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Beautiful waste: Cleveland Metroparks naturalist takes composting personally

Marc Lefkowitz  |  04/13/15 @ 11:00am  |  Posted in Composting

More people are turning to composting to recapture and actually reuse their biggest source of waste. If you’ve ever thought, “composting’s just not for me,” you should check out this inspiring post from Cleveland Metroparks Naturalist Bethany Majeski on why she composts.

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It’s a shame the words most commonly associated with composting don’t capture the real beauty and magic of the stuff. “Decay” “organic matter” and “microbial action” fail to conjure much excitement. Trust me, though, compost is worth getting excited about.

In essence, compost is all about creating a balanced environment for the bacteria and fungi that break organic wastes down into a rich, black soil. In practice, it becomes not so much a chore, but a direct experience with the living world around you. You don’t have to be a gardener to compost. It is a pursuit for all.

We each produce, on average, over four pounds of trash a day, and approximately two-thirds of that household waste is compostable. By choosing to break the landfill cycle, you strike a vote in favor of conservation.

Less trash in the landfill is good for everyone. The input investment is low; a compost pile does not ask much of you. You don’t have to buy any fancy gadgets to participate, and it doesn’t take a lot of time or work. But the output is huge. Instead of waste, we create opportunity for renewal.

For me composting is a meditation. I have a weekly date with my three-bin system. I love to crack the pile open with my pitchfork -- the steam that escapes confirms that what appears to be a passive pile of “stuff” is actually a living, breathing community. Active compost is hot!

When I add new materials, I think about how I harness energy from these by-products of my daily life. I feel like my compost piles offer more real wealth than a bank account. They are a link to life, fertility and food. Too often we throw our trash on the curb and think it goes “away.” It never goes away.

I like to contemplate my “inactive” piles, which are not being added to anymore, but that sit like stoic buddhas, transforming. Slowly, the recognizable features of food parts and leaves and wood chips break down into crumbly, rich earth, and the piles shrink and settle. How endlessly fascinating it is that out of dead materials we can generate a medium for new growth. How truly marvelous that after nearly four billion years, our planet continues to reuse its original elements to support life. When we compost, we reconnect with this ancient cycle of life, death and renewal. Everything composts. I turn my pitchfork in the pile and smile.

Majeski is a naturalist at the Garfield Park Center for Urban Agriculture. Thanks to the Cleveland Metroparks for permission to reprint this.

To learn more about how to compost and to get a compost bin, check out the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District’s Compost Education webpage. The District is hosting some upcoming composting workshops where you can build a bin and learn how to use it at home.

Or check out the OSU Ag Extension’s tips for Composting at Home.

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