Let’s talk about some surprising facts of composting

Alison Higgins, Key West Sustainability Coordinator, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about the importance of composting.  

Composting is a big part of sustainability.

Higgins said, “So one of the things that’s good about living in the tropics in general is everything breaks down faster. So there’s some place where people live, it’s hard to compost year round, because everything is frozen outside. We are in a really good space for that.”

Compost is one of the four R’s in reducing waste.

One is Reduce or use less in the first place.

Another is Reuse – what else can you do with something?

A third is recycle.

The fourth is Rot, which is where compost comes in.

Higgins said, “Down here, if you’ve ever tried to grow something, you know that this isn’t like most areas. We have no soil. So being able to create your own is not a bad thing. One of the things that was interesting, we did a waste survey, took a week’s worth of trash from our residential pickup, and found that one 80% of it was not trash. It could be recycled or composted. Twenty percent was actually compostable. So that’s a lot that we’re paying as taxpayers to put into a giant truck and drive 120 miles away. So you know, if you can use it in your own backyard to actually help your plants, it’s all the better.”

Odor is a concern for composting as well as the attraction of vermin.

Higgins explained, “It all depends on how you do it. Composting means a mix of greens and browns, your greens are your vegetables, all the stuff that’s fresh and then starts decomposing. Your browns can be either leaf litter or dead grass or things that will then absorb the greens. So you have to have a good mix of greens and browns. It’s usually about 50/50.”

The best “brown” items can be found by the police stables in the manure.

Higgins said, “They’ve got a big pile out there and it’s not just manure. It’s a mix of the hay that was their bedding, and then the manure in it. What you want to do is not go for the fresh stuff, but go for the stuff along the edges or deeper in and that stuff has already started breaking down. It doesn’t smell like anything maybe the turf. It’s absolutely free. They will make more.”

The stables are at Truman waterfront and the horse deposits can be picked up whenever you get the chance.

Higgins said, “I’ve got a couple of totes, big storage totes, fill them up and put the tops on so that way they don’t get rained on and we’ll use that for a couple of months and then go fill up again. At our house, we’re a two person house. What I find easiest, we’ve just got a little Tupperware on the kitchen counter. As you make stuff, you throw it in there, and then once a week on the weekend, I then take that to the big barrel. There’s a couple different ways you can do this. The easiest way is get yourself a trash can, something that’s got a good locking lid. Drill a bunch of holes in the trash can, doesn’t have to be big, just needs to get air in it. Then as you fill it up, about once a week, when you put new stuff in, just roll it around the yard. That’s the easiest. The coolest way is what my husband helped me build. So what we use is a rain barrel. So you know, those big blue barrels, you see, when you’re driving on US 1, there’s a place in Cudjoe that sells them. We turned it on its side and put an axle through it. That sits on cross bars of wood. So the whole thing is on its side, and spins in the middle. Then we put in all the necessary holes, but then put in one big hatch. Then I just open up a hatch, toss it in, put a couple of scoops of brown and then we also put handles on the outside. So I just pull on the handles to turn it and then walk back in the house. You would be amazed at how much you put in and how long it takes to get an amount. But that’s what’s kind of crazy when you think about how much stuff you put out in your trashcan and how much you wouldn’t be if you did it this way. Every week is not even a full trash can’s worth of trash.”

Turning the greens and browns into compost will take about two to three weeks.

Higgins said, “The other key thing that’s helpful, especially if you really want to use it, we actually have a double barrel system. Because you know, it’s only as old as the last batch you put in. So if you’re still waiting for last week’s batch to cook, but you’re putting in this week’s batch, then it’s never all ready. So you could actually have potentially a second a second place to maybe just collect it. But it’s usually two to three weeks and then you got really good final product. The manure part of that equation really helps. It makes it so much faster. It makes for a much better product.”

The manure is natural fertilizer and can be used in your yard, except for what’s been grown in the ground.

Higgins said, “You wouldn’t necessarily put it on your carrots, but any fruit trees, any landscaping, anything else.”

When you consider 20 percent of the trash that’s collected in the Keys is actually compostable, it’s easy to see how sustainability can help.

Higgins said, “The only thing you don’t put in there is meat or overly greasy stuff. That will in fact, attract the vermin. It’s usually rats and mice, but our neighborhood is rife with them anyway. They like the fruit trees.”