How to be eco-friendly without compost

About a year ago, I wrote a beginner’s guide to how to start your own compost pile. And believe me, I was really into it and so were a bunch of other people. I still believe that composting is the best way to effectively deal with food waste and scraps, but it was easy to spout such philosophies while living in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I had to access not only to my own compost pile but also city compost- a beautiful system where you can toss your food scraps, pizza boxes, and even facial tissue into a green bin and the city hauls it away and turns it into compost FOR YOU.

Then I moved to Tucson, Arizona. There is no city compost here, no glorious green bin. It’s no man’s land. There used to be a pretty cool program called Scraps on Scraps that would haul your compost scraps away every two weeks for the monthly fee of $23. I’m not sure why they stopped, but now Tucson literally has no compost program what-so-ever. If you want to start composting, you have to have space for your own pile or container, and that’s not my current reality.

The first week I still set aside my food scraps like normal before the second week dawned and I began to experience what I can only describe as food scrap melancholy. It actually saddened me to throw away such valuable resources. I felt awful with the website that I run and the values that I put forth here, throwing away food.

I felt something else too. I felt ignorant and extremely privileged, to have gone so long with compost, definitely taking it for granted in all the ways that I had. It is REALLY easy to tell people from an ivory tower what they should be doing without ever realizing what that the vast majority of people go through every day with their food. We in the zero waste community really believe that people who don’t compost just don’t care, that it comes from a place of apathy, and it some cases it does. But I think if cities adopted most green bin programs we would start to notice that people do actually care. I suddenly experienced a deep respect for all the people out there who unlike me have been living in communities where compost isn’t really happening, who are finding revolutionary ways to deal with their food scraps anyway. And a deep respect for people who would like to do their part, but are limited by the circumstances of their geography.

The reality is that people live in apartments. People live on concrete blocks without so much as a yard. Not everyone is cut out to start their own tiny worm bin in their condo. So what can we do to stay sustainable when composting isn’t really and option?

Create less food waste

This might sound obvious, like make sure you finish all the food in your fridge, but it goes beyond that. It involves buying produce that doesn’t garner as many scraps to begin with. When buying squash for example, buy one where you can eat the skin, then also roast and eat the seeds. Buy fruit you don’t have to peal. Buy shelled nuts. Really try to use every edible bit of the vegetable you’re cutting into.

The second part of this involves religiously eating all of the food you bring in to your house. Eliminating the need to throw away food at all can be a great step toward not composting.

Go the extra mile with your scraps

No one can create zero food waste, it’s just not possible. Egg shells, chicken bones, vegetable peals, citrus peals, and apple cores can all be given a second life before thrown away. Make bone broth from your meat bones, veggie broth from your peals, candy those citrus rinds, make apple cider vinegar from your apple cores. Egg shells? Crush them up and use them in your plants for added nutrients. Make dye out of avocado peals and cores. Don’t worry, I don’t expect you to do this all at once. Just getting a couple projects going at a time can make a huge difference.

For lots of great tips on eliminating food waste, check out my Pinterest Board, Combat Food Waste.

Renegade Returning it to the Earth

In no way do I think you should just dump all your food scraps in the woods- please don’t do that. Doing that will disrupt natural ecosystems and food chains and endanger wildlife. That said, throwing the occasional apple core into the bushes? Yeah. Do it. Sprinkling crushed egg shells around random plants? Don’t get caught, but you’re probably doing those plants a favor. Growing up we had the rule that it’s only litter if it’s not edible or biodegradable. Occasional food waste litter is fine, but be respectful of where and what you toss. I really only use this concept for the occasional core or pit of something. And definitely note that tossing anything like fruit outside, will attract critters.

Find a Friend or Community Garden

Maybe you have a friend who can compost and wants to start a pile with you. Or perhaps your neighborhood features a cool community garden you didn’t even know about but has a compost pile. Look around your community for these options and see what you can find. I’m often surprised by how much good a little networking can do. If you do find a compost pile to donate to, this compostable counter compost bin by Bamboozle with a bamboo handle will help you tote your scraps, and it looks pretty adorable too.

Counter-top compost bin by Bamboozle.

If you really want to- Set up a worm bin in your apartment

Landlord says you can’t have pets? Sure you can: 200 of your own adorable worms munching on your food scraps and pooping them into fertilizer. If you want to compost but don’t have access to city compost or compost pile, and you think you can handle maintaining a small ecosystem under your kitchen sink, perhaps think about getting a little in-house worm bin. Personally, I love the idea of earthworms outside and from personal experience can say that running a worm bin causes me a lot stress (I worry about the worms too much!) but it might be for you.

This worm bin is small enough for your apartment, but large enough to create a comfy habitat for your new housemates, er, worms.

worm bin.

Don’t guilt yourself

You know what life is too short for? Getting down on yourself for what you cannot control. We cannot be perfectly sustainable every minute of every day. I can guarantee you that even those of us who tout zero-waste principles and ideals have human moments. We accept plastic to be nice to people, move cross country and have to set up new rituals and practices on new turfs. Living sustainably takes time. Living sustainably without systems or resources to tap into requires a lot of work. In an ideal scenario those systems would be in place for us to utilize, but we’re just not there yet as a society. You’re doing the best you can under your own circumstances. Let’s all give ourselves a break on the guilt trip and enjoy the creativity that comes from just being human and living as authentically as we can in our own individual ways.

Let me know

In the comments, let me know of other ways you stay sustainable when you can’t compost.

What if you want to live sustainably and by zero-waste principles, but you don't have access to a compost pile? Here are several tips to keep you living a zero waste lifestyle without compost. #zerowaste #compost #ecofriendly

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