Beyond the Bin: Composting — can you dig it?

It would be hard to find a single person who doesn’t have an opinion about composting.

Devotees love it and wax rhapsodic about earthworms and their wiggly attributes. Most practical folks are convinced that composting is a smelly, yucky endeavor best left to eccentrics and obsessed gardener types.

But there’s no debate about the benefits of the composting process. Unwanted food, with time and proper management, is converted into rich soil that in turn can be used to grow more food. What’s not to like about that? It’s a perfect and endless cycle — a natural miracle.

That’s why it’s such a shame that a huge proportion of Newburyport’s household organics (the recycling term for “food scraps”) gets thrown out in the trash. Organics make up nearly 50% by weight of Newburyport’s household refuse — its largest component by far.

Our discarded food waste is trucked with the trash to an incinerator to be burned — costing money, consuming energy, creating pollution and wasting literally tons of organic potential each and every week.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There’s an opportunity for every household in Newburyport to compost its organics. Home composting requires some thoughtful setup and ongoing management, and admittedly isn’t for everyone. But there’s a much easier route.

The city has negotiated a special rate with Black Earth Compost for weekly household pickup of organic waste. No doubt you’ve seen Black Earth’s green bins around town.

For your investment of $99.99 for a whole year, Black Earth provides reliable weekly pickups of all your organic waste (which includes not only food scraps, but also organic-based matter like pizza boxes, paper napkins and dead houseplants). Their website at www.blackearthcompost.com has complete details about their collection process, services, fees, their composting facility, and a complete list of what can be composted. (You’ll be impressed.)

And in case you wondered, those curbside bins are completely animalproof!

That’s convincing, you say, but separating and saving food scraps is messy and it will smell if I keep them for a whole week. That’s a valid concern. But with a bit of initial organization, storing food scraps for composting can be easy, tidy and completely odor-free.

One trick to avoiding food odors is to keep your potentially smelliest and messiest organic waste frozen. (Animal-based products top that list.) Begin by clearing some space in your freezer.

This is the perfect time to get rid of all the expired and frost-damaged food that’s been taking up room in your deep-freeze for too long. You can compost it all! Remove the rejects from their original packaging and place them in a paper bag big enough to contain everything, with room to spare. Keep the bag in the freezer.

This is your first Black Earth composting cache. As the week goes on, add your food scraps to the bag as necessary. You can even add a limited amount of liquids, like oils and sauces, because they’ll freeze before they cause a leak.

Once a week, pull out the bag and put it in your curbside Black Earth bin for pickup (currently on Thursdays at 7 a.m.). Pop a new bag in the freezer and you’re ready for a new week. It’s very important to use paper or special compostable “plastic” bags. Regular plastic bags do not decompose and so cannot be used in composting.

If there’s not enough room in the freezer, fruit and vegetable scraps can be kept in a dedicated lidded container of your choice on the counter or floor, or in the fridge. Plant scraps don’t usually develop odors over the course of a week. Problem items can always go in the freezer.

Over time, you’ll put your own spin on the weekly routine, and you’ll be wowing your friends and family with your green lifestyle before you know it!

Whether or not to compost is an impactful decision for every household in Newburyport. It’s a small investment in both effort and money, but the environmental payoff is huge.

The typical Port household produces 23 pounds of trash in an ordinary week. On average, 11 pounds of that — nearly half — is organic waste. By committing to composting, the average household can divert over 500 pounds of its refuse each year from useless trash to clean, green compost. The opportunity is at your doorstep once a week. Will you carry your weight?

Upcoming recycling events:

Aug. 24 (Saturday), 8 a.m. to noon: Household Hazardous Waste Collection at the DPW, 16A Perry Way.

Sept. 28 (Saturday), 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.: Repair Café at the Newburyport Community/Senior Center, 331 High St. 

For additional information on all aspects of recycling in Newburyport: www.cityofnewburyport.com (click on “Recycling, Energy & Sustainability Department”) or call the recycling office at 978-499-0413.

Nancy Roeder is a member of the Toward Zero Waste Newburyport Committee. Her family’s household trash averages less than two pounds a week. She has been composting for over 35 years.