building up in landfills, why do we compost? Compost is a nutrient-rich solution that helps the soil in which plants are grown. By using compost, you’re not only reducing your trash waste and carbon footprint, but you are also reducing the need for excess water, pesticides, and fertilizers, says the American Society of Landscape Architects. So, why aren’t we as receptive to composting as we are to recycling?

One possible roadblock is the convenience factor. When composting, it’s necessary to establish your site in a dry and shady spot that is near a water source. When filling your composting bin, it’s important to layer materials in certain ways to ensure the mixture stays moist and decomposes properly. For example, food scraps should be covered by grass clippings by at least 10 inches, according to the EPA. If you’d rather compost inside, a special box is available for purchase at most hardware stores that creates a suitable environment for compostable materials to be disposed of, or consider doing it yourself using items found in your home like a plastic bin or a five-gallon bucket.

Another roadblock may be the question of what can and can not be composted. While there are many lists available online and lots of educational outreach that circulates to educate the public, knowing what is safe to throw in your compost bin can be questionable. The EPA has a list on their site that specifies what should and should not be composted. Some items that may not be known to be compost-friendly are:

  • Eggshells
  • Teabags
  • Fireplace ashes
  • Cotton and wool rags

Along with these, there are more commonly heard of compostable items like food and vegetable waste, paper, grass clippings, and leaves, just to name a few.

Especially in the wake of the Global Climate Strikes, initiatives like composting seem more important than ever. Seeing these people helping at the annual Apple Festival to separate trash and compost reminded me that it’s important to be mindful of your waste and to take that extra second to think, “Can I compost this?”


Sierra is a senior journalism major at Ithaca College. She is currently a freelancer for Hudson Valley Magazine and can also be seen in Real Simple. When she’s not writing, you can find her watching Parks and Rec or exploring the many hikes in the Ithaca region.