In celebration of International Compost Awareness Week, I’m revising some local composting options, including one that is often not recommended. Maybe because it’s illegal. Like me, many of you may not be familiar with International Compost Awareness Week, but apparently it’s almost as long as I am – starting with the Composting Council of Canada in 1995. Some of you may not even know what composting is, and me would love to break it down for you here; With a limited word count and a desire to convince you to start composting, I’d rather refer you to the New Hanover County Extension Office website (https://newhanover.ces.ncsu.edu/2021/05/may- 2-) 8th-is-compost-awareness-week /) for the what and how. Instead, I’ll focus on the why and where.
Composting has been a focus of my Boot Scrap company since late 2019 when we first reached out to Riley Alber at Wilmington Compost Company in hopes of a collaboration that could divert the organic waste generated by our local film studio, Screen Gems. Alber taught us all about the science and importance of taking garbage and turning it into gardens. Months later, he connected us to a team of bright green minds in need of video content when they started a composting and gardening program at Winter Park Elementary School. A year later, and now that program – Garbage to Gardens – is spreading to a number of other schools in the county. It teaches kids about their waste: where to go, where to go, and how they can even use it to grow their own food in the future. To be honest, apart from the innate joy of playing in the dirt and a learned appreciation for microorganisms, the message does not initially resonate with every child. but that’s understandable. Saving tax dollars and the planet is an acquired taste. This means that composting not only saves us weight in our garbage bags and space on our landfill, but also helps in reducing rainwater, carbon sequestration and vegetation health in the backend. And all you really have to do is throw your organic waste in a different bin than your trash can. If you can, keep your food waste in a freezer so that the waste isn’t odorless and pests don’t get into your home.
So you start by separating your organic waste. What are your options? There are essentially four here. You can sign up for the Wilmington Compost Company’s collection service in residential areas, use the county’s landfill compost collection program (there is also a mobile collection service called “Hazwagon” for this program), start your own backyard compost, or – fourth, but possibly first – Take your leftovers to a nearby community garden. I want to encourage the use of community gardens here as this is not only the most comfortable and sustainable, but certainly the most therapeutic of our options. You can reduce your food waste, participate in a garden and community, and even get lunch from the earth while you are there. However, a 2015 city policy for community gardens banned dumping of household food scraps due to odor and pests. In reality, this is only a problem if the compost heap is poorly managed. Proper mixing and rotating should prevent these undesirable events. In stark contrast to this recommendation from the Old City, composting should be a requirement in our community gardens, and the landfilling of organic household waste in our communities should be encouraged – especially for the food-abandoned populations in the city center. It is a sad truth that many community gardens, especially in such areas, have ceased to exist over the years. But it is a happy truth that there is always life in the ground and always hope in a community. A community itself is, of course, a garden; I just need some love and resources like compost to thrive.
Blair Houtz is the producer of the local production company Boot Scrap, which works with the arboretum for videos, events and public relations. The Arboretum, 6206 Oleander Drive, Wilmington, is free and open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.