Composting During COVID

The idea was important, and bold.

On April 22 — the 50th anniversary of Earth Day — Sustainable Westport was planning to kick off the “Zero Food Waste Challenge.” The goal: Decrease residential food waste by at least 25%.

The group would point out that over 20% of Connecticut’s residential garbage is food waste. It’s costly to haul to the incinerator in Bridgeport, and does not burn well.

There would be a Zero Food Waste Proclamation from 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, and the inauguration of Westport’s free food scraps recycling drop-off area at the transfer station.

Of course, the coronavirus has put both the kickoff and transfer station opening are on hold.

But other aspects of the Challenge are ready for action. In fact, says Sustainable Westport member Pippa Bell Ader, what better time than during self-isolation to think about the food we waste, how we can change that, and what to do with those inedible food scraps.

Jen Tooker already knows how. The 2nd selectman’s family of 5 have been composting for more than 10 years, since they first moved to town.

They are committed to keeping trash to 1 bag a week, follow an aggressive leftover meal plan, and compost all inedible food (though no animal-based products such as cheese, bones or meat).

The Tookers collect food scraps in a lidded container in the kitchen, keeping smells and bugs at bay. When the container is full — usually once a week — it is brought outside to a 3-section composting system, and dumped into the fresh food scraps section.

2nd Selectman Jen Tooker, with her 3-section compost bin.

Once that section is full the scraps are transferred to the second section, where composting really begins. Eventually the pile is moved to the third section, where it becomes rich compost.

The process takes about 6 months, and requires a bit of lifting. But the Tookers would not have it any other way. They find great satisfaction in taking the time and effort to compost excess food.

There are easier ways to manage food scraps, for sure. But composting has become a part of the Tookers’ lives.

Their system is actually one of the most complex. People new to composting can start smaller and simpler. Sustainable Westport’s website includes many options.

For example: Fill one side of the composter with food scraps and some “browns” (leaves, strips of newspaper, etc.). Once that side is full, fill the other side. By the time you have filled the second side, the first should be full of compost material.

Or consider purchasing a compost bin that sits directly on the ground. Place food scraps in the container, and wait. Several months later, compost comes out the bottom of the container. Because food scraps break down over time, containers seldom get completely full.

You can even make your own enclosure to hold food scraps. Animals might enjoy some of the contents. At least you’re keeping food scraps out of the waste stream.

At this extraordinary time — as we think more than usual about how we get ouor food, and how to make the most of what we have — Sustainable Westport’s social media platforms (website, Facebook and Instagram) provide helpful suggestions.

They can’t celebrate Earth Day with a huge composting celebration. But Sustainable Westport is offer a webinar. On Wednesday, writer/activist Lori Fontanes leads a discussion on “Feeding People in a Time of Climate Change and COVID-19.” It’s co-sponsored by Earthplace and the Westport LIbrary, and limited to 100 people.

Click here to register — and join the heap!

(For more information on Sustainable Westport and composting, click here.)

12 responses to “Composting During COVID

  1. I used to compost with wooden bins that way but found it attracted rats. Maybe you don’t have that issue in Westport? The city surely does. We ended up getting a rat-proof Swedish-made composter that is insulated and keeps stuff cooking away even when it is cold. Cuts way down on what goes into the trash. I can’t imagine throwing out food waste anymore.

  2. Larry Perlstein

    I’m using Curbside Compost, the same company that handles the waste from the schools. It’s easy – they pick up once a week, not very expensive – $32/month, and satisfying seeing hiow much waste I’m taking out of the stream. Highly recommended.

  3. Bill Strittmatter

    There are numerous news reports that rats that used to hanging around restaurants and foraging their waste have gotten desperate for food and are more aggressively targeting other sources (and each other in some cases) now that restaurants are shut down. While probably more of an issue in cities, I wouldn’t think Westport is immune.

    I would think compost bins (not to mention waste bins in general) would be a new food target of opportunity, particularly if there were restaurants nearby. Even if restaurants weren’t next door, rats are expanding their hunting grounds.

    While the idea of composting is great, at this point putting a “free dinner” sign in my backyard and maybe establishing a new feeding zone/nesting area that might be difficult to displace even when restaurants reopen seems like a particularly poor idea. Unless the compost bins are made of steel, of course.

  4. I think we should all compliment Jen Tooker, our second selectwomen, for her leadership, doing and not just saying, for encouraging the use of compost bins to help save our environment.

  5. Speaking of reducing our footprint, do we really need a taxpayer supported public agency (Sustainable Westport) populated by appointees (mostly town employees) to tell us how to recycle? It looks like politicized virtue signaling. Either way, I certainly have not forgotten that several current Sustainable Westport members were implicated in the scheme to dump thousands of yards of contaminated fill in Barons South in order to save money. When caught, these same members discussed a plan to plant a story on 06880 suggesting that the dump was “sustainable”. That’s pretty cynical, even by my standards. Meanwhile, the dump is still there and the once beautiful park continues its long slide towards ruination.

  6. Sara LeTourneau

    For those who are a bit lazy or don’t have a big property with room for composting, Action Container offers a composting service that is super easy. They have a representative at the Farm Market ( when it’s open again). They provide you with a bucket for the food scraps and pick it up, empty and clean it once a week or twice a month. The fee is nominal, and they will deliver composted material for your yard.

  7. If you don’t like the idea of waste materials in your kitchen, put an open container in your freezer. (I have a series of empty Fluff buckets!) Throw your food scraps in throughout the day, or pull one out next to your cutting board to collect all the scraps from making a meal. The freezing cuts down on smells, and also jump starts the materials breaking down. Every few days, when they are full, I collect all of my waste in a paper bag, take it all out to the pile. The paper bag provides some “dry” and the defrosting scraps break it down.

  8. Sherry Jagerson

    Dan,
    Thanks for the composting article. This is a great time for all of us to consider turning our food scraps into valuable and nutritious plant food. In 30 years of backyard composting the only ‘pest’ we’ve seen in our compost piles was a fox who collected and carefully buried 12 colorful Easter eggs. Fortunately, he didn’t have time or the nose to find the other 12.
    often we freeze waste until we have time to dump it, especially in the summer. at this time you can add extra water or shredded newspaper to the bucket..whatever the pile needs most.

    One thing we have never done is contaminate our compost with animal products. Follow that golden rule for backyard composting and you too will be successful.
    I can’t reiterate enough… rodents don’t come to our compost pile. If you talk to any person who composts, they will say the same thing. Please don’t fear monger about such an important issue. It’s not true. If you choose to use a plastic barrel composter, check out the great short how to video on
    sustainableWestport.org.
    If you would rather not deal with your kitchen waste it all, Nick at Curbside Compost (914) 646-6890 will gladly pick it up and deliver it to a commercial composter.
    Like many other successful food waste programs, I look forward to Westport’s coming on line. There are so many reasons that this will be beneficial.

    • Bill Strittmatter

      I appreciate that rodents historically may not have frequented your compost pile. However, that was then and circumstances have changed dramatically. Rats normal sources of food have largely gone away and, as noted in the linked BBC article:

      “ Hungry rats “can wander quite a distance and end up in a different neighbourhood completely that had no rats prior”, Dr Corrigan told the BBC.

      They are “formidable mammals” very good at sniffing out sources of food, and their powerful teeth can make short work of a barriers like doors, plastics, or fabrics.”

      That is not to say that they will show up, but certainly the risk is higher now than it has been in the past and to dismiss it out of hand is irresponsible. While the behavior changes in urban environments are more obvious, the the same issues likely exist in Westport. And once a rat colony is established, they are quite hard to get rid of.

      Like the damage to the economy, it is just one more unintended consequence of social distancing.

      https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-52177587

      https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/national-security/starving-angry-cannibalistic-america-s-rats-are-getting-desperate-amid-n1180611

      • Interesting. Perhaps we’re looking at this all wrong. Maybe we should consider the rats to be a, um, sustainable food source. Someone from Sustainable Westport is bound to know whether or not they taste like chicken.

    • Stephen Axthelm

      Snap! Sherry Jagerson. Thanks for all your great work.

  9. I would like to reassure any homeowner interested in composting that there is absolutely no risk of rodents visiting your compost if you use the right methods. Further good news, these methods are as simple as using the right bin which is not accessible to rodents. In my ‘how to’ talks on composting (I am a UConn-certified master composter) I suggest putting all ‘attractive’ kitchen scraps first in a spinner bin (such as the YIMBY model) which is up off the ground. Because the unit spins, any rodent trying to climb aboard will fall off. Our unit has never been ‘broken into’ in 5 years of use, which is confirmed by others having these units. In my own case, once the scraps have decomposed past the point of being attractive to rodents — about twice a year — I move them to my bigger bin, along with my ‘browns’ from the yard, where they finish decomposing and make fabulous compost. Alternatively, there are metal bins (see the Demeter model) the rodents cannot chew through. For more information you can review my presentation which is posted on the Sustainable Westport site: https://www.sustainablewestport.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Alice-Ely-Composting-talk-March-2-2020.pdf

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