Opinion | The Worms Turn in My Composting Bin

I keep a lidded stainless steel vessel (previously an ice bucket) on the counter that fills up within a day or two, depending on what’s for dinner and how much fruit my kids have polished off. (I trained my family fairly easily with a sign on the kitchen trash can and a few days of redirected apple cores.) I follow a basic home composting rule: If it comes from the earth, yes. If it walks or swims the earth, no.

When it fills, I take my countertop loot outside to the compost bin, nestled next to a tree at the back of our quarter-acre. I twist off the bin’s top (my simple unit reminds me of a supersize Darth Vader helmet) and, with a level of satisfaction I don’t always achieve in the other corners of my day, toss in my scraps. I throw on some dry leaves I’ve corralled since fall (a perk — we have far less to bag). Next time I’m there, I give the compost a couple of pokes and a swirl with the turning tool and admire all the worms that have arrived to feast and do their fine work. They seem so happy inside, devouring our leftovers, and it makes me happy to see them.

If the compost seems gooey, I add extra leaves; if it seems dry, I don’t. The contents break down quickly in summer, which makes space to fill the bin back up in winter. Once a year, out the bottom hatch comes homemade fertilizer, dark and crumbly and unscented, flecked with an occasional produce sticker. I gleefully deposit it around the plantings in my yard, or perhaps into a freshly dug hole for a new shrub or tree.

In doing just this little with so much, our curbside trash has been cut in half and is remarkably light. We don’t need the second day of trash pickup our town provides, which means a truck that idles less.

I recently weighed the citrus rinds, cucumber peels, coffee grounds and other kitchen detritus collected in two days by my family of four and it came to 4.3 pounds. I did the math for a week, then a year, then six, and felt something that could only have been eco-joy.

This is at my fingertips, or just beyond the blade of my paring knife, every single day.

Right now, as we continue to heed the call to stay home, the planet is displaying signs of renewed health. Satellite views reveal an atmosphere convalescing in reduced emissions from cars on land and planes across the sky, startling proof of what’s possible when we humans ease up. We are acquiring less, walking more and delighting in spring blooms and bright stars — small, essential gifts.

Earth Day this year will be without gatherings. To celebrate at home, consider keeping your first banana peel out of the garbage. I promise it will feel good and meaningful, both in the here and now and well beyond. Composting allows for a connection to food, to waste, to nature breaking things down just as intended, and to the revelry that comes with allowing it to happen.

When we emerge from the turmoil of this pandemic, perhaps scathed but no less able, may we maintain our enhanced connection, and take seriously our responsibility to this planet and its soil.

Jessica Stolzberg is a writer.

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