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Green Acre #80: The Compost From Hell

iStock photo.

OH, WHAT FRESH HELL is this? We are now recycling food waste for compost. There’s a large white bucket on the back porch for much of what used to go down the disposal, or in the trash.

Not that I’ve ever been a fan of the disposal, fearful of my fingers when a whatnot is accidently dropped down the drain and needs retrieval. I just know that machine is chuckling to itself, lying in wait for a stray fork, and will spontaneously start and chew my delicate phalanges to the nubs.

Meanwhile, it chokes on a handful of potato skins. “Do not put potato skins down the disposal,” says My Prince, time and again, while lying on his belly unscrewing the this and that of its undercarriage while I’m in the midst of frying latkes and water is spewing onto the floor and under my feet. That was an aside.

So home he comes with this big bin with a lid that’s supposed to fit tightly, and we are to collect food waste, which will be toted off to the Eastern Market collection point (there are several such sites about Washington DC, should you wish to indulge). The DC Department of Public Works, which organized this effort,  makes a point of telling us this service is free and that the compost will be used in neighborhood gardens.

That the stored food—which includes fruits and vegetable scraps, egg shells and dead flowers—will create quite a stench (think August) is subtly acknowledged, as in, You might “consider” keeping your scraps in the freezer and then toting them to the collection area. Great, a freezer full of garbage.

Whilst sticking the trash in your freezer, the DPW website notes: “Acceptable food scraps and organic materials can be collected in covered plastic containers, paper or plastic bags. Please keep in mind that plastic bags are NOT recyclable . . . ”

Nor are they compostable. So the frozen scraps must now be  removed from the containers and. . . . This is a program designed to irritate me from so many angles. I trust it will be an extremely short-lived endeavor.

If the program is popular, however, the DC Office of Waste Diversion (I do like the name of that office) may offer curbside composting. We now have perky blue cans for recyclables and army green cans for the rest— is there an Office of Can Colors? What color is best for food waste? Can I have a job?

Meanwhile, My Prince is glowing, for here is yet another opportunity to do good for our gardens and our environment while at the same time fussing at me.

“You,” he said to me, as I am the chef en residence, “have to collect all of the waste and put it in the bucket.” He will take charge of the toting and dumping.

“Like, what waste?” I asked.

“Everything,” he said.

“Meat? Cheese?”

“Yes,” he said nodding firmly, sagely even.

“You’re kidding, that can’t be.”

“It is,” he insisted.

So I proceeded to sweep up my cooking detritus, ditching it in a bowl in the sink that will be emptied into the can. And don’t think he wasn’t watching to make sure I collected all of it.  

That exercise lasted approximately one meal.  

Heading upstairs to my office computer last Sunday morning I found DPW’s list of collectible foods, which specifically said no milk, cheese or other dairy products, meat, fish, fats and oily refuse. Not feeling at all smug about busting his little bubble, I skipped back down with the results, which I read off as he washed the breakfast dishes and dramatically rolled his eyes—until he stopped.   

No meat or fish?” He blanched. “I put two pieces of meat in there!”

“Best get them out,” I said, leaning nonchalantly against the fridge.

“Dairy products? Like, no cheese? Cheese is dairy?”

“Yes, it’s dairy,”

“Did you come down here to give me a bag of shit?”


End note. In the Department of What Goes Around Comes Around:

While this composting program is for community gardens, a separate program provided by the Department of Public Works will gift District residents and their personal patches of paradise with “up to five 32-gallon bags (bring your own bags) of free compost weekdays, 1pm to 5pm, and Saturdays 8am to 3pm, at the Fort Totten Transfer Station, 4900 John F. McCormack Drive NE.”
The transfer station is the city dump, by the way, where you can also drop off your hazardous waste, (top secret) shredded documents and whatever didn’t get snapped up at your yard sale.

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” is inspired by her patch of Capitol Hill to write every Thursday. To see earlier columns, type Green Acre into the Search box at the top of the page.



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