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Green Cycling Without the Yuck Factor

As a San Diego UC Master Gardener and a Solana Center Master Composter, I welcome the rollout of the City of San Diego's Organic Waste Recycling Program. This program will decrease organic waste in our landfills, which accounts for a significant portion of California's waste stream. Furthermore, when left to decompose in landfills, organic waste releases methane—a gas that traps the sun's heat, warms the atmosphere, and contributes to climate change.

With this knowledge, I have been composting my kitchen waste at home for a long time. I used to live on a large suburban lot that provided plenty of room for a compost bin and eventually multiple bins to supply compost for my growing gardens.

I collected the kitchen waste in a small countertop container that I emptied daily into a larger compost bin located far from the kitchen. This daily ritual was not always convenient. I later began collecting my daily kitchen scraps into a 5-gallon holding container with a tight lid. I emptied the holding container into the compost bin once per week.

This solved my problem of having to go to my compost bin every day, but the tight lid created an anaerobic environment. Without oxygen, the moisture and microbes resulted in a product that had a very high yuck factor. It made me question whether I really wanted to continue composting.

However, my wife greatly appreciated the compost for her garden, so stopping was not an option! I decided to take one of the many compost courses offered by the Solana Center for Environmental Innovation to learn more about composting and, most importantly, how to avoid the yuck factor that almost made me quit.

On my journey, I have learned how to avoid the yuck factor; we need to create a balanced and breathable environment. The essentials of making good compost without unpleasant odors are air (oxygen), greens (nitrogen), and browns (carbon). Balancing these elements should start in your kitchen.

For instance, by adding carbon material (browns) such as used paper towels to your food scraps, beneficial air space is created. Also, drilling 1/16-inch holes in the bucket lid will increase circulation and decrease the risk of yuck.

Alternatively, a piece of window screening attached with a bungee cord is effective. Although, I always snapped the bungee cord on my knuckles, which is why I preferred the drilled holes. Both methods work, unless you are a klutz like me—then the holes might be better. The importance of the tight-fitting lid with holes or the securely attached screen is to keep out house flies or curious animals, whether domestic or wild, and let oxygen in.

With the City of San Diego's Weekly Organic Waste Collection, there are several advantages. Like many people, I now live on a smaller city lot and don't have room for a large garden or composting area. Now, I can simply have all my Organic Waste picked up weekly in one container. This includes all the vegetative waste normally associated with traditional home composting, but it also includes meat, bones, and soiled pizza boxes—something that home composters previously had to put into their Trash Bins.

These few tips will help you achieve your goals of a cleaner and odor-free Organic Waste Collection:

  • Always add carbon (browns) first to all your collection containers (kitchen, transfer bucket, and curbside) before adding nitrogen (greens).

  • Good sources of carbon are leaves from trees, shredded paper, and crumpled newspaper (crumple into wads of paper to create more airspace).

  • Layer browns and greens, and the carbon materials (browns) will absorb the moisture from the moist nitrogen materials (greens), provide air space, and keep them from going anaerobic.

Depending on the location of your Curbside Green Bin, you may want to add an Optional Transfer Bucket. My family of five finds that one 5-gallon Transfer Bucket will handle a week's worth of kitchen waste, but your needs may be different. Your family may need two, or you may not want to add this option. I suggest this as an option to freeze your kitchen waste, as the City suggests in their brochure, unless you have excess freezer capacity.

I hope that you find these tips helpful and share them with your friends and family, so that this new Organic Recycling opportunity will be easier and more convenient for those who are not familiar with Composting Protocols.

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