Whenever you make yourself a fruit plate, you’re left with seeds, peels, and stems. Where will they go? Most likely the trash can. While using blue recycling bins feels second nature to Californians, composting is still underused. In 2018, only about 4% of food waste in the US was composted, according to the EPA; food waste is the largest single component occupying space in US landfills. Addressing food waste is one of the best ways individuals can make a positive impact on reducing harmful methane emissions, reports nonprofit Project Drawdown, a research-based organization that finds and ranks climate change solutions.

With innovation and legislation, San Diego has increased opportunities to make composting more accessible and hassle-free.

California law requires programs to be in place to help reach State goals to reduce organic waste by 75% by 2025 and the newly opened EDCO anaerobic digester in Escondido is launching curbside pickup that allows residents in several San Diego communities to commingle food and green waste. So now is the most practical time to get a head start on best composting practices in order to reap the benefits of access to the rich soil it provides for plants and garden later. We spoke to experts and found ways to help make composting your Earth Day goal this year.

Image: Jan Kopriva

The Value of Compost

Sally Tinker of Mission Hills, a trained soil farmer with local composter Food2Soil, explains how effectively compost works. “Layering compost onto garden beds encourages earthworms, fungi, and microscopic beings to thrive under the surface. These helpers break down organic matter and create good soil structure, allowing plant roots to spread and go deeper,” says Tinker. “Healthy plants grown in compost-enriched soil produce nutrient-dense and better-tasting fruit and veggies.”

Image: Shlomo Shalev

It also helps soil hold moisture, saving consumers money on water, fertilizers, and soil amendments. Compost even transformed Tinker’s growing experience. “Our apple tree was four feet high and doing okay growing in sandy soil for over 15 years. Steadily adding compost to the soil every couple of months has transformed our tree. It’s suddenly twice as tall and loaded with beautiful pink and white blossoms. We’re very optimistic about the apple harvest this season.”

Learn more about how to apply compost to your lawn or garden from the Solana Center.

Image: Annie Spratt
Image: cjp
Image: Annie Spratt
Image: cjp

What can be composted?

As a general rule, organic materials that decompose quickly are best for home collection. This includes fruits and vegetables (with produce stickers removed), eggshells, grains, coffee grounds and filters, and dead flowers. Backyard composting can also include yard and grass clippings, nutshells, and shredded newspapers.

Ready to start?

First, identify a collection bin to keep food scraps. Local subscription services (referenced below) include a sealable bucket, or you can buy small countertop units online but a store-bought container is not necessary. Residents with limited space can use a small resealable container that fits in the freezer or on the balcony. To deter smell, keep scraps frozen or alternate bucket layers with sawdust or mulch to dry out scraps.

Image: Patricia Valério

Bucket Drop off and Subscriptions

County residents have increasing composting options, including convenient drop-offs and home pick ups. Local organizations provide a low-risk opportunity to compost with subscriptions starting at under $20/month and the perk of being able to buy compost for your garden at reduced costs.

Food 2 Soil

Upon enrollment, Food2Soil participants receive compost buckets to layer with food scraps and mulch for bucket drop or monthly subscription programs. Monthly subscribers have access to green cart drop-offs in convenient neighborhood locations searchable through Food2Soil’s app Rot On. "These programs provide excellent options for apartment dwellers or households with minimal yard space,” says Food2Soil educational manager, Gavin Smith.

“We operate a model that supplies access to neighborhood composting hubs, each nuanced to meet its community’s needs,” Smith says.

The organization trains future hub hosts, aka soil farmers, at Ocean View Growing Grounds Neighborhood Composting Hub in Logan Heights. Once their training is complete, soil farmers go on to manage their own neighborhood composting hub. “Our decentralized model empowers people to take charge of their waste management. It’s a simple thing that people can do to drastically reduce food waste,” adds Smith.

Food2Soil offers over 20 drop-off locations at community gardens, businesses, and affiliate soil farmers countywide including coastal, central, and inland communities.

Project Compost  

Recently launched Project Compost began operations just before the 2020 lockdown. They currently provide Encinitas and Carlsbad resident subscribers with direct home pick up of food scraps weekly or monthly, depending on residents’ needs. Their bucket drop-off service is currently available at the Leucadia Farmers Market and in San Marcos, and beginning this summer at The Mighty Bin in North Park.

Living Coast Discovery Center

In cooperation with Chula Vista, Living Coast Discovery Center provides free online workshops. Participate in live zoom sessions or access the Center’s videos anytime on YouTube. Participants are able to purchase a compost bin at reduced cost.

Solana Center for Environmental Innovation

Solana Center for  Environmental Innovation has been helping San Diegans live more sustainably since 1983. Their Food Cycle scrap waste program uses a different process that involves fermentation and allows the flexibility for collecting all food waste, including meat, bones, and fats. Food Cycle works with individuals, households, businesses, large events, and local governments. One bucket per month is usually sufficient for an average family of four.

Backyard Compost Education

Several excellent educational opportunities exist to help residents interested in backyard composting choose the right solution to fit their needs.

Starting a compost pile requires three main ingredients:

  1. Browns such as dead leaves, branches, and twigs.
  2. Greens such as grass clippings, vegetable waste, fruit scraps, and coffee grounds.
  3. Water for compost development.
Image: Edward Howell

Choose a shady spot near a hose and cover it with a tarp to help keep moisture in.  Besides alternating food scraps with browns, you’ll need to turn it with a pitchfork or shovel around once a week to allow oxygen in to help decompose materials. Creating compost ready to use with soil can take several months and entails far more than we can cover but you can find detailed directions from Food2Soil here.

Concerned about attracting pests? A backyard tumbler or bin is a good solution. San Diego currently offers many voucher and discount programs.

Solana Center also offers a wide range of online, low-cost workshops for beginner and intermediate composters. Learn about materials needed, time investment, and science involved. They even offer free individual conferencing with residents to answer questions.

Now we’re all ready to make this relatively easy lifestyle shift to composting and make an impact, right? The planet thanks you for it. Share your compost journey with us on Instagram by tagging @ediblesd.

About the Contributor
Cherie Gough
Cherie Gough is an award-winning freelance writer based in San Diego. She is passionate about food equity and loves writing about innovative people finding positive solutions.Find her on Instagram @cgoughwrites.