Sunday, February 28, 2010

Reducing kitchen waste and making suet for songbirds is a sustainable solution

If you have read our previous posts, you know that we are adamant about the benefits of composting. We have drastically reduced the amount of waste we send to the landfill. However, there are some kitchen wastes that should not go in the compost. Our dietary restrictions require that we cook most of our food at home (no processed or prepared food), so we may have more waste than other households. In our quest for sustainable solutions, we found another way to use kitchen wastes - bird food.

previous posts 1) What to compost? 2) Compost Tumblers

Why buy seeds for the bird feeders, when you could give them kitchen waste instead? Have you heard of the word "suet"? Suet is a type of bird food that is usually high protein and high fat. Both are perfect for songbirds in the winter when food is more scarce than other seasons.

This year we began making our own suet. Using empty orange juice containers and skimmed cooking fat, we made suet bars. We laid the orange juice containers on their side and cut out the front side of the OJ container. Then we layered skimmed fat with left over nuts, nut butter, stale crackers, moldy bread, freezer burned berries, and chunks of trimmed beef fat. This may not sound appetizing to you, but believe me, for wildbirds, this is a super-duper buffet of treats.

Now, we didn't buy any of these ingredients  just to make suet. Rather, we just collected the fats and leftovers over time in a special part of my freezer. These ingredients did not go down the disposal to be processed at the municipal water treatment plant, nor did they go in the trash bin to be sent to the landfill.

After layering the ingredients, we froze the suet. Then we took out the block and chopped it with a chef's knife to fit in the suet cages that we already owned.

Suet CageOnce we put the suet outside, the birds came immediately. Ironically, even though they came close, they didn't actually eat it till the suet had been hanging outdoors for several days. We saw many different types of birds eating the suet including bright yellow warblers, ravens, mockingbirds, blue jays, a variety of sparrows, and cardinals. Suet is for the winter season when the birds need extra fat and protein. If the temperature rises above 65 degrees, then the suet should taken down and, unfortunately, thrown away. Do not compost it.

Making our own suet allowed us to reduce waste, and it fed the wildlife that comes into our small backyard. Overall, the whole experience is just another small way that we can affect the environment in a positve way. So think about what wastes you are throwing out. I would love to hear about how you are reducing waste and reusing materials.

If you are not able to make your own suet, you can purchase both the suet and the suet cages. Seeing the songbirds in your yard will be worth the dollars you spend on it.  Plus after the birds eat the food you give them, they will come back and eat the bugs you didn't want to keep -and that eliminates the need for pesticides. 

As I learn more about sustainable solutions and eco-friendly practices, I realize that even small decisions can make a big impact to our environment.