The Joy of Compost

Which would you pick if you had to choose between recycling and composting? I'd choose composting. I wouldn't make this choice for any well-thought out policy reasons, but simply because recycling is too easy. I can't break a sweat putting my newspapers in a paper bag, washing out cans and bottles, putting them in a recycling bin and carrying the bin to the curb.

Composting isn't so easy. I have to build a pile from my grass clippings and leaves and from household organics such as coffee grounds and orange and banana peels. For most of the year, I have to turn the pile at least once a week with my pitchfork. In the fall, when my pile has turned into compost, I have to cart it around my yard and spread it over my gardens. This can be work! But I enjoy working my compost pile and the delight I feel in my hands as I sift my finished compost through my fingers.

Most of all, I love seeing the end result of my labors. When my crocuses and daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and other flowers bloom, I rejoice in their beauty and the triumph of another spring. Think about this for a second, how many times have you seen a stack of newspapers suddenly pop up out of your front lawn as a payoff for recycling old newspapers?

Compost advocates sometimes frustrate me. In their quest to make the perfect product, composters often scare people away by making composting too complicated.

I have no desire to build a compost bin. I'm not particularly concerned about maintaining the perfect ratio of carbon to nitrogen in my pile. And I don't want to worry about constructing my pile with exactly the right layers of material.

Don't get me wrong. These requirements are highly important to professional composters who are making a product for the marketplace. They need to ensure their operations are producing the best possible compost. But all these extra steps are more bother than the average backyard composter is willing to put up with.

I didn't realize how much I enjoyed composting until several years ago when a stray puppy adopted my family. As he grew, our dog became fond of using the compost pile as a launching pad to jump over the fence and then run through the neighborhood. Instead of building a privacy fence, we decided to stop composting. The pile was doomed. Eventually he quit jumping the fence and our pile came back. I was a happy composter again.

The many ways to compost may be the best reason for composting. If you are a low-tech backyard composter like myself, a dedicated grasscycler who wants nothing more than to walk away from your cut grass, or a business person making an end product for sale, make your choice and go for it. And if you are in my neighborhood in the spring, stop by and enjoy my flowers.

Opinions in this column do not necessarily reflect the Washington, D.C.-based National Solid Wastes Management Association or the Environmental Industry Associations. E-mail the author at: