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Composting 101

Our last Conservation Blog gave some great pointers on how to eat sustainably this summer. This week, we’re keeping the food sustainability train rolling and talking about composting!

Composting is hardly the ultra-granola concept it seemed a decade ago, which is GREAT, because growing popularity means tools and knowledge are becoming more accessible. This is definitely good news when considering that roughly 8% of greenhouse gas emissions come from food waste. Keeping food out of landfills can help fight climate change by reducing methane gas output, which benefits our fellow humans, wildlife, and, obviously, the environment (making composting the perfect OneHealth approach to food disposal).

In case you’re not familiar with the concept, compost is organic material made through plant and food decomposition that can be added to soil to help plants grow. Even if you don’t plan to use compost for gardening, it’s still a worthwhile practice for the environmental benefits alone. The process boils down to four steps:

  1. Gather food scraps
  2. Store food scraps
  3. Place in composting receptacle of choice
  4. Maintain

We’ll be breaking down these steps in the next few paragraphs, and providing all the resources you need to embark on your composting journey!

Gather Food Scraps

Knowing which materials are safe for composting becomes second nature after some time. But for those just beginning, common compostable items from the kitchen include fruits and vegetables, crushed eggshells, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, and nut shells. It helps to have a temporary compost container (a bucket, reusable bag, or Tupperware – see next section) in the kitchen so that you can set aside compostable scraps as you prepare food.

It bears mentioning that other household items such as shredded newspaper, cardboard, and paper towels, as well as lawn and yard clippings, hair, and fireplace ashes, are also safe for compost, although we imagine you’re unlikely to want to store some of those items in your kitchen.

Store Food Scraps

Most people prefer not to make multiple trips to the compost heap every day, so, as mentioned above, it’s nice to have a temporary means of storage easily accessible in the kitchen. There are multiple ways to do this depending on the size of your space and individual needs. A favorite method is keeping food scraps in a large Tupperware or reusable bag in the freezer until full, and then emptying into the compost pile. Freezing is not necessary, but can reduce pests and odors if your container doesn’t fill up very fast.

Add to Composting Receptacle

How you approach the actual process of composting will depend on how much space you have and how you would like to use your compost. If you have a yard, options are plentiful. A three-foot cube is recommended for a pile or bin, ideally located in a dry and shady spot (if the location is too sunny, the pile may dry out and require additional water). If you have pets or frequent critter visitors to your yard, you will likely want to use a bin instead of a pile, as consuming compost can be harmful to animals. Get the rundown on different types of bins and some recommendations in this guide!

If you don’t have a large yard (or a yard at all), there are still multiple composting options! More and more countertop composters are beginning to appear on the market, and apartment dwellers can also consider a Bokashi bin or worm farm.  

Note that the method in which you add items to the compost pile is important. Check out this guide for a breakdown of green and brown matter and the correct ratio in which to include them.

If that all sounds like too much effort, most sizeable cities offer compost pick-up for a fee, and many community gardens also feature compost services. If you’re local to Atlanta, check out CompostNow, or compost with any of the community gardens through Wylde Center!

Maintain

Compost maintenance is important for making sure the materials in your compost pile decompose correctly, especially if you’re planning to use your compost for gardening. It takes waste anywhere from two to six months to decompose, depending on temperatures and humidity. To keep oxygen moving through your compost, a good guideline is to turn your pile at least once weekly. You can do this with a shovel or spade, or purchase a rotatable compost bin. Get some more tips on aerating your compost here.

Finished compost should smell earthy and look like dark, crumbly topsoil. Once finished, there are many ways to use your compost, if you choose to do so!

Regardless of your budget, space, and energy, there’s a composting option that can work for everyone. If you’ve been looking for a nudge to take the composting leap, consider this it! Want more information? Check out these guides from npr and the EPA.

 

Sources:

Composting At Home. Environmental Protection Agency. (2022, July 7). Retrieved July 12, 2022, from https://www.epa.gov/

Fong, J., & Hewitt, P. (n.d.). Worm Composting Basics. Cornell Composting. Retrieved July 11, 2022, from http://compost.css.cornell.edu/

Hu, S. (2020, July 20). Composting 101. nrdc.org. Retrieved July 11, 2022, from https://www.nrdc.org/stories/composting-101

NYC Compost Project. (n.d.). How to Use Compost. Earth Matter. Retrieved July 11, 2022, from https://earthmatter.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/tip-sheet-how-to-use-compost-cpts-htuc-f.pdf

Pela. (2022, March 25). What to Compost and What Not to: A List of 100+ Items. pela.earth. Retrieved July 11, 2022, from https://pela.earth/blogs

Rhoades, H. (2021, February 22). Turning Your Compost Heap – How To Aerate A Compost Pile. Gardening Know How. Retrieved July 11, 2022, from https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/composting/basics/turning-compost-pile.htm

Simon, J. (2022, April 21). Composting can help fight climate change. Get started in 5 easy steps. npr. Retrieved July 12, 2022, from https://www.npr.org/2020/04/07/828918397/how-to-compost-at-home

Vanderlinen, C. (2022, February 25). The Proper Compost Ratio of Greens and Browns. The Spruce. Retrieved July 11, 2022, from https://www.thespruce.com/composting-greens-and-browns-2539485

Weeks, P. (n.d.). 7 Best Composters Of 2022 – Compost Bin Reviews. thedailygardener.com. Retrieved July 11, 2022, from https://www.thedailygardener.com/best-composter

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