Six months ago, as part of its ongoing bid to secede from the United States and get annexed by Scandinavia, Portland instituted mandatory composting. The city provided every house with a cute 3-gallon composting bucket, and began picking up garbage bi-weekly, instead of every week. The second move was a brilliant piece of brinkmanship, as it forced recalcitrant families to compost into their yard bin, in order to save their now-precious garbage space for primo trash, like diapers.
As with other nature-related things (e.g. camping, the ocean, birds), I love the idea of composting more than I love the reality of composting. I mean, I support the idea of reducing waste–if you can’t get behind that, that’s weird–but the reality of composting has added a layer of stress to my already stressed-out existence. And sometimes, it’s not even just stress that’s added, but abject fear, and horror. And those are emotions I shouldn’t have to deal with in performing a household chore, unless I’m cleaning my boys’ toilet.
Why the fuss? If you don’t compost, let me lay some groundwork for you. The cute little 3-gallon pail sits on your kitchen counter, and you fill it with table scraps. Any kind of food scraps, including meat and fish bones. Once that bucket fills up, you transport it outside, and dump it into the curbside yard waste bin, which gets picked up every week. The first issue is that table scraps–especially when mixed with other table scraps–are gross. While it may not be ecologically sound, the beauty of putting table scraps down the disposal is that once they are disposed of, you don’t have to look at them again. With composting, you are confronted with what you had for breakfast, and lunch, and dinner, over and over again, every time you open up that pail to put more scraps in.
So why not just empty the pail more frequently? Because emptying it more frequently would mean more frequent trips to the curbside bin. And what lies in wait inside that green bin, simply put, is some scary-ass shit.
Not even the fecund mind of Stephen King could do justice to that green bin and its contents, but I have to take a stab. The bin gets food waste dumped into it every day. For a full week, the food waste sits there and does what food waste does, which is to rot and attract wildlife–and I’m not talking about puppies and kittens. I’m talking about the kind of animals that are more properly characterized as vermin. In the winter, it’s not so bad, because the food just rots in the cold. But now that we’re getting into summer, the things happening inside that bin are downright primeval.
Unfortunately, as it turns out, you can’t transfer scraps to the bin without opening the bin. There’s a lot to deal with once that lid is open, so it helps to have a game plan. Here’s mine. First, stop breathing. The noxious odors and gasses coming from the inside of that bin are most certainly poisonous if inhaled. Best to close your eyes too, because the one time I opened them I swear I saw movement inside, and that movement may have been maggots. As a child, I was scared of two things: nuclear war and maggots. So it’s a real thing for me. Third, close your mouth. You have to open the bin with your mouth closed, or you may accidentally ingest one of the 100 flies that will fly into your face. Fourth, and this is the important one–for God’s sake make sure it’s light out. At night I get so jittery and panicked that I might encounter a rat, that I have missed the bin entirely when dumping out the contents of the pail. It makes me sad when Tom has to pick spaghetti and meatballs off the driveway on his hands and knees, in the dark. Especially because there may be rats out there.
I suppose there’s a chance that time will take the edge off of the composting. But it’s been six months, and it’s still scary. I get the value of composting, like I get the value of carrots, and math. And being forced to compost has made me a lot more mindful about not cooking excess food–which may, ultimately, be the real benefit of composting. So I’ll continue to compost.
But no one, not even the City of Portland, can force me to like it.