Compost Conundrums

Every week, we GAs sort through the compost for two hours apiece. And every week, we witness how extraordinarily … creative the Swarthmore community’s definition of “compostable” is. Granted, it is confusing; sometimes you forget to check whether a plastic cup is compostable Greenware or trash/recycling-bound regular plastic, or simply don’t notice the non-compostable shiny labels on your cardboard. Other minor slip-ups, like plastic utensils or ketchup packets, are annoying but perhaps inevitable. But sometimes, people attempt to compost things that seem so brazenly non-compostable that I scratch my head searching for an explanation. 

Luckily, upon completing GA orientation, GAs are vested with special forensic magical powers designed to help us protect the sacred treasure that is the compost. So, I used my eldritch abilities to track down the individuals who had thrown these seemingly egregious items in the compost and demand an explanation. I came out of the investigation both surprised and ashamed of my earlier irritation — as it turns out, there is a perfectly reasonable justification for everything! Without further ado, I present to you the explanations I received so that no one will repeat my mistake of maligning the benevolent individuals who had the foresight to compost these seemingly unusual items.*

1. A working speaker 

“I read once that plants grow better when they listen to music! So I figured that since the compost enriches the soil for farmers, it would help to give the plants growing in that soil something they can use to blast their favorite tunes. I’m sure it gets boring out there in the field.”

2. A positive COVID test

“I know what you’re going to say — it’s gross, it’s unsanitary, etc. But given how easily coronaviruses have jumped species, I think it’s shocking that we haven’t considered protecting our plants, which are so important to the ecosystem and to our survival. Since it would be ridiculous to go around injecting plants with our current vaccines, I decided to take the novel approach of contaminating some compost with a small amount of weakened virus, which will infiltrate the soil and immunize the plants without getting them seriously sick. I think this pioneering technique will be a real game-changer — and I’m sure it’ll look great on my med school apps.”

3. A used tampon

“Look, plants need a lot of minerals and nutrients and stuff. Including iron, which is necessary for photosynthesis — I learned about this in my bio class the other day. Blood is an excellent source of iron, so I’m just doing my part to nurture them. And this questioning seems unnecessarily antagonistic — I’d appreciate it if you stopped period-shaming, thanks.”

4. Over £20-worth of notes and coins

It’s a form of protest against capitalism and neoliberalism. Capitalists’ worlds revolve around money; they hoard it and say that money doesn’t grow on trees so they can justify not supporting just, humane initiatives that might harm their bottom line. I’m trying to reverse that narrative by showing that trees can grow from money — decomposed money, that is. Money is worth more as soil than it is as currency. I realize the coins might take a while to decompose but that’s another way of resisting the fast-moving consumer culture our society promotes and instead thinking on longer timescales. Oh, and I used British currency because Adam Smith, the so-called ‘Father of Capitalism,’ was Scottish, so in a way, British money embodies the origins of our exploitative economic system. Sorry if that wasn’t all clear earlier.”

5. Charge cord

“How exactly do you think the bugs are going to charge their phones? I mean, they can’t very well march into an Apple store, can they? Sometimes we have to share our possessions with those less fortunate.”

6. Earbuds

“Flowering plants have buds. Flowering plants are compostable, so any part of them is compostable, including their buds. That means buds are compostable. Earbuds are buds. Ergo, earbuds are compostable.”

7. A decapitated mouse inside a mousetrap 

“Mice are organic material and therefore compostable. I was just helping the mouse along the next stage of its journey. It’ll decompose and nurture a new generation of plants as part of the soil, completing the cycle of life. Oh whoops, I probably shouldn’t have composted the mousetrap though. Sorry about that.”

I am so grateful to these individuals for enlightening me and making my approach to composting a much more open-minded and inclusive one. These people are truly models of upstanding, compassionate behavior towards their fellow inhabitants of Earth. From now on, I will pause and think before I grumble about a “non-compostable” item in the compost, no matter how seemingly icky or strange — I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation. 

*All of these items were actual objects that GAs have found in the compost.

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