By Christopher Wallace
Moldy banana peels, anyone? If you don’t live in one of a handful of progressive cities (mostly on the west coast), than the idea of a compost bin in your office may sound fairly absurd. Recycling is one thing — just rinse and toss it in the blue bin — but scraping leftover stir fry into a bucket full of wriggling red worms? That’s another story.
In places like Seattle, Portland, Boulder, and San Francisco, composting is now mandated by city governments. The logic is simple — about one-third of garbage is compostable. By diverting it from the landfill, carbon emissions are reduced, the risk of groundwater pollution is lessened, and the landfill lasts longer before filling up. Best of all, when organic material is allowed to decompose into compost, it reenters the food chain as a natural fertilizer.
Even if your city isn’t doling out dedicated bins for compost and picking them up once or twice a week, it’s still possible to start a composting program at any office or workplace. Unlike in the big compost-friendly cities, however, you will need to learn to embrace how a handful of worms can work (and eliminate odors) for you.
If employees or coworkers balk at the thought of composting, sell them on the fringe benefits. Launching a composting program is a great excuse to add a variety of plants around the office, even herb and vegetable planters in a windowsill. Plants not only clean the air, the addition of natural life around an office simply lightens the mood and reduces stress levels. Once you’re producing healthy compost from your leftover lunches and coffee grounds in the break room, you’ll have plenty of fuel to feed your photosynthesizing friends.
Convinced that composting is a worthwhile pursuit at your office? Start here:
1. Get a plastic bin about a foot deep and two or three feet across. Choose a dark variety that doesn’t let light in (and hides worms from squeamish, skeptical coworkers).
2. Fill the bottom of the bin with shredded computer paper, newspaper, or cardboard. Soak the material first and squeeze it out so it has the consistency of a moist sponge. Fill the bin about two-thirds full before adding a thin layer of coffee grounds or soil.
3. Add your worms. You don’t have to go digging in the dirt to find them. Sites like www.findworms.com will help you locate a local supplier anywhere in the country. You’re looking specifically for red wigglers (they love leftover food) and not regular old earthworms (which love dirt).
It’s worth mentioning here that the worms are integral. You can’t skip this step. In an outdoor compost bin, you would regularly turn the compost to give it oxygen so it decomposes. With an indoor, contained bin (the process of composting with worms, by the way, is called vermicomposting), the worms do the turning work for you. They actually prevent the compost from smelling. Without them, you’ll just have moldy banana peels.
4. Feed your worms. Most vegetables and fruits are perfect. Limit citrus and other highly acidic foods, as well as starchy produce like potatoes (a little bit is fine). Skip dairy, meat and oils altogether, or you’ll have a stinky mess on your hands. Keep your compost bin to non-acidic fruits and veggies, however, and you’ll notice nary an odor.
5. Maintain the bin. When you add food, spread it out and bury it a little bit. If it smells bad, your bin may be too wet.
6. Harvest your compost! Within four months or so, you’ll begin to notice healthy black soil piling up in your bin. Filter this through a mesh screen to sort your healthy compost from your worms (which you want to keep in the bin to make more compost). You can also just remove the bin’s lid and wait a few minutes — the worms will dig deep to escape the light, allowing you to skim compost off the top.
7. Use your compost. With your nutrient-rich, office-made soil ready to go, offer your office plants a dose of natural fertilizer. If your boss is particularly open to new ideas, you might even try putting a tomato plant or two next to a window and treating it to compost in exchange for its tasty fruit.
When you offer a coworker fresh produce to take home or slice up for their sandwich in the break room, they’re likely to shake their fear of worms and add to the compost bin themselves.
Eventually, most major cities in the country will include a composting program, both as an environmental initiative and a way of reducing strain on landfills. Why not get ahead of the curve with an in-office compost bin your company can take pride in?
Christopher Wallace is Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Amsterdam Printing, a leading provider of personalized pens and other promotional products such as imprinted apparel, mugs and customized calendars. He regularly contributes to Promo & Marketing Wall blog.