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The joys— and cost savings— of composting

It’s that time of year in New England. The fall rituals— apple picking, Oktoberfest, pumpkin-spiked everything, hay rides — that have become a tradition in New England have begun. And let’s not forget leaves turning vibrant colors leading many to take foliage tours before the leaves fall and leaving naked branches.

The fallen leaves leads to another set of rituals. Tall brown bags of leaves sitting curbside one or two days a week waiting to be picked up by dump trucks, hauled away and, I pray, to compost sites.

There is a 95 percent chance that human-generated emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are changing the climate in ways that court disaster. That is according to the latest comprehensive assessment of the scientific consensus about climate change in a report released recently by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). According to the IPCC, there is only a 1-in-20 chance that human activity is not causing dangerous warming.

With such news coming from the scientific community on climate change, I am hoping that more Dot neighbors will take to composting.

Composting uses personal kitchen waste to create cheap, nutrient-rich fertilizer, and contribute to the health and productivity of a personal or community garden. So this fall, I am hoping to see less brown bags curb side and more heaps of leaves in backyards.

For years, I too succumbed to the annual fall ritual. I would dutifully rake leaves, brown bag them (City of Boston does not accept plastic bags) and drag them curb side to be picked by huge trucks burning oil and gas as they tote their weight through neighborhoods and spewing their exhaust. And just how many trees are sacrificed so that we can have brown bags to haul leaves? What a vicious cycle this is? I think of this process as tree cannibalism.

I have a new ritual that I adopted a few years ago. Instead of packing 100 bags with leaves every fall, I pile them in a corner of the yard away from the house. I dump grass clippings from mowing with the leaves. Each week, I gather household waste that can be compost and add them to the leaves and grass clippings. It’s amazing all the things that can compost. The Mother Nature Network (mnn.com) lists 81 items found around the house that can be used for composting.

Not much happens to those leaves in the winter months. But I dutifully gather household items (fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee and tea grounds, dust balls, hair, cotton swabs, shredded paper, etc.) and once a week I add them to the pile. By spring, I can see and feel something happening. The once yellow, bronze, gold and red leaves turn brown. The pile gets smaller and smaller. Composting is taking place. By summer, leaves are barely visible. The compost is steamy. I like to feel my fingers and toes in the warm compost pile. I enjoy seeing worms burrow their way deep into the pile. By late summer, the production is complete with about 50 gallons of fresh dirt for planting, for grass seed cover or to use as mulch. Compost naturally helps replenish the nutrients drawn out of the soil by plant roots. I like to think of composting as making a good, nutritious meal for Mother Nature.

Equally as exciting is all the savings and other benefits. There are no treks to Home Depot to purchase brown bags and soil. There is no energy and water consumption to run the garbage disposal to dispose of kitchen waste. Those are just some of the most obvious savings. I calculate that composting results in a savings of about $400 in cost savings per year.

There is also savings that cannot be as easily calculated: less oil and gas being used by dumpster trucks. If more Dorchester folks compost, that is less weight on those trucks and therefore less oil and gas being used.

For school age kids, this is a great science project. For example, coffee grounds are rich in nitrogen. Nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus are three main ingredients in a successful fertilizer.
Nitrogen allows plants to convert sunlight into energy; phosphorus helps to transmit energy throughout the plant; and potassium helps plants to retain moisture which aids photosynthesis.

Finally, composting is also an excellent work out. Turning the compost regularly exercises muscles in the arms, legs, back and shoulders.

So this fall, I am urging more neighbors to take on a new ritual: less bagging, more composting. There is a wonderful feeling of doing something great no matter how small that contributes to having a big impact on the environment and sustaining the planet for future generations.

Desirée Baynes lives on Everett Avenue in Jones Hill.