Composting 101

Composting is an intimidating term for some. It can often be associated with the essence of a true hippie, veganism and  It can turn a lot of people off.

Composting is a personal goal of mine I’d like to adopt into my daily life, so consider this an effort we are choosing to attempt together. 

Composting is natural fertilizer for place. It’s organic matter, such as food scraps, that decompose and encourage a natural recycle in the soil. It allows for food waste to become more purposeful and less harmful. About 20% of waste in the United States is food, and food waste contributes to about 15% of methane produced in the U.S. annually. Methane is a greenhouse gas that negatively affects the protective ozone layer around Earth, which is one of the major reasons for climate change. Long story short, composting is a concept we should all consider adopting in the future.

What can you compost? Think food scraps! 

As a disclaimer, composting man-made items is a completely different process than the composting of organic food. Don’t compost your compostable bamboo toothbrush with your food scraps. There are compost piles categorically designated for industrial items, but they shouldn’t be mixed. 

How do I start? First, find out how plausible composting is for you in your area. There is a difference between collecting food scraps and tossing them to a local compost, and choosing to compost yourself. Look up local compost sites nearby.  Some areas even offer curbside collection programs! Regardless of your preferred method of communal composting, be sure to adhere to the guidelines of that community compost, as most small compost sites don’t allow meat, dairy, bones, or greasy items. They tend to  attract unwanted rodents or pests, and generate an odor, therefore fulfilling all previous stereotypes you had about composting before reading this blog post. 

If there isn’t a compost pile within a comfortable distance to you, maybe this is an opportunity for you to provoke local change. Ask your local legislators to invest in a community compost garden!

If you do not wish to compost your scraps yourself, you will just need to store the items to dispose of in a community compost. Find a sealed container to store them. It is often advised that you refrigerate or freeze your scraps because “frozen scraps will never decompose and refrigerated scraps will be virtually odorless, so you’ll never need to worry about smells or attracting unwanted guests” (Compost 101). Or, you can use a legitimate, designated container.

We even sell a compost bin in store, but you can compost using something as simple and accessible as a milk carton! 

If you plan on composting yourself, research your perfect compost container. There are plenty of options to purchase or D.I.Y. online, but you do need to find the method that works best for your living situation.  Chilled storage for scraps is still expected because depending on the size of your compost pile, you may not be able to use all your scraps at once. 

Now, let’s breakdown the layers of your compost. 

The foundation of your at-home compost are the “greens and browns”. Most follow a 2:1 ratio: two part greens, one part browns recipe. 

Greens: fruit and vegetable peelings, weeds, coffee grounds, grass clippings.

Browns: (shredded) egg cartons, straw, sawdust, newspapers, dried leaves, and pine needles

Microorganisms are responsible for decomposing the scraps of the compost, so you need to foster a thriving environment for these organisms to do their job. The “greens” produce nitrogen which promotes microbial growth, or develops the cell structure, and the “browns” contribute the carbon (energy) the microorganism needs.

 When composting, “green materials are typically wet, and brown materials are typically dry. When you’re layering, you want the dry browns on the bottom with the wet greens on the top” (Simon). The “browns” are a major player in aeration, which allows for drainage, and a swifter, less smelly decomposition. This simply means that the compost needs to be turned regularly to allow oxygen to enter through the compost. This can be done with a shovel or sorts, or specific aeration tools you can find… online!

A general rule of thumb is that if your compost smells, you’re doing something wrong. This can be true depending on the tools you use to compost. Stay clear of dairy, meat products, cooked foods, buttery items and bones. Top your compost with an extra layer of dirt if you notice your compost smelling. If your pile smells like ammonia, you’ve added too much ‘green’” (Compost 101), so try adding more “browns” to balance out the carbon/nitrogen nonsense I just explained!

How long does the process take? Good question, especially if you hesitant to commit to the challenge for whatever reason. The warmer the compost is, the quicker the process will be. In the cooler months, it often takes longer. Overall, I’d estimate the time frame between one to six months, depending on the outdoor temperature and how large the compost pile is. 

Composting is a newer concept to many, but I hope this clarified any misconceptions. In most major cities, this is developing into the new norm. Composting is totally doable for anyone, whether living in an apartment or a house with a backyard. 

Allow this post to serve as the first of your preliminary research for living more sustainably.  There’s always more we can do and it’s now or never. I mean, we have an estimated seven years to live.

Get on it. 

Sources

Compost 101. 10 Aug. 2020, foodprint.org/eating-sustainably/composting-and-food-waste/compost-101/.

Simon, Julia. “How To Compost At Home.” NPR, NPR, 9 Apr. 2020, www.npr.org/2020/04/07/828918397/how-to-compost-at-home.

 

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