My Recycling Mistake | Seventh Generation
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My Recycling Mistake

Author: SEBLerner

Compost BinEntering my final months of pregnancy, I thought I was doing pretty well on my journey to becoming more green. Among other things, I've planted herbs and vegetables in a small garden, almost completely stopped my use of disposable water bottles, and have been recycling old furniture and other goods. Not bad for a beginner, right? But as it turns out, I've been missing something really big.

This morning I watched a program on a new environmental channel and realized that I am even more wasteful than I ever thought was possible. To make it even worse, the error of my ways should have been completely obvious! Even a novice environmentalist knows that recyclable products need to be separated from the regular trash and put into special containers for recycling. Everything else goes in the trash, right?

Wrong. I had been under the impression that all of our compostable trash would end up in a landfill and, well, turn into compost or dirt after a period of time, just like in a normal compost heap. I assumed that this dirt couldn't possibly be bad for the environment and yada, yada, yada. But according to the green experts on my television show, 1) it is bad and 2) I've been making it exponentially worse by putting all the compostable material into plastic, non-biodegradable bags which then makes the compostable stuff non-biodegradable as well. It's the same premise as putting grass clippings or leaves into bags that aren't recyclable. I can't believe I've been so thoughtless -- and wasteful. Turns out I've also been incorrectly disposing a ridiculous amount of food and perishable items. So much so that I feel guilty about it, especially after the reality check I had this morning.

If I 1) didn't waste so much food and 2) disposed of this biodegradable matter in a slightly different, more eco-friendly way, I'd be able to reduce my waste (and food budget) by a significant percentage! In retrospect this all seems so obvious, but I didn't see it before. Why not? Maybe because I wasn't focused on the simple things that can make a big impact. So now I am considering the steps I should take to deal with compostable waste. There's even an in-home rapid composting gadget available for those without the outdoor space for a compost heap.

It can be done. Now that I've owned up to this act of environmental ignorance I know I have to make sure I don't stumble down this path again. Being green is a challenge, but it's one I want to face to protect planet home for my baby all of the next generation! photo: Jessica Spengler


cibsp2 picture
I had tried to compost using red worms- fun at first, lots of babies, ate a lot of my food scraps, however, the bins did begin to smell, lots of ants making their way into the small holes, and get very hot here in San Diego. So hot in fact that I could not find a cool shaded spot to put them in. I had leaking juices, worms trying to escape (poor things) and eventually- dead worms- What a frightful smell! I tried bigger, lighter colored containers, but the sun was just too intense. I now put all table scraps directly into a hole in a raised flower bed that is covered with a piece of plywood. Lots of ants- lots of earthworms. I does get a smell but I do turn the scraps once a week and spray with water which keeps the smell down. _ Just something to consider if this is a route you want to try.
hvineyard picture
Re: Easier Fix... by Food For Health I really like your idea of putting the compost back into the fridge until there's enough to move to the outdoor compost bin. It makes total sense--slow down the decomposition until it gets outside. We bought a ceramic counter-top compost container for $15 online. It looks really nice, has holes in the top and a carbon filter that does a pretty good job at keeping the odors inside the canister. However, we had some kind of fly larvae hatch in the kitchen this year. We are looking at getting worm bins so that the food gets broken down more quickly.
VidyaCanales picture
How to get your husband in on this...the vermicompost... and education helps for beginners... We already recycle our food scraps and other compost friendly waste which we put in a large paper shopping bag and turn it over to the outdoor free standing copost at our community garden. I want us to have an under-the-sink vermicompost. He is concerned about the odor, attracting bugs,etc. Plus, he says that NO WORMS are ALLOWED in our house. They belong OUTSIDE!
lisac1218 picture
check out this website for in home composters: They also have all kinds of great green products available.
DeeEllen picture
instead of purchasing the expensive fancy compost bins to keep in your kitchen, I keep a gallon-sized plastic container in my freezer and put food waste in it as it's generated. I usually fill the bottom with about 1" of water, so that when it is defrosted, it's nice and soggy. the freezing actually helps break down the food products and enhances composting.
DeeEllen picture
In my effort to make my home greener, I did invest in a composter, and it's not that big...maybe 2' x 2' and 3'high. We recycle everything we use, and compost all our food product waste (with 6 dogs, the meat products pretty much take care of themselves!). My next hurdle is breaking the napkin and paper towel habit. It seemed that we wasted these, so I've removed them from the premises and provided cloth napkins and wash cloths as substitutes. After about 2 weeks of grumbling from household members, it seems to be catching on. Now, much to my displeasure, the only thing we are tossing are my Keurig K-cups. I can scoop the coffee out of them but the containers cannot be recycled. I contacted the company, but that is what i was told....ideas?
aebred picture
I've seen small composters at a company called Emagine Green They're called Urban Composters & come with stuff to help speed the process up. To rbfamily, I think the cute composter in the picture is just a little counter-top one that fills up really quick- you have to empty it into a larger compost bin outside.
rbfamily picture
I would love to know where I could get a compost pail like the one in the photo. It is super cute!
Dorisanderson picture
Find someone who has a garden, or chickens or pigs etc, (if you can) and give it to them, it will be very appriciated!
cruella picture
To lissa-maine Your landlord recently said no more. Suggestion. Get the other tenents to sign a petition. Attach to the petition the benefits of composting, to include that good, rich soil can be SOLDm meaning additional money for your landlord.
tigger341969 picture
I have a bench top stainless steel bin with a charcoal liner in the lid. This way no smell escapes from the container. I use this to place my vegie scraps and tea bags/leaves. When this is full I tip it into our worm farm. I was getting lots of insects in my worm farm but if you add shredded newspaper or dry leaves this will send them packing. With the worm farm you drain the liquid(worm wee) through the tap at the bottom and dilute it to make a fertillizer for the garden. Once the worms have eaten all the food scraps the turn this into great organic matter for the garden (worm poo).
ceciliabrown419 picture
At our home we compost two ways. One is worm bins that I keep in my garage (no smell) the second is a garbage can with a latch lid (I bungee it closed) I drilled holes in the bottom, sides and top. I put household stuff we are vegetarians but don't put dairy in and we even put the feline pine (no kitty poop though) in it. We put leaves and I lay the can on it's side and roll it around the yard every time I add to it. The bin did get black fly larva (non biting flies) but they are great composters and help to break down the waste quickly. I operate on a two can system so that when one can fills up I start the other, then when I add the second can I turn both cans in the yard. By the time the second bin is filled the other is ready for the garden and I start the cycle all over again Because it is in a plastic can it stays moist and it gets hot enough to break down the stuff. I have never had to add water.
jphajosy picture
Sorry, Christy85, but if you send it to a landfill, evenin a biodegradable trash bag, it will not tur into dirt. Keep in mind, our landfills are air-tight tombs, and even banana peels sit there for decades. When things finally start to break down, they emit methane, which creates another environmental hazard. Very few landfills have installed W2E (Waste to Energy) plants, capturing and utilizing the methane. Hopefully W2Es take off, but as for now, most of them just burn the emitting methane, hence the flames coming out of landfills.
Christy85 picture
I'm not excusing not composting, but were not all perfect. lol. I use biodegradable trash bags, which would allow the stuff in your bags to become dirt - solving the problem discussed in the article!
lissa_maine picture
Thank you both for your thoughts! After seeing how much compost we make I just can't ear to start throwing it out. Worms - that should thrill my son and gross out my partner - sounds like fun!! :) thanks again, elisabeth
MEL208 picture
Consider vermicomposting. You can google lots of good info on the subject. is a great place to start. It's very "I don't have the space for a pile!" friendly. Cost-wise, it's quite a bit cheaper than buying an indoor composter (judging by the NatureMill site), although it takes more effort to maintain. I guess it depends how hands-on you like to get with your compost and how much money you're willing to spend.
hoffmak picture
My partner got me a really nice indoor composter for my birthday this year, and for the most part it's been working wonders. We live in a large apartment building and have NO outdoor space (not even a balcony). The unit is about the size of a trash compactor, and unfortunately uses energy to heat and turn the material that you put in it. It will compost EVERYTHING, including cooked bones from chicken, meat, dairy, etc. It takes us about a week to fill the unit, so every weekend we take the fresh compost to my partner's aunt to cure in her backyard compost pile. It also speeds up the decomposition in her compost pile. The model we have was made by NatureMill.
lissa_maine picture
I've been composting forever before moving to the city, and for three years now in the backyard of our apt. but last week our landlord decided to no longer allow it. In four days I can't believe the amount of compost that is headed for the trash. Other than not eating, I'm trying to come up with creative ways to deal with this. Someone mentioned an in home composter - googled a bit but haven't come up with anything. Anyone have any leads on how to find this kind of thing? Thanks!! elisabeth
SafePetHaven picture
To: SEBLerner Congratulations & hope for you a very healthy baby soon. On the baby note, you do plan then to launder cloth diapers in oxygen bleach products rather than chlorine, and/or pre-soak in 20 mule-team borax? I cannot even get a visual about what all the convenience-disposable diapers have done to our planet over the decades that they've been available.
SafePetHaven picture
Sorry, Lanilan, but your husband is ill-informed. Done properly, compost piles do not smell any differently than any other fresh garden soil, do not encourage flies nor rodents/other scavengers, but you do have to follow the rules such as no meat or bones in the heap, and add enough water and/or turning to keep it decomposing. Although when I was only putting raked leaves & garden trimmings into my compost pile, it decomposed without one minute's intervention by me, albeit much more slowly than if I'd been turning it regularly. After 2-3 years, I had a lovely bin of wonderful, rich compost to add around my yard as fill-in. Otherwise, I let God & Mother Nature take care of the outdoors, as I do not add fertilizer, pest concoctions, not even potable water; trees, grass & plants either make it or they don't. So far they've been hardy for about thirty years; the roses only get pruned back severely once a year.
Food For Health picture
Food For Health
I keep my empty plastic salad greens box, put it back in the fridge, and fill with compost until full enough to empty into the outdoor composter. No bugs...and it's sustainable, 'cause they are washable and reusable. When not in use for compost, I keep quilting fabric stacked in these in my sewing room. Good for crafts,too!
wife.earthfriendly.unique. picture
With it being under the sink, does it attract bugs? We get a lot of earwigs & I dont want to make a home for them. Also how much does it hold?
k8iedid picture
I too don't have a big outdoor space, so the one you pictured would be perfect. @Lanilan - or yours would be a great size for me as well. Do you remember where you got it? thanks!
Lanilan picture
I too recently bought a small composting canister that sits under my sink. My Hubby wont let me have a heap in the backyard cause of the flys, smell, etc. so I thought this was a nice compromise. One step at a time to being greener.