One young Catholic family on a Journey towards Intentional and Communal Sustainability. One Artist, one full time Mama and two babies, we'll tell you about all our successes, and failures, as we try to make it in our overly Consumeristic society on just the bare necessities.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Get your Compost out of the Kitchen!

Well, since our first self- challenge of not spending anything for a month, we still haven't started back up on a weekly trash pick-up.  Joey takes our trash off to a family member's city dumpster every now and then.  But to cut back on the amount of trash that piles up in our garage in the mean time, we compost and reuse/re-purpose as much as possible.  So for the next few weeks, we'll be highlighting our favorite compost sources that you might not know about, as well as the ways we cut down on the trash pile in other ways.

Everybody knows that you can compost kitchen scrapes.  Even in the dead of winter.  Many compost heaps emit enough heat to melt the snow that falls on them from the decomposing layers of leftovers.  And what better way to get yourself ready for your spring garden then making use of all those leftover holiday goodies.  In our house we compost almost everything (yes, I know that you're not "supposed" to compost fats, but here's an article on how to do it- we use a plastic, enclosed compost bin that is open only to the ground with a lid on top.  This is mostly to keep the dogs out, but it also keeps the smell down so we can compost bones left over from stock and veggies that were cooked in butter, etc).

But what else can you compost, regardless of the season?

Composting Out of the Kitchen
Charlotte's indoor cardboard playhouse that we composted as soon as it fell apart

1) Laundry room.  During the winter especially, when it's too cold to line dry, your laundry room creates an enormous pile of perfectly compostable material- namely dryer lint.  Keep a separate trashcan just for lint next to your dryer, and every time you clean out your lint trap throw it in.  Because it doesn't smell, and is very "smoosh-able" you'll probably only have to empty this every few months.  I also throw old undershirts that have too many holes in them (cotton only).  You can compost any natural cloth- Cotton, Wool, Rayon, silk, etc.  If you want to compost clothing that has elastic (i.e. old undies that need disposing of) cut the elastic band out first and toss that in the general trashcan.  For the most part, ALL your trash in this room is probably compostable.  If you use laundry detergent that comes in a cardboard box, that can go in too- just make sure it's absolutely empty, especially if it has any funny ingredients.  Also, the paper tags from new clothes that you pluck off before washing can go right in!  I use Country Save, so I don't have to worry too much.  What not to compost- Plastic containers (duh!), boxes that contained hazardous chemicals, and synthetic material.

2) Bathroom.  Ok, this one can be sticky, so bear with me.  My recommendation is to have a 3 bucket system... one for your real trash (disposable feminine products, non-cardboard packaging from shampoo, etc), one for cloth products to be washed (non-disposable feminine products, family cloth if you're into that, etc) and one for compost.  This can include: hair from your hair brush/shower drain, toilet paper rolls, facial tissues, q-tips, and cardboard packaging.  Probably other stuff too.  What it shouldn't include is anything dirty from human waste.  Unless properly composted in a self contained composer , human waste should never be mixed with your compost.  There are some thoughts on composting toilets- but frankly, these wig me out and if you were to use them you should follow some serious sanitary guidelines.  There are plenty of diseases, like salmonella, that can be transferred from fecal material to compost, to garden vegetables.  What you CAN compost, if you choose too, is human urine.  This is not only sanitary (because it is sterile) but it is also full of nitrogen, which most garden vegetables crave.  Instead of collecting this inside and transferring it outside, though, i recommend just letting your little boys (and girls) run around naked in the backyard when the weather's warm enough. 

3) Sewing/crafting room.  Scrapes of natural fabrics (see above) that can't be salvaged for anything else should be swept into the compost and not the trash can.  Why waste a thread?  I also compost old pattern scrapes (the parts you cut out) or other tissue paper that I use to make patterns.  Yarn is scarcely in excess, but it will do as well, as long as it's cotton or wool.  Just throw them in the closest bucket when you're done with your project.

4) Cleaning.  Dust from the dust pan makes excellent brown material, just like the dryer lint.  If you use paper towels, use an environmentally friendly cleaner (such as vinegar, or this one) and you can throw those in too.  Maybe someone will fuss because they're bleached, but you know what?  Waste not, want not is more important to me than a few trace chemicals.  So my garden won't be PERFECTLY chemical free? I knew that from the beginning going in based on all the horrible chemicals that were put down before we bought the house and we've spent 3 summers trying to rid ourselves of.  I'd rather have happy compost that's not perfect than no vegetables at all.

5) Garage/ workshop/ studio.  Wood scraps, sawdust, clay water and impure clay (for those with ceramicist husbands!).  Also, any cardboard boxes that come from packages, costco, etc.  Cardboard is the king of lasagna gardening, and if you go back, you can see what Joey does with it here.

6) Mailbox.  Junk mail and mailer adds make great compost!  Just take the plastic windows out of the envelopes.

7) Fireplace ashes.

8) Playroom.  Broken wooden toys, old drawings that aren't to be kept or used as wrapping paper, "retired" stuffed animals (check the material to make sure it's natural fibers first.  You might have to throw out the stuffing and only use the "skin").

9) Your Christmas Tree!

This is part one of our compost series.  Look forward to the other parts in our series on Reusing and Re-purposing including green wrapping paper, Composting indoors when there's a foot of snow, and what you can grow in your coffee grounds.