Mandatory Composting: A Contrary View

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Next year the state where I live, Vermont, will require all households to compost their vegetable waste. No longer will we be able to peel off the top few leaves from the head of lettuce and just toss them in the trash. Or banana peels, potato peelings, or apple cores. But the State of Vermont in its magnanimity gives us a choice: carry the carefully-saved vegetable matter to the town’s site for composting, or compost it yourself at home. Either way, we are in for mandatory composting. And I for one feel it is over the top.

Mandatory composting at home

Now, many Vermont households are rural.  Our biggest city has under 50,000 residents.  So it stands to reason that most of us must have the room for a garden and therefore have one and compost.   NOT.

If you do have a garden, wherever you live, great.  If you have the facilities to compost without feeding a lot of wildlife, even better.  But my dear friend who has been gardening for years was absolutely horrified by the prospect of having to compost.  Why?  She already has bears, raccoons, skunks and other critters around, and she has pet dogs who need to be able to go out safely.  She has grandkids up sometimes.  ‘Nuff said.

How rural people do garbage

As it is, most of us already hide our garbage in strong structures, garages or huts, to keep the critters out while we get up a load for the trek to the town dump or transfer station.  (Unless you hire someone to come get it and they’ll come down your road.)

We already separate washed plastics (certain numbers only), washed cans, washed glass, paper, and cardboard boxes (broken flat only).  Nobody wants this stuff, by the way.  China won’t take it any more.  Nobody else can handle the volume.  So now the town must pay to get rid of it, and charge more in taxes.

My town does pay-to-throw.  We buy 10 bags for $17 and use each one to throw out 3 kitchen garbage bags full of trash.  The landfill costs keep going up.  So our bag costs can rise with that.  But now the landfills want to give up a possible source of income by banning plant waste?  Yes, some landfills do tap their waste to get methane, trap it and sell it as fuel.  What happens with compost?  The methane goes into the atmosphere.  That is a lot of cow fart equivalents.

No meat, please

Notice we can’t throw meat scraps into the compost.  It’s bad for some reason.  I know if I put meat scraps outside every critter in the county with the right teeth would be by for some.  But that’s not the reason.

The reason is we’re all supposed to be vegetarians.   That way we’ll all be hippies together.  Or something.

Well, now our kitchen garbage, our landfills, will smell only of death of animals.  Great.  I suppose that could convert a few people to vegan bliss.  But some of us are actually harmed by eating soy in large amounts.  I believe I am one of them, because my recent cancer was deemed estrogen-receptive.  And it’ll take more than proof that phytoestrogens are safe before I eat tofu.

Of course, now we have to sort our plant waste into a new kind of container that we get to keep clean and store somewhere in the food center of the house.  Do we keep it on the counter?  Do we give it fridge space?  Where does it go?

And at what times will the composting materials collection point be open to receive our bounty?  Whenever we get rid of our other carefully curated crap?  Or will it be in another place and timeframe entirely?

I can now imagine that scheduling will become another dimension to making a coleslaw or potato salad for a potluck.  Have to block out time to take the carrot tops and cabbage core to the compost place, a ten-mile round trip with a car.  How’s that saving the environment?

Control the whole process

I wonder why for the past 35 years or so I’ve been dutifully washing trash like a demented raccoon, then sorting it into the correct containers.  Was it to desensitize to the point where I would willingly go for this latest innovation in waste management?

What about managing it some other way?  Clearly the downstream end isn’t working out, if large-scale recycling won’t pay and landfills are “too full.”  So why put MORE control on the downstream end?  Why this sudden mania for mandatory composting?  Nothing else has worked as advertised.  And you know, a lot of this doesn’t sound too good in light of climate change.

Try to prevent some trash

Why are we not making efforts to package and sell things with less crap we have to get rid of?  Why don’t the stores flat-out refuse to supply those plastic bags to us shoppers if everyone hates them so?  Business and lawyers and money they have in common, that’s why.

Try to get into OTC medication, or even a jug of orange juice.   Why is it in plastic anyway?  Ever try to get a pill out of a bubble pack with your bare hands?  Mission impossible.  Containers now have several barriers to consumption.  And all those barriers need to go in the trash.  So do all the water bottles, soda cans, product boxes and such.

Being old, I remember when we had wax paper inner bags in the boxes of cereal.  They kept the cereal fresh, you could open and reclose them, and they were basically paper.  Now we have cereal in plastic, which doesn’t reclose decently, and which lasts thousands of years.  Which is better?

I think the vegetarian farm-to-table crowd are free to compost their little hearts out.  But there are rabid raccoons in New York City, for crying out loud.  And that’s not the only place with rabid critters looking for a meal that doesn’t run from them.

We as a country are full of waste and we need to generate less of it, as well as clean up after ourselves.  But let’s be reasonable about it, and remember that everyone isn’t a good fit for mandatory composting.

Now excuse me, I feel the need to eat an orange, and throw the peel in the trash.  Feel free to share your comments below!



Array of fresh vegetablesinterior of grocery store with cartwoman cutting into pear






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