Composting Trial Leads to Marital Recycling War

After keeping up with every recycling program available, Sally Higginson meets her first, insurmountable challenge: a composting program and a reluctant husband.

I’ve been married over 22 years, which means that my husband and I are perfectly comfortable with all the things we dislike about one another and we’re not really in the market for new ways to pick fights. He sets the thermostat at the wrong temperature year round, so I fix it. He grocery shops for items we don’t eat, so I return them. He watches GoalTV every night, and I don’t kill him. We’re happy.

Correction: We were happy. Then, in a moment of environmental weakness, I signed up for our town’s Food Scrap Compost Pilot Program. So much for marital bliss. We are at war.

I pause here for a history lesson. In the good old days, back when we could roll a piece of Wonder bread into a tiny ball of soft white dough and pop it into our mouths without guilt while watching Bozo’s Circus, trash was trash. You used something, and then you threw it away. Sure, there was a law against rolling down the car window and tossing stuff onto the street. It was a crime to litter, as the single tear on the profile of the Native American reminded us, but if you found a trash can, toss away. 

Then, in the mid 1970’s and early 80’s, a few forward thinking states passed Bottle Bills. Buy a can or a bottle of something, drink it, and then return it for a nickel back. Nothing like a cash incentive to make the world better. And, if you were lazy, curbside recycling started to gain a little traction. If returning empties to the grocery store seemed like too much hassle, leaving them at the curb achieved the same purpose. Back then, Kermit was wrong. It was easy being green.

Here I’ll confess that with the birth of our children I didn’t struggle with the cloth –vs- disposable issue at all. Looking to my older brother for wisdom, I readily accepted his edict on Pampers. “That’s what landfills are for.” Anyone who’s rinsed a cloth diaper while the toilet is flushing must agree. 

Fast forward to now. In my ancient 1 ¾ car garage I house the following: a giant recycling container, a tiny trash container, a separate bin for Styrofoam, and no cars. On occasional Tuesdays and Fridays, I put the Styrofoam into the car, along with archaic and broken electronics, and drive them to the recycling center specific for those items. On the inside of my kitchen closet doors, shoved into my reusable grocery bags, I collect plastic bags that can be recycled, but which are not collected curbside. These I haul to the grocery store where, inexplicably, they get recycled, no nickel back.

Witness the first fissure in our marital wasteland. Every morning when Tim gets the newspaper, he takes off the plastic and drops it into the garbage bin. Then I open the garbage bin and remind him, for the millionth time, that plastic bags must go into the plastic bag recycling stash inside the closet door. He never does it and I never stop mentioning it. I believe that is the official definition of marriage. 

Yet we’ve been comfortable with our routine. He discards the plastic wrap on the dry cleaning, and I pull it out of the wastebasket. It’s not a perfect system, but then, how could it be when there’s a husband involved? Am I right? 

Enter Veolia Environmental Services and their plea for citizens to participate and help them to improve our community’s sustainability program. Like a dealer, they hooked me with their gift of a free composting pail. Their literature promises, in big letters, “It is easy.” 

I totally fell for it. I signed up.

And when I brought that free composting pail into the kitchen and announced my intention to save the world one apple core at a time, I discovered the dual definition of refuse. 

Tim refused.

That, of course, fueled my resolve. So for the last week, I’ve been dutifully collecting my food scraps and housing them in the little pail that lives under my sink. At first I felt self-righteous, which is one of my favorite states of existence. But as the week progressed, and the race between spore growth and stench progressed, I began to see the wisdom in my husband’s edict.

I went back to the letter from the city, explaining the program. Unlike recycling, I will have to pay for this service. Unlike recycling, my 35-gallon food scrap container needs rinsing after each use, preferably with soap and vinegar. Unlike recycling, my food compost promises to create bad odors and attract pests. And unlike recycling, my partially compliant husband refuses flat out to participate in this endeavor.

Maybe once every 22 years Tim can be right. Anyone want my compost bin?

Jennifer Fisher August 18, 2012 at 10:39 PM
This column really is a gem! Call it a diamond...in the compost. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, Sally. Thanks for making us laugh!
Lori Keenan August 19, 2012 at 01:24 AM
Two-thirds of all land fill waste in the US is made up of compostable material. We used to have a bin, and now we just have a static pile. It's awesome. Leaves, organic/vegetable food scraps, grass clippings, you name it. And despite what you may think, there's no odor, it only smells like rich, earthy soil. Now it just goes in the pile and then turns into a nutrient rich soil amendment. Funny article, but it's really no trouble to compost. A separate pail in the kitchen, changed regularly, does the trick -- and it really does cut down on the amount of trash each week! But I also don't think we need to pay a service to take it away. Build a cage at the back of your yard and you're good to go.
Sally Higginson August 19, 2012 at 11:30 AM
For the record, I am officially giving up on the curbside composting BUT I am going to give backyard composting a try. I suspect that without the wait for weekly pick-up, and without the need to wash out the curbside container, I will become a convert. But as fodder for a little humor, the topic was ripe!
Glo August 20, 2012 at 02:19 AM
Sal, there are several great under-cabinet compost containers available (good selection at The Container Store) which have the charcoal filters in the lid - this cuts down on the odor while things start to decompose/mold while still in your pail before you take it out to the larger outdoor bin. I do wash my bin out regularly and sometimes do use those decomposable liner bags. Good luck! Smooches...
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