Real Life, Reflections

Is it Really Stealing?

The County I live in here in Minnesota has a fantastic food composting program. I collect all the food waste that would normally go in the garbage (tea leaves, kale stems, bones, the occasional concoction that seemed like a good idea at the time, et cetera) and place it in my counter top receptacle where it awaits transfer to our outdoor receptacle and, eventually, to the County Organics Recycling Center.

The compost is one of the things my husband and I have tension about. I love not wasting, I’m passionate about it. The tension comes from my ability to appropriately deal with the compost when the bin on the counter top is full and his ability to deal with rotting food sitting in the kitchen. Perhaps my tolerance comes from growing up with a trash compactor. When the kitchen garbage was full, you pressed the button and viola: more room! I still always think there is space for just a bit more on top. 


I am not good at tying the small compost bag shut and depositing it into the 5-gallon bucket in the yard. I am even less good at then taking it to the county site. My pledges to do better inevitably fall to the wayside as I jam one more item into counter bin and vow to take it all away “later.”

Later is magic, like Mary Poppins’ carpet bag or Hermione Granger’s beaded clutch: it can fit an endless list of tasks. They are always there, in later, waiting; unfortunately, I often neglect them until much later. Just yesterday I had utilize a two-handed-lift-and-shuffle to carry the 5-gallon compost bucket because of how much I had stuffed in there and how many days I’d meant to take it over later. I even had to utilize a separate grocery bag to transport what wouldn’t fit in the bucket.

At the Organics Recycling site, there are rows of dumpsters to place the compost and one green plastic garden chair serving as a stand. On the chair seat sit compost bags for the taking. There are several signs that say, “Limit 2.”

I never take only two. Each time, my heart beats skittishly as I quickly—but calmly—pull four, five or even six bags off the pile and hightail back to my car. Yesterday was worse. Instead of the usual pile of bags there was a giant roll. Not only did this require pulling more conspicuously but there was a gentleman in a Chrysler sedan directly behind me: a witness to my breaking the rules.

Here is the thing: limit two. Per visit. But if I actually dropped the compost off as frequently as I should, it would be minimum twice a week. And typically I end up waiting until maximum capacity: about once every week and a half. Basic arithmetic taught me: 2 x 3 = 6. 

“Limit two” feels arbitrary and meaningless. I can come every day they are open—which for 8 months of the year is 5 days per week—and take 2 bags but if I come less often, I am still only entitled to 2 bags? It’s silly. And how about from December to March when they are only open on Saturdays and Sundays and the sign still says “Limit two.” Because we cook and eat less in the winter? Not me, and definitely not in Minnesota. 

Yesterday, I first took only three bags. My face flushed even at this, with the man’s eyes behind on me. But as I drove out, I realized this would barely get me to the weekend and so I looped around, drove back in front of the dumpsters and took three more bags off the roll. 

So I ask: is my excessive compost bag utilization actually stealing? My logical mind would like to say no definitively, but my rule-following guts that twist a little each time aren’t sure.  I’d like resolve to change my compost habits but now that I’m 40, I’m more pragmatic. I’m accepting the things about myself that are unlikely to change and putting my focus on the areas where real growth is possible. The parts of soul that are longing to bloom seem to care less about the parsimonious limit of two compost bags.

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