The Small Things I Do to Help the Environment (And How They’ve Mostly Backfired)

It’s Earth Day! I hope you all can go outside and enjoy the planet’s outdoorsy joys. While social distancing is going pretty well here for us in Algiers, I am sorely missing trees and hikes. There’s one hike I know of in Algiers, and all the entrances to that trail are closed. I’ve been averaging about 2,000 steps a day, which is just depressing.

I’ve previously mentioned that I love grocery shopping as a way to learn about the culture of wherever it is we’re living, but in many of these places – including Sana’a, Yemen, Jerusalem, and Algiers – I’ve been shocked at the reliance on plastic grocery bags. In Sana’a, people referred to the ubiquitous plastic bags blowing around on a windy day as the “National Bird of Yemen.” About six months ago, I ordered these reusable mesh produce bags from Amazon and I bring them with me, in addition to large reusable grocery bags, when I get groceries. I’m the only one doing this, from what I’ve seen, but the shopkeepers don’t seem too baffled. Yet still, they move real fast at the produce stands and often before I know it, I have double- and even triple-bagged fresh shucked peas or lemons thrust into my reusable bags. Sometimes I have it it in me to shout “No more bags!” or “I have my own bags, thanks!” in French, but sometimes I do not. During a shopping trip recently, I came home with six produce bags and six larger plastic grocery bags, and this was with me using my reusable bags. So, rather futile, but still I try?

The other nice-to-the-environment thing I tried turned out much worse. I don’t want to say I’ve created an environmental disaster on our patio, but it feels (and smells) that way. So, we have this nice patio and yard at our Algiers’ house. Also, I cook with so many vegetables and I’ve always felt bad just throwing the scraps away. It’s a lot. There are no garbage disposals abroad, so you just see all those cauliflower outters, tops of peppers, spinach stems sitting in the trash. Many months ago, I decided to turn those vegetable scraps into hummus-like rich compost that I would spread in our herb garden come Spring. I started compositing.

I bought a large green trash can and began heaping the scraps in there. I followed all the rules – no meat or dairy or fats, coffee grounds are good, as are rinsed egg shells. For a time, I was careful to always put a layer of dried leaves or dried grass clippings atop the veggie matter. I stirred it up often to allow for oxygenation. I did this for months and months until one day I realized I had created 60 gallons of bubbling, gaseous, fly-infested sludge that is way too close to the door to our house. So now, when I want to use our patio or visit my cacti in their adorable cacti corner, I must walk through a haze of flies and methane gas. Science!

It reminds me of the Bog of Eternal Stench from my childhood favorite movie, Labryinth.

Not only was deciding to compost a terrible mistake; it’s one that I cannot easily get rid of: It’s way too methane-y to spread in our garden, and it’s so heavy, I can’t even wheel the the stinking fly factory somewhere else. Like into the Algerian desert to bury it. My current plan of attack is to keep adding dried grass and paper towel scraps with the hope that I can somehow bring balance back and salvage this ill-fated science project.

Anyways, compost tips welcome. Is there any way to neutralize the environmental hazard I have created, or am I stuck with a hot tub of toxic waste for the next several years?

Happy Earth Day,


*Featured image of hands holding dirt is by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash.


  1. I know so many people talk about compost like it is easy, but I’m struggling too. I just added a ton of dried bamboo leaves to mine and gave it a stir with a pitchfork. Here is to hoping that we don’t stink out the neighborhoods! And kudos to you for persevering with the bags.

    1. I just watched an Instagram video of a design blogger I like and she was talking about how easy composting is. Then she says “We’re lucky in Minneapolis that we have weekly compost pick-up.” Well, yeah, that would be easy! Still waiting for my grass to be dry enough to add, but it may just be a drop in the bog. Good luck to you!

  2. Hi Emily. I’m a friend of your Aunt Patty’s and just love your always entertaining posts. I was definitely laughing out loud at the Bog of Eternal Stench and can’t believe I’ve never seen Labyrinth. I don’t know how I missed that jewel! Good luck with the compost. Let us know how it turns out!

    1. Thanks! Labyrinth is a jewel! David Bowie in a glam 80s wing and skintight pants, a teenage Jennifer Connelly, and Jim Henson puppets. It’s so weird, rather sexy for a kids’ movie, but also very funny in parts. What’s not to like?

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