How to Start Composting
When talking zero-waste living, composting is the practice many cite as their biggest lifestyle impact. Kathryn Kellogg, author of 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste says,
“If you want to make a serious impact and reduce 50 percent of your household waste with just one swap, start composting.”
Nearly 70% of municipal waste is characterized as biomass – imagine slashing our landfill waste to almost a quarter!1 Starting to compost may seem complicated, but we’re going to break down March’s challenge into three steps.
Why Should You Start Composting?
Feed plants, not landfills. Compost is organic material (we’re talking food scraps, paper, cardboard, garden clippings) that can ultimately be added to soil to help plants grow. Diverting these organics from the trashcan into the compost bin keeps them out of landfills - where they release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
But shouldn’t organic material break down, since it’s dumped in a big hole in the ground?
The answer is – surprisingly – no. Landfills are designed for storage, not decomposition. To biodegrade, organic materials need oxygen, and landfills are deliberately not aerated. Because organic and inorganic materials are mixed together, think trash bags and plastics with those food scraps, it creates an oddly preserved atmosphere. Things like hot dogs and full heads of lettuce have been found in pristine condition decades later.2
Typically within a year, anaerobic conditions are established and specific bacteria begin to decompose the waste and generate methane. Methane is 28-36X more effective than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere,3 and almost 20 percent of methane emissions in the United States come from organics unable to completely break down in landfill. So, composting is one of the best things you can personally do for the environment!
Let's Do It!
We know composting presents different challenges based on living arrangement and location, so we’re breaking this month’s challenge down into 3 steps. Understanding what’s readily available to you and appreciating your own biomass waste are important stages!
STEP 1. LEARN WHERE TO COMPOST
Figure out what style of composting works best for you and your budget. Many people are intimidated by having to manage their own compost, but there are several ways you can collect organic waste and hand it off to groups that can make the most of it.
PASS IT ALONG
Use a service: See if your city offers municipal composting. There are even local companies that offer composting collection and drop-offs! Do a quick google search for composting near you. For instance, Compost Now collects in cities around the country (and they’re first two collections are free). They even accept difficult to home-compost items like meat, bones, and dairy.
Find a friend: If you already know someone with a compost bin – great! But there are other ways to find new friends with compost bins. Check out the app Share Waste which can link you with people open to accepting your compost!
Give to Farmers: Local gardening clubs typically have compost bins that you can drop-off scraps. You can also hit up your local farmers market and ask them if they’d accept food scraps.
Check your Grocery Store: Different grocers provide compost bins that you can use. Wholefoods, Sprouts, and Mom's Organic are some of the grocery stores we’ve learned that have locations with available bins.
*TIP* If you don’t have a receptacle, freezing compost in a bag or bin between drop-offs can prevent any smell.
Backyard: Ready to take the dive? You can reap the rewards by generating nutrient rich soil for your garden. There are multiple options for outdoor composting, including investing in a tumbler bin, enclosed bin, or a worm bin. But you can even try trench composting. Learn more about what works for you.
Apartment: There are easy ways to compost indoors. Bokashi Bins allow you to continuously collect and ferment food waste. There’s also Electronic Composters that can create viable soil amendments in mere hours. Worm Bins are also great, since the worms thrive under stable temperatures.
STEP 2. SEPARATE YOUR WASTE FOR ONE WEEK!
You don’t need to full-commit to composting to appreciate its importance. For one week, carefully separate your trash: organic and inorganic. That could be as simple as keeping two trash bags available. In one, put all your organic waste, in the other, your non-recyclable plastics and trash. At the end of the week weigh your two bags and record your results! You may be surprised how much of your trash is actually food waste.
STEP 3. COMPOST
It’s time to implement. You’ve established the best method for you in Step 1 and learned how to sort in Step 2. Depending on Step 1, there will be guidelines to follow on what you can and cannot compost. Research what’s acceptable, and get started! If you’re composting at home, you can follow these guidelines by the EPA. Let us know how it goes!