Friday, August 24, 2012

A Review/ Experiment/ Story of Compostable Bags

I peeled back the gift wrap and politely smiled, trying to hide the confused look on my face. Why in the world would I need “compostable bags”?

The first half of the gift was a beautiful new stainless steel kitchen collector. The kind all my composting friends envy when we hang out in my kitchen (which is surprisingly often). I know the new collector is fancy dancy but does it really need protection from my banana peels and apple cores?

After sincerely thanking my brother and his wife, the sparkly new bucket won a prize spot on my counter while the bags sat unused in a drawer for six months. In June my inner scientist found the forgotten bags and became curious. I wonder if these bags made of “compostable plastic” really work?

So for a month I conducted an uncontrolled, relatively unscientific experiment. I lined the bucket with the bags and dumped the contents, bag and all, into my compost bin.

Did they work?

Observations/ Results
Let me preface my results section by saying it has been a very dry summer in Cincinnati. And I’ve been very busy, so I have not watered or turned my bin nearly as much as my dutiful composter side would have liked.

When I turned the bin last weekend, I found bags that had been composting for about two months. More they found me because they kept getting stuck on the end of my pointy metal compost aerator. It was only mildly annoying pulling the bags off.

Inside the bags I observed the food scraps had completely composted into fine humus matter (i.e. my banana peel turned into dirt). Of course, since one of the joys of composting is witnessing the transformation, seeing this change on a small scale was fun. This would be great way to show children what is happening in the compost bin.

However, this also demonstrates that the bags were still intact. At least until my compost turner impaled them.

I still believe they will eventually break down. The material was noticeable thinner and more stretchy. And now that they are torn apart, sitting in a watered and turned pile, they have the optimum environment for composting.

It’s still too early to tell, I may have to follow up in a few months to give you an update (I know, the anticipation is overwhelming…). But here are my preliminary pros and cons of using compostable bags for backyard composting:

Did not have to clean the collector after emptying
Every scrap of food went into the composter
Fun to see food scraps composting on a small scale

Bags cost money (not my money, but still…)
Bags did not compost as quickly as food scraps
Bags got stuck on the compost turner

If food scraps really gross you out or you take out your kitchen collector infrequently, bags may be helpful to you. However, in the future I think I'll stick to rinsing out the bucket or using the fun origami newspaper trick.

Still, I’m interested to hear from you. Have you ever tried compostable bags? How did they work?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

When Composting is the (Fruit) Pits

(Singing) It’s the most won-der-ful time of the year…for fruit lovers like me anyway. Few can resist a perfectly ripe peach or a bowl of sweet red cherries. But what happens to all of those seeds or pits? Will they break down in a compost bin?

Yes…eventually. Stone fruits like peaches, cherries, nectarines, apricots, and plums, as well as some other fruits like avocados, mangos, and olives have rock hard pits that do not compost easily. They can withstand floating across the sea and passing through the guts of animals so your compost bin doesn’t really intimidate them.

But that doesn’t mean you should give up.

These tough fruit pits take a few years to decompose in the compost bin but they will eventually break down. When you screen your finished compost you’ll find these seeds along with eggshells as some of the last holdouts. Just toss them back into the bin for another year.

But what if you don’t screen them out and that peach pit ends up being planted with your newly spread compost? Well, there are worse weeds than a volunteer peach tree. Heck, let it grow for a few years and you could be picking your own fresh peaches.

Now that really is just peachy.

If patience is not your best virtue, you could soak the seeds in water to speed up the decomposition process. Discarded boiling water (like when you strain spaghetti) will soften the pits even more.

Of course, there are lots of creative folks out there coming up with alternative uses for seeds rather than composting. Here are a few ideas:

Grow new trees

Use as a filling in bean bags and heating pads

Make your own natural jewelry

Can you think of other uses for tough fruit pits?