Compost On the Go

Compost on the go

A couple of days ago, a friend and I were chatting about compost (as you do), and how this weird perspective shift can happen: you can throw food in the trash for years or decades without thinking twice about it, but as soon as you start composting or start thinking about composting, putting food in the trash can start to feel so loaded. 

On the occasions over the last decade where composting wasn't available to me (most of college - yikes, a weeklong vacation to somewhere less progressive than Seattle, a trip away from Chicago to go to a wedding), throwing food scraps into the trash has always been accompanied by a persistent twinge of guilt, a small leaden feeling in my stomach.

(By the way, if you haven't figured out a way to make composting work for you yet, I'm not knocking you at all. It can be hard, especially for renters and apartment dwellers and students and travelers and those who are busy and those on a tight budget. You can take a peek at my guide here to see if there's an easy compost solution available in your city.)

In college, I got so fed up with having to ditch my apple cores and banana peels in trash cans that I developed a tactic I called "guerrilla composting." This involved pitching apple cores as deep into the woods as my arm could throw - a method that, yes, I know isn't particularly helpful or ecologically sound, and one that I probably wouldn't turn to now. But still: it speaks to the fact that composting can sink its teeth into you and not let you go.

So you better believe that I don't let a little thing like being away from home stop me if I can help it. A few weeks back, I shared how I approach composting when I'm traveling. Those techniques also apply to composting when I'm away from home but still in my city. Though I frequent restaurants and coffee shops that choose to compost their waste when I can, so often I find myself someplace that doesn't.

Most days, therefore, when I leave my house, I bring a small empty container with me. It's often a Ball jar like the one above, but I also sometimes place compost scraps in an empty water bottle, my emptied lunch container, or a cotton produce bag. Some of my friends use a Stasher reusable ziploc bag, which has the benefit of folding flat and not being breakable. For those who don't carry a purse or tote, you could fold compostable scraps in the paper napkin that came with your meal and stick it in your pocket temporarily.

Whatever the vessel, the approach is the same: to corral compostables picked up throughout the day. It might be a teabag, the crust of a sandwich, cherry pits, a clementine peel, a wooden toothpick, a paper napkin, an apple core. I tuck away anything that can be composted, and at the end of the day when I get home I empty the jar or bag into my compost bin, wash the jar out, and the next day I'm ready to start anew.

I keep coming back to this: we can set up our homes to be fairly low waste, but we can't control what businesses and workplaces and events offer us when we're out and about. We can lend our support to businesses that choose less wasteful practices, of course, but to try to avoid disposables completely can be maddening. So, sometimes I just have to accept that my sandwich will have a toothpick in it and that I'll get a paper napkin when I'd rather use my cloth one. But by planning to tote my compost home with me, I know that the detritus of the day won't, at least, go in the trash.

Are you part of team compost jar? What's your container of choice these days?