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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Confessions of a Composting Bandit

Posted By on Thu, Jun 25, 2009 at 8:59 AM

click to enlarge 'Scuse me ladies, I've got to slip this bag of rotting vegetables in your green bin -- and run! - JIM HERD
  • Jim Herd
  • 'Scuse me ladies, I've got to slip this bag of rotting vegetables in your green bin -- and run!
I'll admit it. I've been running a quasi-legal operation out of my kitchen. You can tell something ain't right from the smell. But I'm not producing meth. I'm making methane.

Yes, I'm a composting bandit -- after visiting "The Pit" where all San Francisco's waste is dumped late last year and reading a study revealing two-thirds of the crap in that vast maw of rotting refuse could have been recycled or composted, I decided I didn't want to tacitly take part in such wastefulness anymore. So I began separating composting out in the kitchen and, periodically, when it became an olfactory nuisance, I furtively crammed it in someone else's green can (our building doesn't offer composting).

Why am I telling you this? For one thing, our admittedly heavy handed new composting rules will allow me to go legit -- by forcing everyone to do what I'm doing. Yes, San Francisco has a wonderful history of taking programs that were successful elsewhere and ruining them to the point they, too, belong in the green bin. And, yes, I'm concerned that a close reading of the new law reveals that they have not yet figured out how to assess fines or warnings in multi-unit dwellings -- i.e. the bulk of San Francisco residencies. But what I can tell you is that composting is easy, clean, and -- when you're not worried about sneaking it into someone else's green bin -- need not be stinky or nasty.

First of all, San Francisco -- for all its well-warranted criticisms -- provides its residents with a top-of-the-line composting service. Unlike Los Angeles, for example, we have a facility that is capable of actually breaking down compostable plastic bags (which you can't do in your backyard pile, by the way -- unless your pile reaches temperatures of 140 degrees for 10 straight days. And it almost certainly doesn't). Fines aside, now that landlords will be compelled to offer green bins, tenants who fail to compost can't make excuses anymore -- it really is very easy to do.

A number of people I've talked to -- registered Democrats all -- showed surprising reticence at the notion of composting in the home (can we blame overbearing hippies for this? Why not?). With an extra can, won't we be creating more waste? Yet this argument seems to be a violation of the law of conservation of matter; rather than creating more waste, you're simply putting the same amount of waste in more places.

That dovetails into the next "argument" against composting -- it smells terrible. Granted, if you're worried about a hand coming down on your shoulder when you slip a bag of rotting eggshells and old coffee grinds into someone else's green recepticle, you'd wait until the odor became unbearable as well. But the fact of the matter is, if rotting organic material wasn't in your composting bin, it'd be in the trash bin -- making the same smell. And when you simply need to walk to your building's green can rather than root about the neighborhood, there'll be no incentive to wait until things get ridiculous.

I'll be waiting -- pen in hand -- to see how San Francisco botches this law. But, in the meantime, there's no need for we the people to follow suit, out of ignorance or spite. When it comes to aiding the environment, this really is just about the least you can do. I think we can manage to do our least. We always do.

Photo   |   Jim Herd

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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