I’ll bet you’re wondering what the world needs now (besides love sweet love, of course!), and why I put a photo of Anderson Cooper next to a mailbox. Okay, this has been on my mind for a long time: what the world needs now is to redefine the banana peel from a piece of garbage to a value resource.
I was reminded of this basic need the other night while watching CNN’s New Year’s Eve celebration with the outrageous and hilarious Kathy Griffin and the charming Anderson Cooper. Anderson told us a story about how he recently stopped a woman on the street from depositing a banana peel into a blue USPS sidewalk boxes (like the one pictured here). As he told it he grabbed her hand just as she was about to release the peel into the pulldown slot! He chastised her for intending to put the peel into the wrong box. His very strong belief was that it should be recognized and treated as garbage, so he put it in a garbage can. That banana peel is probably sitting in a landfill right now, offgassing methane, a potent greenhouse gas. And there’s the rub: food scraps need oxygen to decompose. If there’s no oxygen then organic matter produces methane. And there’s no oxygen in landfills, so all the organic matter that we send to the landfill, including autumn leaves and food scraps, makes methane.
I actually think the woman who was putting the banana peel in the mailbox was more right than Anderson simply because she recognized that the peel wasn’t garbage and should be treated differently. Sort of like putting a recyclable bottle NEXT to a garbage can instead of in it. Because putting it in the garbage is anathema, and there’s always the wishful hope that it will miraculously be recycled. Maybe the mail person will come along and compost the peel the same way the garbage person might throw those bottles into the recycling bin when the garbage is collected? But that’s probably giving her too much benefit of the doubt.
When I see banana peels in garbage cans I have the same flinching reaction that Anderson had: WRONG. The fact is, banana peels aren’t garbage any more than they are parcels of mail. They belong not in garbage cans or mailboxes but in compost receptacles. They are pre-compost, or pre-soil, or rather, pre-another banana. And so I usually stick my hand in there and save that peel from an interrupted life cycle. Banana peels and all other organic matter belong in a natural cycle of soil and nutrients. Of course this isn’t news to many people in rural areas or to folks who grew up with a garden or on a farm. Back then there would always be a compost pile because they knew that organics were a crucial resource for sustaining life. The good news is that lots of places around the world are starting to relearn this knowledge.
On a recent trip to Toronto, Canada, I was surprised (see the stunned look on my face?) and heartened to find this multiple choice receptacle on the street.
Good for you, Toronto! Now that’s a cool city, and like New York City, one that benefited from Jane Jacobs residing in it. But that’s for another blog post.
When we compost we place ourselves in an ecosystem, where there is nutrient cycling and soil production. Healthy ecosystems are what give us clean air, clean water, healthy food, happy citizens, and ultimately, normalized climate patterns. I understand that paradigm shifts are hard and that it is a radical change to say a banana peel isn’t garbage, but given the state of the world, I’d say shifting paradigms is what the world needs to do right now. And hey, it sure would help if mainstream media like CNN would start reflecting this change. So come Anderson, let’s do this thing!
Holly Rae Taylor, compost maven