Community Kitchen Waste Compost Hub Comes to Topanga

Community participation is essential to a successful Compost Hub. LA Compost founder
Michael Martinez conducts an instructional workshop at a new hub. Workshops will be
ongoing once the hub is installed. Photo courtesy LACompost

LA Compost is coming to the Topanga community at a new compost hub on the grounds of the Topanga Community Center that will transform local kitchen waste into rich garden soil.

Bonnie Morgan, Messenger Mountain News Chief Operating Officer, helped bring the composting program to the canyon. She calls it “Topanga Gold.”

“Compostable kitchen waste makes up 40 percent of the material we send to the landfill,” Morgan explained. “Having a composting hub in Topanga is a tremendous step forward towards zero waste. It’s one of the biggest things we can do to reduce waste.”

Composting kitchen scraps like apple cores, banana peels, and egg shells can dramatically decrease the amount of waste that ends up in landfills, but starting and maintaining a home compost pile can be intimidating. Not everyone has the time or space for one, and even the most enthusiastic recyclers and gardeners can encounter problems getting waste to compost efficiently. That’s where LA Compost comes in.

The non-profit organization was founded in 2013 by Michael Martinez, a master gardener and former elementary school teacher. His goal was to build a network of community composting hubs for kitchen recyclables throughout Los Angeles.

Martinez describes a community compost hub as a space where food scraps are processed into finished compost. Community Hubs are shared spaces in gardens, schools, parks, places of worship, and places of work, hubs that are also available for food scrap drop off, compost education, and hands-on learning.

Martinez and his staff now manage three regional hubs and have partnered with 21 organizations who host a hub or donate organics. LA Compost has converted 450 tons of inedible food into compost, diverting all of the waste from landfill. The compost stays in the community, where the rich soil is available for participants and community projects.

Martinez had the idea for the program when he was teaching grade school.

“I had an opportunity to teach fifth grade in Florida,” Martinez told the Messenger Mountain News. The students were completely disconnected from the food they ate. I was teaching a lesson on seeds and plants and one of my students asked me where Flaming Hot Cheetos come from. After that, I got a small grant for a small school garden and started a ‘seed to table’ program.”

When Martinez returned to LA he began looking to expand that program to include what happens to food waste.

Martinez started by gathering kitchen waste at coffee shops, juice bars, and other businesses, transporting it by bicycle and giving away the compost he made at farmers markets. A centralized compost center wasn’t practical in a city the size of LA, so by 2014, he had developed the compost hub model. “Our first hub was at a high school,” Martinez said. Today, his organization oversees 30 hubs, like the one coming to Topanga in May.

The goal is to make each hub self-sustaining.

“We’ve grown accustomed to a disposable economy,” Martinez said. “LA Compost seeks to divert food scraps from landfill, educate, and raise awareness.” That the program also produces compost is a bonus. Martinez sees the hubs as something that brings a community together and connects people not only with the earth but with each other.

“We built a hub in a housing project in Mar Vista three years ago and they took ownership of it,” he said. “They changed the laws of the project, started a community garden, grew food. They meet there every week, celebrate birthdays there. They took the program from a basic level then ran with it, transcending the use.”

Martinez explained that other hubs have needed more oversight “We’ve had to hold their hands for a while. We give them all the tools they need to stand on their own but each has a different identity.”

Those tools include a bank of composting bins, a scale to weigh the waste before it goes into the bin, and detailed instructions on how to keep the composting process moving smoothly.

“It’s very forgiving as long as no one puts their car battery in,” Martinez said.

The Topanga Compost Hub is being run in partnership with the Topanga Community Center. Topanga residents will be able to drop off kitchen waste at the hub where hours will be posted.

“You weigh what you drop off and sign in,” Morgan explained. Signing in and recording the amount of material offers a way to keep track of volume and also enables participants to earn credits for compost, if desired.

“It’s something we haven’t had before,” she said. “Topanga residents are very forward thinking. Our community is always looking for ways to implement recycling. This is something we can all do to make a difference.”

LA Compost founder Michael Martinez at work. Photo by Patrick T. Fallon

Martinez will be at Topanga Earth Day at Rosewood on April 27. Participants can learn more about kitchen composting, participate in a mini-workshop, and sign up for the program.

The hub will be installed on the weekend of May 4-5. Volunteers interested in participating in building the facility can sign up on Earth Day. To learn more visit topangaearthday.com.

 

Starting the Process

 

What can be composted at the new Topanga Compost Hub?

Anything edible or grown from the earth can be composted, a healthy compost has a variety of nitrogen and carbon sources and isn’t heavy on just one ingredient. A compost pile that is well managed, with good aeration, heat and moisture can process meats and dairy- however many of the community hubs prefer not to accept meats and dairy because they are located in open, public spaces. To keep it simple…

YES: Fruits and Vegetables—make sure to remove stickers first, Coffee Grounds and Filters, Eggshells, Shredded Newspapers, Old Flowers.

NO: Meat and Dairy Scraps, Cat Litter, Pet Feces, Fats or Greasy Foods, Bioplastics*

* We know, it says compostable, but our piles break down food scraps faster than the time it takes for bioplastics to decompose.

 

How do I store my food scraps?

  • Store in a reusable glass, plastic, or cardboard container.
  • Keep scraps in the freezer to halt decomposition and soften the cell wall structure.
  • Keep kitchen scraps in a bin mixed with shredded papers and leaves to begin the decomposition process. 

 

Suzanne Guldimann
Suzanne Guldimann

Suzanne Guldimann is an author, artist, and musician who lives in Malibu and loves the Santa Monica Mountains. She has worked as a journalist reporting on local news and issues for more than a decade, and is the author of nine books of music for the harp. Suzanne's newest book, "Life in Malibu", explores local history and nature. She can be reached at suzanne@messengermountainnews.com

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