Compost is gross. And beautiful.

I wake up on a hot summer morning and emerge from my bedroom. A sickly sweet smell greets me. Ah yes, it’s my food scraps again. They’ve been liquefying slowly, almost imperceptibly, for days, daring me to keep adding watery fruit bits or slimy flower stems to the festering science experiment I keep in a plastic grocery bag dangling on the outside of the cabinet door below my kitchen sink.

I notice some drips on the little floor mat beneath it, and scrounge up another plastic bag for reinforcement. I’ll have to take care of this pronto, but the first step is to get this out of here immediately, so I drop it outside my apartment door and light some incense to mask the stench. I make myself tea and fruit for breakfast.

One of my beautiful garden tomatoes turns out to be in worse shape than I thought, so I have to leave most of it sitting in sad pieces on the counter. I’ve learned to eat around the going-bad part, or the mess the bugs made, but I’ve also learned the hard way not to push my luck. It helps that I now know what I can compost. I grab my bag of rot from outside the door and add the tomato. Okay, I also throw in the half-dozen used teabags I’ve been stockpiling on the counter. (My roommate loves this.) Today must be a productive one, so I pack up my computer and head out, trying not to let the swinging the compost-bound bag at my side touch me.

The garden’s just down the street, but it’s hot, muggy, and mosquito-infested right now, so I skip weighing in the load I’m contributing to the compost bins. (We’re trying to track how much the garden composts.) I head straight for the bins and invert the bags. Something disgusting-looking always gets caught on the bag handles and won’t seem to let go, so there’s a good deal of shaking and weird arm gestures involved. Taking the cleaner outer bag as a kind of glove, I grab handfuls of “greens” and “browns” (fresh or dried out weeds and leaves, usually) from the other bins and cover the truly putrid deposit of moldy avocados, rotten tomatoes, egg shells, and hardened lemons I’ve left.

I enjoy a quick moment of pride and self-satisfaction, knowing I’ve pitched in for my garden community and diverted perfectly useful waste from a landfill. As I walk over to the garbage can to get these awful, empty wet plastic bags out of my life forever, some brownish liquid sneaks down my wrist.

 

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