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December 09, 2010

A Spin a Day Keeps the Trash Away

by June Soh

City residents reduce garbage by doing their own composting

As enthusiasm about urban gardening and sustainability has increased, so has interest in urban composting. Composting involves  turning organic waste - such as food scraps and grass clippings - into soil. Some simplified methods and services make composting easier for city dwellers and help reduce the amount of trash that ends up in landfills as well.  

A spin a day

"It doesn't smell at all. If you are composting correctly, there really shouldn't be a smell," says Christiana Aretta as she spins the compost bin on her small apartment porch - something the Washington, D.C. resident does once a day. "If there is a smell, it probably means that you don't have the right balance."

Aretta dumps all of her food scraps into the bin along with some papers. Since receiving the tumbler for her birthday a few months ago, Aretta says her household trash has been significantly reduced.  

"It is probably somewhere between 80 to 90% of our trash is compostable," she says. "So we hardly ever throw anything away, what between composting and recycling."  

And there's another benefit. Aretta has a little backyard behind her first floor apartment.

"The other benefit will be in the spring when all the stuff that we've composted we can then put on top of the soil in our garden which will in turn help our vegetables be that much better."

Reusing food to create more

Ingrid Drake and her partner also started composting about three years ago.  She likes the idea of reusing food to create more food.

"We also compost because we want to reduce the amount of trash in D.C. and the amount of trash going to landfills," says Drake.

She employs a couple of different methods. One is a spinner bin outside used mostly during the warm season. The other is vermicomposting or warm composting in the basement all year round.

"The worms are working and they eat very fast," says Drake. "They produce very fine soil and they also produce a liquid, a worm juice, that the USDA and some of the experts in agriculture have actually said is some of the most valuable, healthy fertilizer and anti-pest control product that you can buy."

Composting on the go

She says home composting is not really as hard as it may sound. But for those who don't have a backyard, Jeremy Brosowsky thinks he has an answer. He recently launched a company called Compost Cab in the nation's capital.

"There are plenty of people who individually understand that composting in the city is an important and valuable thing to do," he says. "Our job is to make it as easy for them as possible to do that."

Brosowsky's service provides clients with a specially converted bucket with a compostable liner. He picks up food scraps weekly for an  $8 fee and takes them to Engaged Community Offshoot, a non-profit farm in the Washington suburbs, for composting.  If the clients wish, he returns some of the dirt to them nine months later. Otherwise, the soil is used at ECO to support sustainable urban agriculture projects.

"I believe that composting is not just about waste reduction, but also about food production," says Brosowsky. "So linking our waste stream directly to urban agriculture is a very tangible and easy to understand link for people to make."

Brosowsky believes composting is a fundamental part of the solutions that can lead to sustainable cities so he's starting to think bigger. He is now working on a plan to start picking up at a larger scale from commercial customers as well.