I Can’t Eat That!

When you’re trying to reduce food waste, you suddenly become hyper-aware of everything you come into contact with. From the core of a cabbage to the strings on your banana, you’re always thinking, “Can I compost this?” If you’re eating a mostly plant-based diet, like we are, then the short answer is going to be yes. Anything that once grew in soil can be returned to the soil. Same goes for anything made from plants – like most paper goods. But what about baked goods?

That’s the predicament we found ourselves in this week. Right out the gate of our food waste project, we were handed a fruit cake. Yes, a fruit cake. And, as if that weren’t bad enough, it came alongside a box of awful tasting pumpkin spice cookies (made from one of those bagged grocery store mixes). Both containers sat on the counter for days. The fruit cake is still there, taunting me. (Notice how the photo makes it look way more appealing than it actually is??)

Let’s talk about the cookies first. They were break-your-teeth-off hard. Not the kind of cookie that makes you want to go back for another, that’s for sure. We couldn’t toss them in the trash but we definitely couldn’t eat them either, and we couldn’t compost them. Or could we? There’s some debate on the compostability of baked goods. On the upside, they will eventually break down in the compost bin. On the downside, they are most likely to attract every squirrel, raccoon, opossum, and bird in the neighborhood before they do. We ultimately decided to save them a step and just hand over the cookies.

Though not the optimal choice, feeding animals is still a few steps above the landfill.

My mom’s backyard is a veritable sanctuary for wildlife. She has birds of all shapes and sizes (even turkeys), small mammals, deer, and a lumbering little opossum that we affectionately call Otis. They come to her yard for one reason – she’s been tossing stale bread out the window every week for 30 years. Whatever your take on feeding backyard wildlife, we have yet to see one bird swell up and die from eating a crumbled biscuit. We do however see them come back in flocks year after year. Yesterday, we had 8 cardinals, 15 finches, and a woodpecker on the bird feeder, nibbling on birdseed infused with pumpkin spice cookie crumbs. On a side note, I also used some of those crumbs, created in the food processor, as a crust in the bottom of a pudding made of pureed acorn squash and apples. Unlike the cookies themselves, it was rather tasty.

But the fruit cake? There are only so many things one can do with a fruit cake when eating it is not an option. (I really did try. I ate one whole slice, washing it down piece by minuscule piece with a mug of hot tea.) Fruit cakes are filled with candied fruit and alcohol. Even if it were compostable, which I’m not sure it is, I can’t imagine putting those ingredients in our bin. And feeding it to animals? I’m not sold on that idea either. Otis stumbles around enough as it is without getting him drunk off a fruit cake.

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to decide the fate of a fruit cake. We would never buy one in the first place. But gifts are a different story. You don’t want to hurt the giver’s feeling, especially when they’ve worked so hard and spent so much money to bake the world’s most hated cake and ship it to you. But you also don’t want to make yourself eat something you find unappetizing. For the time being, our fruit cake will sit in purgatory (on the counter). If you have any suggestions of how best to dispose of it or even make it more appetizing, we’re all ears.


Food Waste Update

  • Wasted Food: 3 liquid ounces (milk, salad dressing)
  • Found Food: 33.75 US pounds

Keep up with our food finds in real time by viewing our Food Find Gallery.

DIY Indoor Compost Bin

My mom has agreed to let us plant an 8′ x 8′ garden in her backyard this year. Though she claims that she’s only going to “supervise” the project, I have a feeling she’s just as excited as we are about working the soil and growing our own veggies.

For a few years now, she’s had something of compost pile in the far corner of the yard. In it she dumps grass clippings, dried flowers, and the occasional pile of peelings. As we talked about digging up the now rich soil to put in the garden, the thought occurred to me that Angie and I could also be adding to this pile to make even more soil for garden. So I Googled indoor compost bins.

I was particularly fascinated by the Japanese bokashi bins but the additive alone was $15 a bag. Seems crazy to me to pay to compost. I did like the spout on the side of the bin for removing some of the compost tea though. And that got me thinking too.

We could make our own spouted bin, one that we could easily integrate into our small apartment.

We found this 2-gallon Igloo Cooler at our local Goodwill Store for $4.99.

Igloo Cooler

After cleaning it up, Angie drilled a series of holes in the lid for ventilation.

 

While this probably would have been good enough to serve as a proper compost bin, I wanted to make sure no odors would escape. I tried to find an activated charcoal filter in the pet section of Walmart (the kind used to keep kitty litter odors at a minimum) but they were out. I ultimately ended up using an air conditioner filter that I already had. I cut the filter to fit the lid and glued it inside using a hot glue gun.

 

The lid of the cooler is hollow so I put 4 TBS of baking soda in through the holes (using a small funnel). I’m hoping this will reinforce the filter in keeping odors out.

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The resulting compost bin fits easily underneath the sink in our kitchen.

 

The base composting layer is made up of shredded newspaper and a little potting soil. Once we accumulate a layer of food scraps, we’ll add more newspaper and soil to the mix. When the bin is full, we’ll dump it into the larger outdoor bin at my mom’s house and start over.

This isn’t our first foray into composting but it is our first attempt at an indoor compost bin. Getting back into the swing of recycling and reusing things is a priority for us and composting is a step in that direction. Not only will it help keep food scraps out of the landfill and reduce methane gas, but it will allow us to recycle waste into a usable product – nutrient rich soil. It’s a win-win for us and the environment.

Thinking of making your own bin? Here are some tips on what to compost:

composting-chart