Sustainable living: Composting can help to lessen waste and environmental impact

Reporter: Stephanie Byrne
Published: Updated:
Coffee grounds from Starbucks to be used as compost and fertilizer. (Credit: WINK News)

As consumers, we’re continuing to add to the amount of discarded trash, and as more people move to the Sunshine State, it’s only growing.

One Fort Myers family is working to lessen their environmental impact through composting and shows us how they do it – in hopes to encourage others to do the same.

The big idea is once this family is done eating things like avocados, oranges, and bananas, they take it out to the trash, but not to your ordinary trash can.

Vik Chhabra said, “What you’re looking at here is two different compost bins. This is from yesterday and today. You’ve got banana peels, and apples, and some eggs, and what we do is, my little guy will come out and his job is to get rid of the compost.”

Chhabra learned how to garden from his parents, and now he’s teaching his son. “We look back at like what we did as children; that was a lot of fun. What can we do to get our kids outside?” he asked.

Instead of their own food going to the landfill, it goes in the Chhabra family’s garden as compost creating free fertilizer.

He showed a bag of used coffee grounds from Starbucks. “This right here is a 40-pound bag from three hours at Starbucks this morning during a rush hour. This is how much coffee they go through, and this would make its way to the landfill.”

Coffee energizes us and their lawn.

“My lawn is chemical-free, herbicide-free, and the only fertilizer I use is spent coffee grounds,” Chhabra explained.

In turn, they enjoy a lawn with native grasses and weeds, a far cry from the common manicured lawn.

But, you’ll need to get used to some differences. “One thing that we notice is that our lawn will turn completely brown for four months, and that just needs to be acceptable. You know, a lawn is not supposed to be green all year,” he added.

By using coffee grounds and composting, the goal is to cut down waste. “Every trash day, we would have two large bins outside, and we’ve gone from having two every single week down to one.”

At a “Waste-to-Energy” facility in Buckingham, Lee County Solid Waste Director Doug Whitehead will tell you, it adds up.

“Right now, at our centerpiece facility,” Whitehead explained, “We take in 600,000 tons a year of municipal solid waste and other materials.”

That waste gets turned into renewable, sustainable energy. “We’re creating about 60 megawatts of electricity that we sell on the open market right now,” he added.

From turning yard waste to mulch and compost to taking in household chemical waste and electronics, Whitehead believes Lee County’s sustainability is what sets it apart. “We’re in a really good position with our waste-to-energy facility, our recycling facility and our composting facility to manage a lot of the material.”

By remaining vigilant about where waste goes and cutting out chemicals, the Chhabras hope to protect our water quality too, all while inspiring the next generation.

He said, “It’s education, that’s extremely simple to teach at home, but you just got to take that first step.”

As for the cost of this family’s set-up?

The garden beds cost around $150 each with planks and cinder blocks. The compost bins are around $20, and it takes eight months to form the compost. And the garden yields about $50 worth of vegetables a week.

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