More and more we see in the news and in our social media feeds, articles about the increasing effects of climate change.
No matter what your political beliefs are, I think we can all agree that we should be doing whatever we can in our daily lives to protect our environment. Whether climate change is being caused by human beings or by solar cycles, emissions have increased exponentially over the last century. Politics and big money aside, there are things that we can all do to help.
In more developed countries, food waste has become a pandemic. As the population grows, our carbon footprint increases. The increase in family needs produces more kitchen waste, but this is something we can help fix.
What if I told you there was a way to help protect our planet, save money, grow green and more abundant fruits, vegetables “veggies”, greens, a more vibrant lawn, and give back to mother earth all from your home or from your own backyard gardens? It’s all about recycling green waste, brown waste, and organic material. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have backyard space, there are a lot of methods to try. From backyard composting, indoor composting even in an urban apartment…space and location is not an issue you don’t have to be a farmer to start a greener lifestyle.
You may have seen some colored cute bins at your school or workplace. Along with your usual trash can and recycling bin, there is now a new container labeled “Compost”. In the United States, compost bins are usually green in color. What is this all about? Is composting really that important? Should you be incorporating a composting system into your place at home? With a little bit of information, knowledge, and the basic questions answered we have created a guide with everything you need to know and tips on ways to compost material.
Composting everything you need to know
What is it?
Composting is the gathering of organic and food waste together into compost piles, or a container to allow the materials to breakdown and become organic material that can be used as mulch or fertilizer in your garden. The completed decomposed earth can then be reintroduced into the garden to replenish the soil with the nutrients all plants need to thrive. But it doesn’t end with chucking your banana peel into a composting bin. In short, the composting journey is using your kitchen scraps and yard waste as plant food to grow more things from it. It’s the ultimate recycling technique!
Some common terms to know:
Organic matter: includes many subcategories of matter such as human, animal, vegetable, and mineral waste.
Decomposition: a natural process that happens with organic materials as it decays.
Brown material: has high amounts of carbon “CO2”. Things that are categorized as brown matter include cardboard, sawdust, dried leaves, straw, twigs, shredded newspaper, etc.
Green materials: has high amounts of nitrogen, which is essential nutrient plants need to grow. Nitrogen is a typical ingredient in many fertilizers and plant food. This is where most food scraps, vegetable waste, grass clippings, old plants, coffee grounds, manure, and other yard waste come into play.
Note: The process will decompose faster if it contains more brown materials than green waste(aim for a ratio of 3 parts brown to 1 part green). A larger quantity of green matter will most likely lead to a pile that is more smelly than usual, but compost is still compost and it will work!
The Three Types Of Composting Methods:
- Vermicomposting– Utilizing different species of worms such as earthworms and red wigglers to do the lifting to break down the material into organisms and microorganisms
- Hot composting-“In-Ground” or “Direct Composting” on the dirt is an “Anaerobic” an open-air in the yard technique which takes the least amount of effort where you just throw scraps. You can control the size of it by using chicken wire as a border. It is also the least preferred method well because it stinks and can attract rodents and insects and may drive the neighbors crazy!
- Compost Tumbler– Another great “Aerobic” process using a fully sealed container to break down waste into microorganisms with a lid that can be turned or rotated to mix introducing air to speed up the break down of materials. Available at hardware stores, Amazon, and garden supply centers.
Why should you start today?
There are many reasons why everyone should incorporate compost bins into their homes! Here are four of the top reasons why YOU should start today:
1) It’s easy. Composting is easier than you may think. If you already sort your waste into trash versus recycling, it will be extremely easy to incorporate compost into your routine as well. It just requires an additional container to act as the compost bin and knowledge of what goes into the compost pile instead of your trash or recycling. There are plenty of online resources, posters, and printouts that you can put on your fridge or hang in your kitchen as a reminder of what goes in which bin to assist you and your household with the sorting process. It is best to look for resources from your city or county due to the different rules pertaining to trash, recycle, and compost collection depending on your area.
2) Free fertilizer/plant food. By using your food scraps, grass clippings, and organic matter in an efficient way by repurposing them into plant food and fertilizer for your garden, you’re encouraging healthy soil structure and plant growth for your foliage. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or you’re thinking of beginning your gardening journey soon, one of the most important things for your plants is food. Every tree, bush, and plant in your garden and backyard use nutrients in the soil to help with plant growth to become strong and healthy. Over time, the amount of nutrients in the soil deteriorates because they are taken up by the plants. These nutrients need to be reintroduced into the soil somehow. Some people buy fertilizer at their local hardware store or plant nursery, whereas others make their own! Reintroduction of completed compost into the soil in your garden will provide the nutrients your plants need to grow. And it’s free!
3) No need to buy chemical fertilizers. Some people resort to buying chemical fertilizers from the store. Unfortunately, most store-bought fertilizers have extremely harsh chemicals as their main ingredients. This is unnecessary and potentially harmful to the environment. Why add harsh chemicals into the atmosphere when you could make your own organic fertilizer (that costs nothing) right in your backyard? It is true that store-bought fertilizers are a lot easier and quicker to administer compared to waiting for compost to properly decompose, but part of the many pleasures of being a gardener, composter, and having a green thumb is doing what you can to help mother earth and the ecosystem around you.
Note, chemical fertilizers can cause soil hardening, and a decrease in the quality of the structure, increased pollution in the air and water, and an increase in toxic emissions into the atmosphere. It’s best to always garden chemical and pesticide-free.
4) Save money on your garbage can rates. More waste in the compost pile means less waste in the trash which means fewer bags of trash which means a smaller trash bill. Most cities charge garbage collection by the size of the garbage bin usually ranging from 12-gallon to 96-gallon sizes. By putting more material into your compost bin or even recycling bin, you can get a smaller garbage bin and lower your garbage can rate. You can also feel good about not contributing as much to the landfill waste.
What are the benefits of composting and why is it so important?
It is important for everyone to understand what composting is and the many benefits composting has to offer. Not only does it benefit you, your garden, and your garbage bill as outlined above, but it also decreases our contributions to the landfills.
It is a fair assumption to make that if organic matter naturally breaks down over time, then wouldn’t it break down wherever its final destination is whether it be a compost pile or a landfill site? Unfortunately, this is not the case. Organic matter that is stripped of necessary things that help the process (such as oxygen) cannot decay. In landfills, organic matter can’t breakdown when it is mixed together and deprived of oxygen. Instead of releasing the decomposition byproduct, carbon dioxide, it releases a horrible stench many people associate with trash.
That’s one good thing about compost: Well kept and properly sorted compost does not smell. If you refrain from adding meat, dairy, bones, and the like into your compost bin, your compost should not stink at all. The reason why trash smells is that when an organic and inorganic matter is mixed, it creates a pungent odor that is hard to miss.
How does composting benefit the environment?
One may think that food will still be able to break down in the landfill as long as enough time passes. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Organic matter that is in the landfill will not breakdown successfully even after years of sitting due to reasons mentioned previously. The inorganic and organic matter that mixes is unable to properly decompose and will continue to sit in the landfill for decades. All compost that is broken down and reintroduced into your garden as mulch is far better for the ecology compared to if the organic waste were to sit in the landfill.
Chemical fertilizers are bad for the environment. By using compost as your fertilizer, you’re refraining from buying chemical fertilizer at the store and chemical free gardening is always the healthiest way to go. Decrease the usage of chemical fertilizer so we can decrease the introduction of chemicals into the ecosystem. You are also preventing the possible introduction of chemicals into the food you grow and water systems nearby!
Going Green. Besides reducing waste and lowering greenhouse gas emissions composting greatly enhances your garden chemical-free. The main chemical contributing to global warming is methane gas is predominantly produced from cows. However, landfill waste also contributes to methane production. When the organic matter is composted with all of the other trash contained in landfills, methane is also produced as a by-product because of the lack of oxygen. Composting is a far more cost-effective and superior alternative, reducing the amount of methane added to the atmosphere from the decomposition of organic waste in landfills.
How to start composting
Keep any container or bin that can be covered. Virtually any container can act as a compost bin. It is suggested to have a compost pile or larger container outside your house where it can decompose and get more airflow and water compared to inside. You can keep a smaller container inside the house for convenience such as putting your kitchen and food scraps into them without having to walk outside to your pile.
Your pile or container does not need a lid or cover, but there are some benefits for covering your compost. By having a lid, you avoid scavengers from going through your compost and collecting annoying fruit flies. However, a tight cap will prevent airflow and water from entering the pile, which can interfere with the composting process.
Large piles should be turned at least once a year so the entire pile has access to airflow and water and the decomposition and composting process can be evenly dispersed. Without proper oxygen levels in the composting pile, it will create anaerobic conditions (no oxygen) and can start to smell bad and cause nutrients to leach out. Additionally, airflow and open spaces throughout the pile will let cCo2 (the byproduct of decomposition) escape, further aiding the composting process. Although the decomposition will not stop from lack of turning, a periodic turning of the composting pile will help the breakdown process.
Here are some options if you don’t want to outdoor compost:
- You can give your food scraps or grass clippings to your neighbor for their compost pile.
- You can put your organic waste in the food and yard waste bin for weekly collection, which will decrease the amount of trash your household produces and possibly lower your trash collection bill.
- Remember that all decaying organic waste is better in a compost pile than in the landfill!
What You Can and Cannot Compost
Here’s a helpful list of everyday items that you can compost. Remember, mixing organic waste with non-organic junk you can jeopardize your whole compost pile. We highly recommend referring to this list or printing out a handy pamphlet to help you remember what can and cannot be composted.
From the Kitchen
- Fruit scraps
- Vegetable scraps
- Coffee grounds
- Teabags only if they are made from natural materials like hemp or cotton if they are synthetic you cannot recycle them but you can open the tea bags and use the leaves inside.
- Spoiled kinds of milk, dairy, or nondairy.
- Takeout pizza boxes
Shredded brown paper bag
- Cooked pasta and rice
- Stale bread
- Stale cereal
- Disposable paper plates
- Nut Shells
- Wine Corks
- Stale beer and wine
- Used matches
- Paper napkins
- Paper tablecloths
- Paper egg cartons
- Wood Chopsticks
- Wood Chips-for better carbon: nitrogen ratio and structure
From The Restroom and laundry room
- Used tissue paper
- Trimming and hair from a hairbrush or shaver
- Toilet paper rolls
- Discarded loofah
- 100% cotton balls
- Dryer lint from non synthetic clothes
- Flowers and potpourri
- Nail clippings
- Cotton swabs (without the plastic stick)
- Unbleached organic cotton tampons
- Latex condoms or lambskin
House and Yard
- Most vacuum cleaner waste
- Hemp fabric
- Cotton fabric or old cotton clothing
- Wool or old wool clothing
- Herbivore manure such as from rabbits (no dog, cat or other omnivore manure)
- Sticky notes
- Unbleached organic cotton tampons
- Cardboard tampon applicators
- Latex balloons
- Unbleached paper towels
- Silk dental floss
- Business cards (nonglossy)
- Dead houseplants
- Garden Leaves and trimmings
- Pieces of soap
- Sticks and branches
- Wood ashes from fireplace or grill
- Untreated wood
- Rawhide dog chews
- Fish food
- Dry dog or cat food
- Untreated hair (no color or bleach)
- Envelopes (without plastic window)
- Pencil shavings
Notes and things to keep in mind:
- Properly prepared compost will look similar to garden soil but is much more nutrient-rich than typical garden earth.
- Keep in mind that everything you compost is essentially going to be reintroduced into the ecosystem. Composting harsh chemicals or omnivore fecal matter will not do well if sprinkled in your garden.
How fast will my compost decompose?
It is likely you’ll have compost to mulch in 3-6 months depending on how well you care for it. With hard work, temperature monitoring, and multiple turnings per day, useable compost can be achieved in as little as several weeks.
Your finished product will look very similar to soil with a dark brown color, moist in feel, and loose in texture. It should not smell bad. The contents should be indistinguishable from the original forms.
Decomposition depends on a number of factors, including (but not limited to):
- How large the mass is (it probably goes without saying, but a huge pile will take longer to break down)
- The brown waste to green ratio or carbon to nitrogen ratio (should be about three parts brown to one part green)
- Aeration levels (higher aeration will allow more oxygen which will aid the decomposition process)
- Water/moisture levels (around 50 percent is enough to aid the process without causing the nutrients to leak out)
- The temperature of the atmosphere (generally the higher the temperature within the compost, the faster it will decompose)
- Number of turns per period of time (introduction of oxygen and reduction of Co2)
- How small the pieces are (smaller pieces of matter will breakdown quicker)
By implementing small changes one at a time throughout your household, you might not even notice how much progress you’ve made and it will become routine or second nature! There are an infinite number of reasons why composting is important, but just to recap the main reasons tare to help reduce landfill waste, reduce toxic gas emission such as methane gas, reduce the usage of chemical fertilizers, and encourage plant growth. Let’s all do our part to help reduce waste and complete the nutrient loop by incorporating compost into your daily routine!