Dear Umbra,

I am a college student. I eat a lot on the go. Not fast food or boxed meals, but when I leave my dorm I usually grab an apple, banana, or other fruit/veggie to eat as I walk to my destination. I don’t compost, instead I just throw the banana peel or apple core into the bushes. I like the thought that maybe one day my apple core will become an apple, or that my banana peel will help nourish that piece of ground/animals in the area over ending up in a landfill. To me this eco-littering is an opportunity for new life. I know that it takes a long time to biodegrade as a piece of fruit tossed in the bushes, but I think that, on a smaller scale (not all of society throwing their food scraps into our green places), it’s not a bad thing. But I’ve heard that this eco-littering isn’t terribly good. I don’t really know and I kinda like my fantasy world where it is. Is my eco-littering OK? Should I start to properly compost my food?

Brendan
Moscow, Idaho

Dearest Brendan,

Mulch what you don’t munch.

Photo: iStockphoto

Many angles to consider here — or, there’s more than one way to peel this apple. Is that the expression? Am I conflating skinning a cat with peel me a grape?

We’ll sort through the peelings, but let’s start with the end and say: It would be better to properly compost your food.

Partly this has to do with citizenship. What you are doing is just plain old littering, and from a civic standpoint, it’s improper. Mind you, I think most people throw food into the bushes one way or another. My mother threw apple cores out the car window into roadside woodlands, I throw plum pits under the apple trees in my back yard. But one is not meant to do it in either frequented public places or in remote locales; other people who encounter your litter may find it repulsive. It may spoil their pleasant bush-side jaunt, they may feel the need to clean up after you, they may be gardeners maintaining the bushes who find your rotten leavings. We vote, and recycle, and drive less, because we believe that one person has an impact. By this logic, one person’s litter makes a difference. Not a good difference. There should be all types of activism in the environmental movement, but I don’t think fruit rinds send a clear enough message to count as activism.

At an ecological level, discarded fruit leavings are not the cat’s meow either. Almost none of the produce you discard will sprout new life. An apple seed or a plum pit might, because these grow in your area, but due to the unpredictable nature of sexual reproduction in domesticated tree fruit, the resultant tree would likely be a weird, unrecognizable, and less tasty fruit. If you live in a human-dominated landscape, it will be torn up. Any animals that eat the fruit will be scavengers who have other food sources, because no animal could build a life on waiting for banana peels. In a worst-case scenario, an innocent animal would eat your garbage and suffer indigestion or death. (I’m kind of making the death part up, but it doesn’t seem utterly out of the question.)

Those are some of the reasons why we should stop throwing our produce bits about. True, one alternative is to throw them in the garbage, where they will be interred for centuries. But the other alternative, composting them, fulfills almost all the aspects of your fantasy world. If you were to compost your pits and peels, they would transform themselves into nourishing plant nutrients. Composted material isn’t just more aesthetically pleasing than rotting banana peels, it has a chemical and structural difference that is beneficial to plants. If you then threw this material under the bushes — oh, happy bushie day.

Luckily for you, basic information about all sorts of composting is just a click away, on this very website. May your fantasy life simply improve as you change your leftover hummus into humus.

Painfully,
Umbra