JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Rubbish ...

I’ve been thinking about rubbish quite a lot recently, because I feel guilty about how little we recycle and compost. The other day, as I was struggling with the bin under the kitchen sink, I wondered what other keen cooks and food bloggers do with their rubbish. So I fired off an email, and got an instant response from Andrew of Spittoonextra, who lives just down the road from me. What can I say? Not only is he the food blogging beginner’s best friend, he’s also a keen recycler – he was the first in his street to use the new-ish recycling bins supplied by the council, and he used to sort through the bin of a rubbish flatmate who refused to recycle. What a hero!

Most of the rest of us are doing what we can, and feeling guilty that it’s probably not enough. Sam from Becks & Posh in San Francisco recycles diligently, but her Fred thinks it’s all a big sham. I think that’s the problem for lots of us – all those stories you hear about how it all ends up in landfill even if you’ve sorted it, or the thought that the main ingredient in glass is the energy required to make the bottle, which is lost the moment you smash it into the bottle bank.

Anne at Anne’s Food keeps her trash under the sink, lining the bin with used plastic groceries bags (that’s what I do). Her block of flats (in Stockholm) has a recycling room, where they put paper, glass, bottles and cans. She doesn’t bother with milk cartons, though, because she says she doesn’t have much rubbish, and “it just doesn’t feel very urgent.” She thinks she’ll feel differently when she has a family. Dagmar at A Cat in the Kitchen doesn’t have a recycling room in her apartment block (also in Sweden), so she throws out everything except newspapers and bottles, and she has to find places to take them. She says: “I don’t know many people at all who compost their leftovers or recycle empty cans, probably because we lack the possibility.”

It’s a tricky issue. In theory, I feel just like Andrew about recycling, but in practice I don’t necessarily have time, can’t always be bothered, and am sceptical about some of the claims. On the other hand, I am getting more serious about growing things to eat – it started with a few herbs, and now includes spinach, garlic, courgettes, pumpkins, melons, artichokes, beans and failed peas (the mice got them) – which means getting more serious about composting. I have a beautiful compost bin which looks like a beehive (people often say when they see it, “I didn’t know you kept bees”). I put some of the kitchen waste into this. It doesn’t rot down very quickly, and this is because I am playing at it, like Marie Antoinette at the Petit Trianon. And I’ve been worrying about putting non-organic waste into the compost because, for me, the main point of growing food is that it should be organic.

So last week, as well as starting this meme, I emailed Monty Don, who writes intelligently about gardening, and who presents the British TV programme Gardener’s World, to ask him whether the nasties in non-organic kitchen waste would get through to the compost. He sent me a very helpful and reassuring email back, and, although I don’t think my compost would necessarily pass the Soil Association mark, it’s better than not composting, and it’s probably good enough.

This is what he said:

Dear Joanna

Too much angst! The composting process will get rid of almost all toxins, be they man-induced or natural. Chuck anything onto the heap and it will come out the other end all organic sweetness and light. The secret, of course, is to compost it well so that everything is turned into that dry elixir of sweet smelling crumbly black loam.

Two things are the key to good compost

1) Shredding/chopping/mowing. This makes a HUGE difference.

2) Turning. Ideally once a month until it is ready - in our case three
turns and then a final turn 3-6 months before using.

Other than that just chuck it all on and let the bacterial and anaerobic
process do the rest.

Just one thing - why have ANY non-organic waste? Just buy organic.

Best wishes

So I am just off to buy one of those compost bins that is a drum you can turn with a handle, because, with the best will in the world, I am not going out in all weathers (or any weather come to that) to turn my compost heap with a spade.

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