Composting 101

Over 22% of discarded solid waste sent to landfills is food. You may think that it is a good thing because now the food has a chance to decompose into the earth. Unfortunately, this is not the case. When food waste is properly composted, it will produce carbon dioxide, fertilizer for new plants, and a good home for worms. Landfills are extremely toxic places with plastic or clay lining on the bottom. So when food is sent to the landfill it will end up generating tons of methane gas and doesn’t provide any benefits. If everyone in the U.S. alone composted their wasted food, it would have the same environmental impact as removing 7.8 million cars off the road according to the Composting Council. When you compost you not only gain fertilizer for you plants, but you help lower your carbon footprint!

How to Set Up a Garden Compost Bin According to the EPA

  1. Select a dry, shady spot near a water source for your compost pile or bin.
  2. Add brown* and green* materials as they are collected. Make sure larger pieces are chopped or shredded.
  3. Moisten dry materials as they are added.
  4. Once your compost pile is established, mix grass clippings and green waste into the pile and bury fruit and vegetable waste under 10 inches of compost material.
  5. Optional: Cover top of compost with a tarp to keep it moist.

When the material at the bottom is dark and rich in color, your compost is ready to use. This usually takes anywhere between two months to two years.

*Browns (carbon-based materials like dead leaves, branches, twigs, brown paper, newspaper)

*Greens (nitrogen-based materials like grass clippings, vegetable waste, fruit scraps, coffee grounds)

Waste For Composting

  • Fresh grass clippings
  • Flowers – stems should be chopped up; however, don’t use diseased plants.
  • Nettles act as good natural activators.
  • Vegetable and fruit peelings
  • Vegetable crop residue, such as potato and tomato plants.
  • Young weeds, but avoid perennials.
  • Herbivore manure, such as from horses, cows, and rabbits.
  • Tea leaves, but tea bags will take longer to break down.
  • Dead or fallen leaves – use only small amounts
  • Shredded paper
  • Coffee grounds and filter – use only paper filters
  • Cardboard torn into small pieces
  • Woody hedge clippings and twigs ideally put through a shredder
  • Sawdust mixed well with more aerated material
  • Herbivore bedding, such as hay and straw
  • Eggshells washed and crushed up
  • Hair – either human or animal hair since both are high in nitrogen
  • 100 percent wool or cotton cut into small pieces or tumble-dryer lint
  • Vacuum-bag contents, but use common sense as to what has been picked up
  • Wood ash in small quantities

What Not to Compost

  • Meat and fish (cooked and raw) can harbor disease and attract vermin.
  • Dog and cat feces can harbor disease.
  • Cat litter will normally contain feces.
  • Glossy magazines contain too many inorganic chemicals.
  • Barbecue coals and coal ash contain harmful sulfur oxides.

Sources:

“Composting At Home.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 13 Nov. 2019, www.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home.

Lauren. “How to Set Up a Kitchen Compost the Easy Way: Zero Waste Memoirs.” The Zero Waste Memoirs, 27 Apr. 2020, zerowastememoirs.com/baby-step-5-kitchen-compost/ 

Organicsociety. “Composting Tips – How to Setup Your Own Compost.” The Organic Society, 29 Mar. 2018, www.organicsociety.co/composting-tips-how-to-setup-your-own-compost/ 

“Sustainable Management of Food Basics.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 19 June 2020, www.epa.gov/sustainable-management-food/sustainable-management-food-basics. “What Happens To Food Scraps That Are Thrown Away?” Basmati, 24 Dec. 2017, basmati.com/2016/12/01/what-happens-food-scraps-are-thrown-away `

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