Turning trash into treasure through composting

In Features, Multimedia


The sound of birds chirping, bees buzzing and the breeze blowing engulfs a group of people gathered under the shade of a cluster of oak trees. In front of them, a pile of old bits of beets, carrots, lettuce and shredded newspaper sits on a table, flies circling above it. The instructor picks up a handful of dark, rich soil and shows it to the audience. He picks out a worm and hands it to the youngest member. As it wriggles around in her hand, she looks as if she was just handed a piece of gold.

In the tranquil setting of the Fullerton Arboretum, local residents learned how to live sustainably by composting their waste. Most residential waste ends up in landfills, but citizens of Orange County are learning how to turn trash into treasure in their own backyards.

Surrounding cities such as Brea, Placentia, Buena Park, Orange and Santa Ana sponsor residents to attend these classes to help promote a green lifestyle.

Compost is non-animal-based food that has been naturally broken down and turned into soil. Rich in nutrients, compost promotes the microbes in soil that provides food for plants, fruit and vegetables. Trimmings from kitchen scraps, old plants and even yard waste are incorporated into the compost pile to decompose. Vermicompost, or worm composting, uses worms to break down waste.

Education Program Manager Miguel Macias teaches the workshops at the Arboretum. This fall, the three workshops focused on tips and tricks for visitors to take home with them to their own compost piles. Visitors learned about hot and cold composting, what to put in and what to leave out, how to get started and how to keep your heap healthy.

“I learned a lot about how to use the kitchen scraps, and it’s amazing how little I throw away now because I’ve been throwing it all in the compost bins and I look at my recycling bin and it’s enormous and my trash that I throw out is like nothing,” said Leticia Cabral, a Fullerton resident who brought her two daughters to the series of workshops.

Her daughters were fascinated by the concept of turning trash into something useful for the garden, and were curious about how worms are used in composting, she said.

The Arboretum is trying to incorporate more programs that are fun and can help educate kids and families on how to live sustainably, Macias said.


On a larger scale, the campus’ own kitchen and backyard work together to reduce waste and make compost.

As one of the largest food establishments on campus, The Gastronome seeks to produce the least amount of waste by purchasing compostable and eco-friendly products. This includes straws, paper food wrappers, boxes and cleaners.

There is also a shredder in the dishwashing area that turns food waste into an easily compostable pulp. Each week, Macias brings about 180 gallons of this pulp from The Gastronome and turns it into useable compost within a month for the farm and the grounds at the Arboretum.

“Thirty-seven percent of waste that goes out to the landfill is stuff that we can compost at home. If we do that at home, we can prevent that waste from going out to the landfill,” Macias said.

Macias believes that because composting is such a hands-on task, the best way to learn about it is through attending workshops like these, where an expert can answer questions and help work out problems as people start out on their garden adventures.

There will be more workshops like the composting series in the spring. For more information on workshops and classes, or to learn more about how to go green, visit the Arboretum’s website at fullertonarboretum.org.

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