Monday, August 24, 2009

Recycling & Composting - Three Lessons Learned

This week's challenge is about reducing the size of our trash bins by composting and recycling. We've been doing both activities for awhile so ... I thought I'd share some "lessons learned".

Lesson One: It IS possible to compost and recycle while living in an apartment.

Truthfully, when I began this blog, I didn't think either activity would work in a small space. We'd need an indoor spot to put recycle bins and an outdoor spot to put a compost. As with most things in life, however, the largest hurdle was simply getting my head wrapped around the idea. Once I did, the rest was easy.

We rearranged our laundry room a bit and stacked about four grocery boxes in the corner. These became our recycle bins ... one each for plastic, aluminum, glass and metal. We put another box in our office for paper. They fill up fast ... and we don't have curbside recycling or even a convenient center in our complex ... so, every time we leave the house, we take a box with us and place it in the trunk. If we happen to be driving by the recycle center (which is basically on our way to anywhere), we stop in and unload.

The compost bin seemed to be a little more challenging ... I thought it would be messy and smelly. It can be if a little care isn't taken. In my kitchen, I have an empty coffee container with a lid ... this is where I toss veggie scraps, coffee grounds and other compostables. When the container is full, I take it out to my patio where we've dedicated a large planter as our composter. We tossed some dirt in the bottom, added our organic material, covered it with a little more dirt and then ... and this is key ... we covered the container (we used an Eco-bag). This keeps the smell down.

Before we knew it, we had a routine for both recycling and composting.

Lesson Two: Almost everything can be either recycled or composted.

When one really starts considering what is tossed out, almost everything can either be recycled or composted. It does require that we break the habit of just tossing things into the trash and entails looking at things like recycle codes. And it sometimes requires separating components like removing paper labels from cans. But ... once in the habit of doing so, almost everything we touch has a place other than the trash.

Lesson Three: "Real" trash smells.

One of the things that bothered me about this process is that the trash bin started to smell way before it was even slightly full. This is because the only things getting trashed were cooked food items (I don't put anything cooked into the compost bin and we don't use the disposal ... it uses too much water). Not a lot of food goes to waste in our house ... we try to only cook what we can eat in a reasonable amount of time but ... occasionally cooked items get tossed. So does canned pet food that doesn't get eaten in a day. These items very quickly smell. I didn't feel right, however, about wasting a trash bag (even the Eco variety) before it was reasonably full. So ... we came up with a trick. We put any tossed out, potentially smelly stuff, into a small Eco-bag and then freeze it. We keep adding to the bag until it's full and then we take it to the dumpster. No more smelly trash bin.

It turns out that recycling and composting are easy activities ... activities that help us walk a little easier on the earth. On Wednesday, I hope you'll stop in and check out the Honor Society ... I've been reading everyone's efforts and there are some great recycling/composting tips and ideas.

As always ... I would love to hear from you.


  1. Interesting, the Lesson Three of "Real" trash smell you've written. It will decrease flies where not anything cooked composting in the basket. Thank you!

  2. http://nazarsudhakar.blogspot.comAugust 24, 2009 at 2:25 PM

    Yeah! It is the big issue that we are facing on the world platform. Thanks for the informative article.

  3. I've always been into recycling, but compost is another thing. Growing up I lived in a small town near the forest where backyard compost was discouraged because it drew bears into town. Now I don't have any outdoor space. However many districts in the area (not mine yet) are doing curbside compost pick up, so while you won't get the direct benefits of composting people without the space can still divert organics from landfill.

  4. We're TRYING to recycle!! I guess that doesn't get either do or you don't. Okay........We WANT to recycle

  5. Great post. We are avid recyclers and composters too. We've got a big compost bin in the backyard and we compost everything we can. I've been reading that you can put shredded junk mail into a worm bin. Can you put junk mail into a compost bin?
    Also, any tips for reducing the ant farm in our compost bin? Or are ants not really a concern? Are they, in fact, good for the compost?

  6. My brother-in-law in his tiny NYC apartment has a worm bin for his compost, next time we're down there I'll take pictures and do a post. It's very cool! -kate

  7. Hi Elle Bee, Great questions!

    Compost needs both green and brown materials (green materials are things like kitchen scraps and brown are things like dried leaves or newspaper). I am uncomfortable with composting junk mail because of all the ink that is used. While many companies are now using soy based ink, some are not. I'm also not sure about how some junk paper is treated to create those oh so shiny surfaces. So ... I would, personally, recycle junk mail and not put it in my compost. Newspaper is fine, as is cardboard.

    About the ants ... I've read that they aren't really a concern. They are assisting the compost process and when the compost is actually used in a garden, they'll naturally disperse. If they bother you, though, you can make your compost bin undesirable by making it wetter (using more green stuff). They'll go away because they tend to like a dry area.

    Hope that helps!


  8. We have a trash can and a recycling can right next to each other. My family has just gotten use to it. We also save all cans, glass and plastic in a seperate container, because we can get cash for those.

    California has made it very easy for us. We have huge recycling cans that we put out every week.


  9. I've actually also started recycling since I live at my new place. If I ever have a garden one day I'd love to have what's called in German - Komposthaufen - compost corner something like that?

    I've got another tip for your site (or I might have already mentioned this but it's my absolute favourite) - to get rid of limescale and pretty much every annoying stain:

    Soak cotton wool in ordinary cheap vinegar and wrap it around the affected area, put cling film around it so the vinegar doesn't dry out and leave it over night.
    In the morning you can literally just wipe the limescale off! I love this one!!

  10. SF, Thanks for answering my questions! And I totally didn't know cardboard was compostable--great! Thanks for stopping by my blog and for bringing me back here because I often forget to check back to see if my question has been answered, so that's perfect--thanks!

  11. Very interesting! Since we can compost everything in our city (we have municipality compost pickups weekly) then I have found that my "real" trash actually doesn't smell! if we every live in a province that doesn't legally mandate recycling/composting then I figure we'll have some similar issues.
    unfortunately, our recycling system ONLY accepts #1,2 plastic, cans, tetra packs and glass.... so this means we've had to change our purchasing drastically. we try to only include what we can put in recycling... but it's tricky.

    thanks for the ideas! :)

  12. Worm composters are becoming easier and more economical...check out!

    I purchased one a few weeks ago at Target...but now i just have to get my hands on the worms!