7 Ways That Composting Has Made My Life Better (In and Out of the Kitchen)

published Apr 23, 2020
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Woman putting food garbage into compost bin
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One day last fall, my 3-year-old son returned from preschool with a red metal bucket. Although he could not fully articulate the bucket’s intent, the note inside was clear: Families were to use this as a portable compost station, tossing our food scraps into it and bringing the detritus back to school, where a massive composting pit awaited our weekly contribution. It was my first foray into composting. 

That red bucket had a fairly good run. In December, when I noticed the bottom had rusted out, I replaced it with a much shinier and more user-friendly model: the countertop FoodCycler, which converts our food scraps into useable compost in one single evening. Now that my son’s school’s composting program is on hold, this is keeping our compost routine going.

Related: The Best Way to Compost — for Most People

Composting is not an immediate life change. For a while, it felt like a hassle. But once we got the hang of it, we didn’t think twice about separating our garbage. And honestly? It will change your life. For me and my family, we’ve seen some pretty remarkable benefits since we began turning our food scraps back into soil (because that’s all composting is, of course: cycling what we don’t eat back into soil to grow more food).

1. We have so much less garbage. 

Really. A lot less. My husband is a notorious coffee drinker, and our espresso machine is nearly always grinding and running. That means that every day we had coffee grounds to contribute to the trash can — and lots of them. And because I cook dinner six nights a week for a family of four, there was lots of other stuff in our ever-expanding trash can — eggshells, fruit scraps, the occasional wilted and unusable vegetable. All of these had been fodder for the can. And now that they (and every other bit of organic kitchen waste) go into the compost instead, they’re not, which means fewer trips to the outside bin, fewer marital arguments about emptying the trash, and fewer plastic trash bags used. 

Credit: Catherine Meschia

2. The trash smells way better. 

I had never considered how much organic matter contributes to the actual smell of garbage, but, let me tell you, that’s something I don’t miss (and catch me in a few years, when my kids are out of diapers, so I can fully wax poetic about how great my house smells). Better-smelling garbage? Sold. This isn’t to say that your garbage will not smell, to some degree, like garbage (because trash will never smell good!) — but it will smell better, and anything better than plain ol’ trash is fine by me. 

Credit: Emma Fiala

3. Our plants brightened up. 

I have a notoriously bad way with plants, and have anointed myself the family Black Thumb. I was on my third fiddle leaf fig plant by the time we started composting in the fall. But now that we put our compost on our plants? That fiddle leaf has grown more than a foot and is constantly sprouting new, healthy leaves. Even an orange tree that we have no business keeping alive in the northeast has managed to survive its second winter, a near-death experience I attribute, in part, to its new organic diet. Once summer arrives, we’ll be using our compost on our outdoor plants, too, and I’m looking forward to seeing how radically my plants improve this year. 

4. My son started asking to help, too. 

Even though my son is only 3, he now understands the difference between garbage that goes in the trash can and garbage that goes in the composter, and feels a certain pride at contributing to that heating, grinding machine on our kitchen counter. In time, he will also understand how the food we compost goes back into our plants and helps make them grow. This lesson on how best to live is one I only could have taught him through action and behavior. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

6. We stretch our food further.

Here’s one thing that happens when you start composting: You take out your vegetables and separate what you’re using from what you’re tossing (like carrot tops, if you’re not the carrot top pesto type), and then you look down at what’s before you. In the beginning, it can be alarming. So much waste. Now, I’m more cognizant of how much I’m using versus not using. I use more of each piece of fruit or vegetable and that also means that my grocery budget is stretching further. We’re getting more food out of each cooking session and that means more leftovers to enjoy later.

5. We became more sensitive to waste overall.

It all just feels like years of wastefulness, bags upon bags of garbage that could have been reused. Thinking back on our life before composting, I now realize that we were a wasteful family. Despite the fact that I always considered us to be environmentally conscious, the truth was, we weren’t — or, not to the degree I had wanted to believe. And while we can still make more appreciable changes to lessen our impact, composting was a great start. Our trash footprint is smaller now, and I feel better knowing how far we have come from last year. 

Credit: Kate Daigneault/Stocksy

7. The way we grocery shop has changed. 

Composting has inspired us to buy produce differently. While taking stock of what got used versus not used, I also realized just how much plastic there was. Mushrooms come in plastic containers. English cucumbers? Wrapped in plastic. Plus there were plastic bags and plastic clamshells! The waste started to feel pretty ridiculous, especially considering how diligent we were being about reusing the organic matter.

Now we see the forest for the trees. We look for items that have less packaging. We try to purchase loose items, rather than items housed in plastic. We pack reusable produce bags whenever we can. We try to purchase the produce with the least possible packaging. The steps we take are small steps, but we hope that they make us better stewards of the planet. 

Stay tuned this week, while we talk more about what can and can’t be composted, the best countertop compost bins, the absolute easiest way to do it, and more!

Do you compost? What are some of the great things you noticed once you started?