Guest Post: Composting
by Scotia Code
Today, I’m going to talk to you about composting, which I believe is one of the best things that the average household can do for the environment.
I don’t need to talk to you about how landfills aren’t great for the environment. We’re all on the same page that they increase greenhouses gases, take up valuable land, and produce toxins? Yes? Great, so we already know that we don’t want all of our household waste to end up in a landfill. Which brings us to the trickier part of the problem: what do we want to do with it?
Well, if you’re up to date what the EPA recommends, there are 3 main ways to reduce household waste:
Source reduction is very effective - what better way to limit the waste that your household produces than to limit the products consumed? There are lots of ways to do this: bring your own bags to the grocery store so you don’t need plastic ones and look for brands that use minimal packaging so you don’t have as much to throw away.
Recycling is also effective. Most cans, bottles, and paper products are recyclable and can be reused to make new products. Lots of brands are finding new and innovative ways to re-invent these products and make them usable again. You can also recycle products yourself by finding new uses for them.
However, there’s some stuff that you can’t reduce and recycle - and that’s primarily food waste. Luckily, that brings us to the last item on the list: composting. If you’re not entirely sure what composting is, it’s basically the process of letting organic material decompose (with oxygen, water, CO2, and time) into “compost,” which is a very nutrient rich fertilizer.
In 2013, recycling and composting combined prevented 87.2 million tons of material away from landfills. That has the same impact of taking over 39 million cars off the road. What also makes composting great is that it takes a negative and makes it a positive. You’re not only preventing garbage from going to a landfill, but also creating fertilizer which can go towards having a better garden and making the earth healthier. Any organic matter can be composted, from yard trimmings and coffee grounds to egg-shells and banana peels.
Composting returns the nutrients from your produce to the earth by becoming a natural fertilizer. It’s less harsh on the earth than chemical fertilizers, and it’s much cheaper since it’s made from waste you wouldn’t be using otherwise. And, it means that you’re not wasting anything, which should make you feel pretty good about yourself.
So, now that I’ve sold you on composting, how can you get started?
First, check your state laws and regulations HERE to see what your city policies are. Some cities require compost to be kept away from residential structures as a safety hazard (sometimes animals are attracted to the food waste). It might also be worth looking at if your apartment/dorm/neighborhood already has a composting facility or location.
If you have a yard, you can start a compost pile in the corner. Many people will keep a bin or bucket under the sink, and fill it as necessary with daily waste (coffee grounds, tea, potato peels, etc.) When it gets full, they can empty in a designated composter or pile, depending on where they live. If you don’t have a huge yard, you may want to look into getting a compost bin (There are several different styles at many different price points) or investigating if there is a local composting center for you to take advantage of.
There are two main forms of compost ingredients: brown and green. Brown ingredients are carbon-rich ingredients, like dried leaves, straw, sawdust, and newspaper. “Green” ingredients have lots of nitrogen, and they’re typically what comes to mind when people think of composting, like yard trimmings, vegetable peels, fruit cores, coffee grounds, and tea leaves. When composting, it’s important to have a mix of these ingredients. Ideally, they would be layered so there’s a blend throughout the pile.
If you’re taking your compost to a facility or community compost center, it’s less important to have a balanced mix since there will be several contributors. To make compost happen faster, the compost can be stirred. Some compost containers will actually rotate to let the compost turn, which helps to mix the contents. After some time, the materials will decompose. This process itself is very fascinating - it can produce temperatures up to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and the pile will shrink during the process. Eventually, the materials will decompose beyond recognition, and the pile will end up looking like a dark, rich soil. Once this point is reached, the soil will be ready for use in a garden or lawn.