Pat Dutt, Sharon Kaplan, and Guillermo Metz all have one thing in common. They are three of the many Tompkins County residents who compost—saving money, minimizing waste, and adding important nutrients to their gardens and plants.
Composting, or the managed decomposition of organic matter, is something that everyone can do, regardless of where you live. There are also many ways to do it, whether at home, in the workplace, or by disposing of your food scraps at different drop-off spots all around the county.
Pat, 62, is originally from Buffalo, New York. She said she studied geology in school and has always loved nature. She now works at a landscaping company which focuses on sustainable design.
She lives in a house on the West Hill, and said she began composting in 2000 because one of her daughters was passionate about building a compost system. She has two daughters and a son.
“I didn’t initiate it, but one of my daughters initiated it and said, ‘Mom, I want to build a compost!’” Pat said. “She was just 12 years old at the time.”
Pat said that in 2009, she took a permaculture class while she was between jobs. She said she then started a new compost pile in her front yard as the class taught her how to use all of the resources on her property. She said she used wood chips from nearby wood-cutting companies as well as manure from her neighbors who have chickens, goats, and horses. She said this allowed her to become closer to her neighbors.
"One of the ideas for having a compost out front was that if my neighbors had leaves, they could toss them there, and many neighbors have done that,” Pat said. “ … It became in some ways a community compost, and it enabled me to have better relationships with some of my neighbors.”
She said she also has a large vegetable garden in the back of her house and another fenced in compost pile where she puts a majority of her food scraps. She has a smaller garden in the front of her house, also.
“There are no food scraps that go out in my garbage at all, no leaves, no plants!” she said. “I try to keep everything on site!”
She said this saves her money, adding that this approach additionally helps her limit her reliance on transportation, such as her car. She said she gets around primarily by bike.
“You’re not contributing to the landfill, so there’s all of these other kinds of benefits to generating your materials on-site,” Pat said.
Residents are also implementing composting systems at their workplaces—Sharon is the the Director of Volunteer Services at the Cancer Resource Center (CRC). She introduced a composting system at her workplace. She said she began composting when she bought her first home and moved out to the country. She said she uses the compost she produces at home in her garden.
“It just made complete sense to start composting out there,” she said.
Sharon said that she has been composting at the CRC for the past four years. Sharon first made a simple compost bin out of hard-wire mesh, and then after concerns about attracting rodents arose, she also purchased a larger plastic bin. She said the compost is used in the CRC garden, and that there are tentative plans to use it in the perennial gardens that are being planted.
“It’s actually been really good to have both [bins],” she said. “We go back and forth between the two.”
Sharon said that it took a little while to get everyone on board, but once the compost system was established, people adjusted quickly. She said that Adam Michaelides, Compost Educator at CCE, helped the CRC by providing them with posters to help staff members know what can be composted.
She also said that the compost pile doesn’t get hot enough to decompose paper towels, napkins, and tissues. Sharon said she created a separate composting program to dispose of paper waste. She said the CRC also recycles, adding that there is a separate bin for every type of waste.
“I started a separate program where in the bathroom, when we have paper towels or napkins or tissues..that goes into a separate bin, and then I take that to the solid waste center every few months,” she said.
Sharon said she thinks there are many benefits to composting, including saving money on purchasing compost and helping people understand the impact that they can have on the environment.“It doesn’t go to the landfill … so that kind of diverts that energy source from that process, and I also just think it’s better to put compost that you make yourself onto your garden than go buy bags of it from the store,” she said. “It also connects people more towards what happens with garbage because it’s just really easy to throw stuff out.”
Sharon said she hopes that people will set up composting systems at their workplaces, a process she says is both convenient and simple.
“I am completely available to talk to anyone that wants to set up a system and live[s] or work[s] in town,” she said. “I’m happy to show them what we have, or help them set up their own system, which is not complicated at all.
Composting has also taken people on all kinds of adventures. Guillermo, 50, is the Energy Team Leader at CCE. He moved to the Ithaca area with his wife after living in New York City.
He said that once he moved into his current house in 2000, he had a compost pile a good distance from his house, and that small animals would come and feed off of the pile.
Eventually, he decided to get a plastic bin to keep animals out. They tried a few different bins, and then settled on a closed one. He said that one day he got back from a trip and there was garbage scattered all across the lawn.
“The compost bin, this big plastic thing, was just torn open. With these big scratch marks in it, just torn open,” he said. “We assume it was a bear because the claw marks were huge. And the garbage can was metal, and the top of it was just peeled back.”
After the near run-in with a bear, Guillermo said he decided to take advantage of the food waste disposal program that was being newly offered by the county. He said that he now drops off his food scraps at one of the drop-off locations offered in Tompkins County, adding that he can now dispose of food scraps that he couldn’t previously have composted, like chicken bones.
“We compost so much more than we used to,” he said. “They take so much more stuff!”
Learn more about different ways to compost and local compost resources here.
Article by Maggie McAden, Get Your GreenBack Tompkins Communications Intern