November 7, 2019

GUEST ROOM | How Composting Changed Me

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My first-time composting did not end well. I was 19 and not great at handling adult responsibilities, but I wanted to be more ecologically ethical, so I gave it a try. Discouraged by the amount of counter space the compost pail took up, I pushed it under the sink where I promptly forgot about it. That is, until one day I remembered it was there and as I pulled it out and maggots spilled everywhere. Disgusted, I threw the whole thing away and did not even think about composting again until now.

As a development sociology undergraduate at Cornell, this is my last semester, and I decided to branch out from my normal concentration on inequality studies and take a couple courses that relate to climate change. Oddly enough, September, our first month at school, was the hottest on record. The Bahamas was devastated by Hurricane Dorian; unprecedented Amazon rainforest fires spread and the Global Climate Strikes took place. These occurrences provided me with further impetus to apply what I was learning from my classes to real life. Upon learning that approximately 8% of global emissions are caused by food waste, I decided my first step to changing my lifestyle would be to start up a compost again.

This was easy enough: While I live in an apartment, I am on the outskirts of Ithaca and am fortunate to have a backyard and a landlord who does not come around much. I started off using a small plastic container and left it next to the sink. As my food scraps piled up in there daily, I realized how much food I was throwing out — which led me to undertake the next steps to minimize my carbon footprint.

Like any savvy college-student, I tried to save a buck and buy in bulk. For instance, I’d buy three pounds of ground beef rolled up in a plastic tube from Walmart that would cost approximately $8. I thought I was saving money, but after a month of composting, I realized that every time I cooked ground beef, I ended up throwing over half of it away. As if the realization of the amount of food and money I was wasting was not enough, I also learned this semester that fresh and packaged beef products from Walmart are derived from cattle in the Amazon. Since 91% of the deforestation of the Amazon is caused by clearing land for livestock and feed, the fires there are largely caused by providing the world with beef. Therefore, simply put, if everyone in the world stopped eating this beef, deforestation in the Amazon would be significantly cut. Now, I frequent Greenstar instead and buy one pound of organic, local, grass-fed ground beef. I enjoy this fresher and tastier beef for two days — nothing goes to waste, and I actually save $2.

Committed to composting, I visited the Tompkins County Recycling and Materials Management to pick up a proper compost kitchen caddy, compostable liner bags and a transportation container — all of which they offer to Tompkins County residents for free. The process was quick and easy. I went to their office near Walmart, filled out my name and email on a paper and they handed me the bags and containers. It took a total of two minutes. If you don’t have an outdoor space to compost, you can bring up to 10 gallons of compost daily to one of their 14 drop-off locations, and it’s free. That will save you a lot of money if you’re paying for trash tags in Ithaca — just saying.

Overall, greater measures must be taken by the government to decrease emissions. The compost program by Tompkins County, though not well-known, is excellent. Furthermore, in 2020 the food waste bill will prohibit large-scale food producers in NY state from throwing food waste into landfills. Yet, we need to also do our part by changing our habits. Eat less meat and dairy, compost, purchase less, opt for quality over quantity, donate unopened food goods, feed your leftovers to your dog. Composting was the first step for me. Viewing my food waste on the ground, as opposed to throwing it into the trash, influenced my actions. I am now more mindful of how I shop for food, which not only benefits the environment, but is also healthier for my body.

Tahlia Hanna-Martinez is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Comments may be sent to [email protected].