This student essay was submitted by Jamie Feldman from New York City.
Jeff gave us a task at the airport on the way to Ecuador: feed our group with $40, but it has to be the most “sustainable” food you think you can find in an airport. He released us and almost immediately the goal dissolved from finding sustainable food to trying to convince the group to buy whatever you wanted to eat. I was the stick in the mud who denied the girl lobbying for the gummy worms. I pushed the apples and oranges instead (who cares if no one wanted to eat them, they were sustainable). About 3 minutes later I felt like she kept shooting me angry glares. I ran back and got them for her: “Surprise! Look how much I want you to be my friend and not hate me for the next 5 weeks that we will be trapped in a foreign country together!” Surely it’s okay that they’re full of corn syrup made from mono-crop corn, and that they eat up petroleum for the packaging that winds up in a landfill in the end, and that they cause pollution during processing, so long as I am not the bad-guy, right?
It turned out well in the end and everyone got to eat something from the pile of popcorn, trail mix, fruit and gummy worms, that we wound up with, but it reminded me of the problem that most environmentally concerned students in high school (including me) have. A lot of our peers would much rather throw their lunch trays in the trash can than spend the time sorting out what can be composted and what can be recycled. For three years I had decided to look the other way when people tossed their styrofoam trays into the compost bin. Was I afraid that my usually quite friendly peers would pulverize or exile me for asking them to dump in just the broccoli and throw the tray in the trash can? Heck yeah, I was. Not only is the status quo God in high school, but I’m a self-proclaimed coward, despite my good intentions.
Once we got to Ecuador, our two weeks on the organic farm taught me a few very valuable things. One: there are other people like me who watch people throw bagels in the recycling bin at school and who really wish they wouldn’t do it. Two: some of these other people don’t stay silent. Some of them say something about it, no matter what others think. Three: composting is pretty awesome: not only are you getting rid of stuff that would take up space in a landfill, but you’re keeping the Earth healthy by giving back what it gave to us. In fact, it’s so important that I think it’s about time I disregard my fear of not being cool and work on making composting “cool”.
On the farm, your meal scraps go the the pigs and your bowl is washed for reuse. The food goes in one end of the pig and comes out the other and winds back up in the soil, no trash.
Your bathroom business happens the same way. Composting toilets turn human waste (plus some sawdust, so it doesn’t stink) into a treat for the trees in the orchard, once again, no trash.
Living in a zero-waste system takes some guts, and I don’t think I know anyone that would drop their life in New York City at the chance to live with pigs and composting toilets, but isn’t composting a step in the right direction? Schools waste so much food and create so much trash, a composting system that people actually use can make a big difference. That crazy little organic farm gave me the knowledge and the courage to help make composting a natural part of our lives, just like it’s a natural part of life on Earth.