The art of composting is on the rise. And it’s not just for those with large backyard gardens anymore. Composting in the city is becoming more common thanks to advocates like Rebecca Louie, The Compostess. Through her blog and her book, Compost City: Practical Composting Know-How for Small-Space Living, Rebecca shows city dwellers just how easy composting can be.
I had the opportunity to chat with Rebecca about how her passion for composting began, and where it has taken her. If you’ve thought about composting, but felt constrained by space, you’ll want to read this interview and pop over to her blog for more great information.
1. What inspired your passion for composting?
In my late 20s, I started cooking at home a lot more. Even simple meals generated piles of peels, cores and cuttings, and I felt terrible throwing it all away. I started investigating options for composting in the city. We have a great scrap drop off program in NYC, and for a while I froze my scraps and hauled them on the subway from Queens to the Lower East Side Ecology Center’s scrap drop off in Union Square. Believe me, bags of frozen fruit peels get heavy, so I looked for solutions closer to home. Due to a bit of overzealousness and misinformation, I killed my first home bin of 1000 composting worms. Determined to do it right, I enrolled in the NYC Compost Project’s Master Composter Certification class and it was mind blowing. The rest is history!
2. How can urban composting benefit people living in the city?
There are many surprising benefits to composting in the city. Aside from the obvious environmental bonuses of diverting organics from the landfills to make a nutritious, rich soil amendment, composting is a great way to build community, make friends and have fun. Community composting efforts such as scrap drop offs programs, community gardens, school classrooms and even workplaces are fantastic centers where like-minded people can share the space, responsibilities and materials required for composting. Sometimes, it does take a village to raise a compost pile! I also think that composting can be a gateway drug into activities like gardening, cooking and various creative paths in upcycling. Plus, it’s a great way to reducing the time we spend peering into screens!
3. What is one thing you wish everyone knew about composting?
When done properly, composting is easy, doesn’t smell bad, can be discreet and is a lot of FUN.
4. How has your passion for composting changed how you look at the world?
As corny as this may sound, I truly feel a deeper connectivity between plants, critters, the elements the environment and humanity — something that was impossible to experience when I was an entertainment reporter chasing down celebrities for their less-than-earth-shattering observations. I feel a greater sense of responsibility for protecting and nurturing the earth, and not out of guilt or obligation, but out of love and gratitude. Also, I’ve totally overcome any squeamishness I might have previously had, which I find incredibly empowering. I will be the person who totally investigates the gross thing that no one will go near with a 10 foot pole.
5. How can someone with limited space get started with composting?
One of my favorite workshops to give is a Bucket Composting Bootcamp. It outlines several ways people with limited space, time and resources can compost their food and gardening scraps in a five-gallon bucket. It’s amazing how easily systems traditionally used in sprawling yards and fields can be adapted for urban spaces. Composting with worms is an especially good option for people with children because these “pets” offer a range of science and ecology lessons beyond sustainability. I am also a big fan of bokashi right now, which is the process of fermenting food scraps in an air-tight bucket. Once they are fermented, you can bury the scraps in a yard, raised bed, window box, compost pile, or at community garden so the fermented scraps complete their transformation into soil. Bokashi also processes meat, dairy and cooked foods using this method — items generally considered a ‘no-no’ in traditional composting.
Rebecca Louie is a writer, beekeeper and friend to all worms who splits her time between NYC and the Catskill Mountains. She is the author of the fun guide “Compost City: Practical Composting Know-How for Small-Space Living.” To learn more about Rebecca, please visit rebeccalouie.com and thecompostess.com. Follow her on instagram at @TheCompostess.