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Green and Growing: Reduce, recycle and compost in the kitchen this holiday

The kitchen is a major source of household refuse year-round, but during the winter holidays, kitchens compete for the dubious title of top trash generator.

“Food waste can be as much as 20percent of our average waste stream,” Carl P. Fortuna, Jr., Old Saybrook’s first selectman and a board member for the state’s Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority, said. “But the time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day drives that number higher.”

How much higher? The National Environmental Education Foundation reports that trash delivered to transfer stations increases 25 percent nationally during the fall/winter holidays. In addition to food waste, gift boxes, paper plates, tablecloths, napkins, gift wrap, ribbons, packaging, and discarded trees are all part of the problem.

Fortuna has been vocal for the past several years about the impact of upcoming changes in the state’s recycling resources.

“With the price of waste disposal set to double over the next few years due to the retirement of our Hartford regional waste facility, it is imperative that we reduce the amount of food waste that reaches the municipal transfer stations,” he said.

Fortuna added that two obvious ways for households to reduce food waste are to be more precise in purchasing, and to compost.

Two websites for better recycling

At the CT Recycles website and phone app, available at recyclect.com, you’ll be able to enter the name of products or materials to learn if they can be recycled.

At the Plastic Film recycling website, plasticfilmrecycling.org, you’ll learn where to recycle a wide variety of plastic bags and packaging. The breadth of products and drop-off locations may surprise you.

Three ways to reduce waste in the holiday kitchen:

  • Buy the right amount of food and drink for parties. To determine the right amounts, use the online tools at savethefood.com, a website dedicated to food waste reduction by the Natural Resources Defense Council. Whole Foods’ website also has a holiday party calculator.
  • Use the “roots to stems” concept, a food idea that gained traction in 2018. The Whole Foods website listed it as a top trend that year, saying, “Root-to-stem cooking makes use of the entire fruit or vegetable, including the stems or leaves that are less commonly eaten.” They list pickled watermelon rinds, beet-green pesto, and broccoli-stem slaw among the products inspired by this idea.
  • Remember what your grandma said: use the leftovers.

Composting for the holidays

Many holiday-related items break down nicely. Some items are familiar, while others are surprising.

Food categories for composting:

  • Veggie scraps, uncooked or cooked, are great compost as long as they are without oil or salt. Moldy or freezer-burned veggies are okay, too.
  • Fruit scraps and rinds, uncooked or cooked, are fine even if they have some sugar, honey, or molasses on them. Moldy or freezer-burned fruits are okay, too.
  • Coffee grounds and tea bags, as well as the filters, bags, strings, and tags are good additions.
  • Olive and avocado pits, and other large seeds
  • Expired herbs, spices, tea bags, and tea leaves
  • Eggshells, preferably crushed
  • Shells of nuts and peanuts, salt-free
  • Dry popcorn, such as popcorn chains or unpopped popcorn at the bottom of the popcorn maker
  • Leftover gelatin dishes, or gelatin packets past expiration (sugar is not a problem).
  • Used potpourri and mulling spices

Paper, fiber, and plant materials for composting:

  • Paper napkins and paper towels are compostable if free of glossy paper, or residue of dairy, meat, poultry, or fish. Traces of oil or liquids are okay. Color is okay.
  • Plain brown gift boxes and plain newsprint compost well, especially torn or shredded.
  • Plain gift tissue, without plastic or metallic sparkles. (Colors are okay.)
  • Plain paper gift wrap or ribbon, without glossy, waxy, plastic, or metallic surfaces.
  • Plain egg cartons (no glossy paper or plastics)
  • Cardboard rolls inside paper towels and gift wrap. (Toilet paper rolls, too.)
  • Plain envelopes from holiday cards (not metallic or coated).
  • Leaves and needles from Christmas trees and wreaths, dead poinsettias and bouquets
  • Fireplace ashes and matches
  • Cotton “snow” decorations without plastics or metallic sparkles. (All-wool and all-cotton clothing are compostable, too.)

For my part, I think of composting, reducing, and recycling as a gift to my friends, family, and especially to future generations. I wish all the people who read this column a happy, earth-friendly holiday season.

Kathy Connolly is a writer and speaker from Old Saybrook who specializes in earth-friendly landscape design, land care, and horticulture. Reach her through her website at speakingoflandscapes.com.

Stonington resident Manju Soni uses a tumbler-style compost unit. While the traditional backyard bin is the most familiar compost method, it is worthwhile to consider tumblers, especially for small yards, condos, and apartments.  (photo by Kathy Connolly)
Stonington resident Manju Soni uses a tumbler-style compost unit. While the traditional backyard bin is the most familiar compost method, it is worthwhile to consider tumblers, especially for small yards, condos, and apartments. (photo by Kathy Connolly)

Green and Growing: Compost tumblers

Stonington resident Manju Soni purchased a Jora tumbling composter in October 2018. Her primary goal was to reduce the amount of material she and her husband put out for trash collection.

"It took a bit of experimentation at first," she said. "But I am very satisfied with the results." She feels their two-person household has reduced trash output by about one-third.

Soni adds about two quarts of blended fruit and veggie scraps once per week, in addition to eggshells, egg cartons, corn cobs, avocado pits, and assorted paper products. She blends the food scraps in the kitchen to speed the compost process.
Compost tumblers are completely enclosed and odor-free.

The Sonis' composter is in the garage, where temperatures are almost always above 40 degrees. At that temperature, the composter can operate efficiently year-round. The unit occupies about ten square feet of floor space. Most compost tumblers sit on frames above ground level on a turning spit, so they are not susceptible to rodents.

Soni turns the tumbler by its handle every other day to assure efficient operation, which she says is not difficult to do. When this style of composter is operated properly, it achieves temperatures high enough to kill most seeds and even pathogens. The finished material does not resemble any of the original additions.

More information on composting

  • UConn Home and Garden Education Center offers a Master Composter course every fall. Visit ladybug.uconn.edu/WhoCompost.php. The site also offers fact sheets on soil and composting.
  • For a good introduction to composting, read the beginner's classic "Let it Rot!: The Gardener's Guide to Composting," 3rd edition, by Stu Campbell.
  • For a comprehensive review of all compost systems, read "The Complete Compost Gardening Guide" by Barbara Pleasant and Deborah Martin.
  • The EPA offers composting education at epa.gov/recycle/composting-home.
  • Planet Natural Research Center offers a comprehensive compost forum at planetnatural.com/category/compost.

 

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