Waste Not Want Not - Composting
For those of us not so much into recycling, handling of your solid waste is going to become a topic of interest in a SHTF situation whether you like it or not. In our current consumerism lifestyle, we generate a lot of garbage. According to the World Economic Forum it is about 5 pounds per person per day in the United States. Not such a big concern when the garbage truck empties your garbage can once a week. Now imagine the situation where there is no one to cart that waste away. In a Grid Down situation, we need to look at ways to 1-reduce our production of waste and 2-recycle what we can.
The National Resources Defense Council estimates that American families waste about 25% of the groceries they bring home. This is a combination of disposal of expired or spoiled food and beverages and serving too much at a meal that is then scraped off the plate into the garbage bin. Those are wasted calories that you might need in a survival situation.
Most of this material can be placed in a composting pile and turned into organic material that can be used as fertilizer for growing your own food. Compost basically needs four components: Nitrogen, Carbon, Oxygen, and Moisture.
Equipment / Facilities: A compost pile can be just that – a pile of composting materials. But many people like to place compost in bins or barrels. You can construct a bin using any building materials: Logs, pallets, cinder blocks, etc. The one of the right is just lashing some old pallets together. Leave a shovel and or pitchfork nearby so you can rotate the pile. Or you can convert a 55-gallon drum (or any drum) into a composter by installing a door on one of the sides (you want to be able to roll the composter) or buy one a Costco. The one pictured below costs under $200.
Materials: there are several recipes for good compost (that’s right, I said “recipe”). So for food scraps, you can put pretty much anything other than meat, fish, dairy or eggs in your composter. Avoid oils (including foods that you cooked in fats or oils) as all of these will produce a lot of putrid smells and attract unwanted insects and pests. Vegetables and fruit residue are fine, as is breads, grains, even egg shells (good source of calcium), coffee grounds, and tea. You can set a plastic or stainless steel bucket with lid next to the sink in the kitchen and just toss food waste into it then carry out to your composter when the bucket gets full. Your food scraps are your greens (Nitrogen).
To this you want to add some browns (Carbon): this can be small twigs, straw or dry leaves, saw dust, or even shredded paper or newspapers. Small items compost quicker so if you chop up your food scraps, they will be digested quicker. Same with shredding the paper and or chipping the wood into small pieces, crush the dry leaves etc. You want roughly twice as much browns as you have greens but this doesn’t have to be precise. Fresh grass clippings are high in Nitrogen (and green in color) but dry grass clippings once they turn brown are a source of carbon. If your compost pile is not warm or it is giving off a lot of ammonia smell, you should add more browns. Note that urine is a good source of nitrogen (urea) but you don’t want to get the pile too wet.
I have seen some places where they suggest you “seed” your compost with some good organic humus (a couple of quarts of material) to provide starter cultures of the desired bacteria and microbes and even some worms. This will speed up the process. You only need to do this once for a pile (or if you are using a barrel style composter, leave some humus behind when you empty the barrel). You can also add some trace minerals (rock dust) as an option.
Ok, once you have added the greens and browns, you just need to add some water to make the pile moist (not wet or soupy). You don’t want it too wet as you want the materials to be aerated so they can use oxygen in the digestion process.
In a bin you use the shovel or pitchfork to turn the pile, mix up the ingredients and keep it aerated. In a barrel, you just have to rotate or roll the barrel to accomplish the same thing. If you pile is warm (or hot) then it is actively breaking down the materials and making compost. The whole process could be complete in about a month depending on conditions.
So in a grid down situation, composting is a great way to reduce the amount of solid waste that you have to dispose of while returning nutrients and fertilizer to the soil to put on your garden and increase its productivity.
Note that you should not include animal manure or human waste in your compost pile, they can be broken down separately in the outhouse, slit trenches or septic tanks. But as mentioned above, you can add urine to your pile of leaves or dried grass. Urine is sterile unless it is contaminated by mixing it with feces. Separating urine from your black water reduces the volume of your black water and makes a great fertilizer. If you plan to “water” your plants directly, you should dilute it so you don’t burn the plants although you can have at it at the base of your fruit trees. Otherwise, the idea of separating urine from feces is catching on in Sweden so here is a picture of their in-the-toilet separator. I guess this is the female version, since the male version should look like an empty milk jug
So if you are composting most of your foodscraps, and can even compost paper – you should see a significant reduction on the amount of waste that you might have to bury or burn. At least the wet, sloppy (and smelly) part of your garbage is put to better use – might make it a little more bearable when the trashman isn’t making the rounds.
De Oppresso Liber