Are you tired of throwing away food scraps and yard waste, only to see them end up in a landfill? What if we told you there's a way to turn that waste into a nutrient-rich substance that can fertilize your garden? That's where composting comes in! Composting is not only an eco-friendly way to reduce waste, but it also benefits your soil and plants. And with International Composting Awareness Week upon us, now is the perfect time to learn more about the benefits of composting and how to get started. So, grab a cup of coffee and let's dive into the wonderful world of composting!
Why Composting is Important
Composting has many environmental and economic benefits. Here are just a few reasons why composting is important:
Composting is an effective way to reduce waste. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), yard trimmings and food waste together account for about 30% of the waste generated in the United States. Composting these materials can divert them from landfills and reduce the amount of waste that needs to be transported and processed.
Improves Soil Quality
Composting can improve soil quality by adding organic matter and nutrients to the soil. Compost contains a variety of nutrients that plants need, including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. It also improves soil structure, making it easier for plants to grow.
Reduces the Need for Chemical Fertilizers
Composting can reduce the need for chemical fertilizers. Chemical fertilizers can have negative impacts on the environment, including polluting waterways and harming wildlife. By using compost instead of chemical fertilizers, you can help reduce these negative impacts.
Composting can save money by reducing the amount of waste that needs to be disposed of and by reducing the need for chemical fertilizers. By composting, you can also reduce your water usage, as compost helps soil retain moisture.
Despite what some people may think, food waste and other organic materials do not break down efficiently in landfills. In fact, when these materials decompose in landfills without access to air, they release methane gas, a potent greenhouse gas - 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide - that contributes to climate change. Moreover, this process can release toxic substances that can contaminate the surrounding soil and groundwater. Composting provides a controlled environment that promotes natural decomposition with access to oxygen, and the end result is a nutrient-rich substance that can fertilize soil and benefit plants. By composting, you're not only reducing waste, but also helping to combat climate change and prevent soil contamination.
How to Compost
Composting is easy and can be done in a variety of ways. Here are some tips for getting started:
Choose a Composting Method
There are several different methods for composting, including:
Backyard composting: This method involves creating a compost pile in your backyard. You can use a variety of materials, including yard trimmings, food waste, and paper products. Backyard composting requires some maintenance, including turning the compost pile regularly.
Vermicomposting: Vermicomposting involves using compost worms to break down organic waste materials. You can purchase a worm bin or create your own. Vermicomposting is a good option for those who live in apartments or who have limited outdoor space.
Bokashi composting: Bokashi is the Japanese term for "fermented organic matter," a specialized system in which waste breaks down without oxygen to produce a compost “tea” and a small amount of organic waste that should be buried.
Composting with a tumbler: Composting with a tumbler involves placing organic waste materials in a container that can be rotated to mix the materials. This method is good for those who want a more hands-off approach to composting.
Trench composting: also known as pit composting or in-ground composting, is a method of composting that involves burying organic materials directly into the soil. This process allows for natural decomposition to occur underground, creating nutrient-rich soil that can be used to fertilize plants.
To compost, you will need a mix of "greens" (nitrogen-rich materials) and "browns" (carbon-rich materials). Greens include things like fruit and vegetable scraps, grass clippings, and coffee grounds. Browns include things like dried leaves, newspaper, and cardboard.
You will also need a compost bin or container to hold your materials. There are many options available, including plastic bins, wire bins, and wooden bins.
To start composting, begin by layering your greens and browns in your compost bin. Aim for a ratio of about 3 parts browns to 1 part greens. Keep your compost moist, but not too wet. You can add water as needed to keep the materials moist.
If you are backyard composting, be sure to turn your compost pile regularly to help aerate the materials and speed up the composting process.
4. Use Your Compost
Once your compost is ready (it should look and smell like rich, dark soil), you can use it to fertilize your garden, flower beds, or indoor plants. Simply spread a layer of compost over the soil and mix it in. Your plants will love the nutrient-rich soil, and you will be doing your part to reduce waste and protect the environment.
Tips for Successful Composting
While composting is a relatively simple process, there are a few tips that can help you achieve the best results. Here are some tips for successful composting:
1. Maintain the Right Ratio of Greens and Browns
The key to successful composting is maintaining the right ratio of greens and browns. Greens provide nitrogen, while browns provide carbon. A good rule of thumb is to aim for a ratio of about 3 parts browns to 1 part greens. This will help ensure that your compost breaks down properly and doesn't become too wet or smelly.
GREEN Material (nitrogen) / 1 part
BROWN Material (carbon) / 3 parts
Veggies & fruits scraps
Dry leaves, branches
Fresh grass clippings
Straw & hay
Coffee ground & plastic-free filters
Shredded paper & cardboard, napkins
Toilet paper rolls
Old flower bouquet
Wooden sticks / skewers
Old herbs and spices
Ashes from wood
Human / Animal hair
Wood sawdust / wood chips
2. Keep Your Compost Moist
Composting requires a certain level of moisture to break down properly. If your compost is too dry, it won't break down quickly enough. If it's too wet, it can become smelly and attract pests. Aim for a moisture level similar to that of a wrung-out sponge. If your compost is too dry, add water. If it's too wet, add more browns to help absorb the excess moisture.
3. Aerate Your Compost
Composting requires oxygen to break down properly. If your compost is too compacted, it won't have enough air circulation to break down properly. To aerate your compost, use a pitchfork or garden fork to turn the materials regularly. This will help ensure that oxygen can circulate throughout the compost.
4. Chop or Shred Your Materials
Chopping or shredding your materials can help speed up the composting process. Smaller pieces of material break down more quickly than larger pieces, so consider chopping or shredding your food scraps and yard waste before adding them to your compost pile.
5. Avoid Adding Certain Materials
While many materials can be composted, there are some materials you should avoid adding. These include meat, fish, bones, poultry dairy products, and oily foods, which can attract pests and create odors. You should also avoid adding pet waste, as it can contain harmful bacteria.
What if I want to compost but don't need the compost?
While composting is a great way to reduce food waste and benefit the environment, it's understandable that not everyone has the time or desire to manage their own compost pile or bin. Some others don't have the space to grow their own food and don't need the compost. Fortunately, there are options for those who still want to compost but don't want the hassle of managing it themselves.
One option is to use a compost pick-up service. These services will provide you with a compost bin that you can fill with food waste and other organic materials, and they will collect the bin on a regular basis, typically once a week. Some companies, like Crown Town Compost in Charlotte, even provide a tracking system so that you can see exactly how much waste you have diverted from the landfill.
Another option is to use a food waste exchange app, such as ShareWaste. This app allow you to connect with local farmers or gardeners who are interested in using your food waste as compost. Simply enter your location into the app and find someone near you who is willing to take your food waste.
By using these options, you can still do your part to reduce food waste and benefit the environment without having to manage your own compost pile. It's a win-win situation for everyone involved.
Our family has chosen to use the method of the compost pile. One of the biggest advantage to me is that I don't need plastic bags for my kitchen trash. All the wet waste from fruits and veggies goes to the compost bin so my kitchen trash can is dry and I use paper bags. The other advantage is, of course, being able to use my compost to fertilize our garden during the growing season.
Composting is an easy and effective way to reduce waste and benefit the environment. By composting, you can reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfills, improve soil quality, and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers. Whether you choose backyard composting, vermicomposting, or composting with a tumbler, there are many ways to get started. With a little effort, you can create nutrient-rich compost that will benefit your plants and the planet.