Did you know that the average person generates 4.3 pounds of waste per day? Or that 55% of the nation’s 220 million tons of annual waste ends up in a landfill? Fortunately, there is a way to reduce household waste: composting.
Yes, there was a time when many people thought composting was only for tree huggers. Thankfully, as cities and states become more aware of the impact recycling and composting programs can have on our environment, composting has become a part of many homeowners’ everyday recycling plans…and even certain California cities. In fact, there are numerous programs today that are geared toward increasing composting participation and education through grants, incentives, workshops, and regulations. As an example, the San Francisco Mandatory Recycling and Composting Ordinance passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 2009 became the first local municipal ordinance in the United States to universally require all of its residents to separate their recyclables, compostables, and landfilled trash. Other Southern California cities are following suit, including Santa Monica, which is now testing its own composting collection program.
Even if your city doesn’t offer a composting program (yet), the process is easier than you might think. That said, composting doesn’t mean throwing all your leftovers in a pile and waiting for it to “do its thing.” There is a delicate balance to the science of composting, and it affects everything from what to put in it, where to put it, and what it should look like. Here are the basics you need to know for composting at home.
1. A Win-Win Bin
Compost bins come in all shapes and sizes, and are available at nearly any home improvement store. There are indoor composters and outdoor composters. There are under-the-sink “smart” composters for urban high-rise dwellers. There are giant outdoor three-bin systems for those who are fortunate enough to have a backyard. There are also tumblers that take the guesswork out of turning and even worm bins. No matter where you live or how much square footage you have or even what you want to compost, there’s a bin for that. Purchasing a compost bin can cost between $100 and $500, but you can also build one from simple wooden pallets for much less.
2. What Goes In
“Don’t throw away your kitchen scraps — add them to the compost pile,” says Compost Guide. “Coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable peels and scraps are all outstanding materials.” These are all considered green materials (along with grass and plant clippings for nitrogen). Green materials are a necessary element of any composting pile. When combined with brown materials that add carbon, such as dry leaves, straw, shredded paper, egg and nutshells, hair and animal fur, and paper towels, you have the core ingredients for successful composting.
3. Keep Away
Anything that will attract pests or potentially invite disease should be kept out of your composting pile. That means excluding things like meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, and pet waste. You also want to avoid bones, plants that have been diseased and anything that has a pesticide. Mother Nature Network has a complete list of things you should never compost.
4. Help From A Worm
Worms—yes, worms—are a worthy addition to any composting plan. Vermicomposting, or composting with worms, “allows you to compost your food waste rapidly while producing high-quality compost soil and fertilizing liquid,” said Earth 101. “Best of all, it’s self-contained and nearly odorless.”
5. Here Comes The Sun
If you’re composting outdoors, choose the right location for your composting pile and find a spot that gets direct sun. “Compost decomposes fastest between 120 and 160 degrees F,” said Composting 101. “Decomposition will occur at lower temperatures, but it takes much longer.” It is possible to compost in shaded areas, but it will take a considerably longer time…six months to a year,” said Emily Compost.
6. Get The Balance Right
Making sure there is enough moisture in the compost pile is key. A pile that is too dry can hinder the composting process, and one that is too wet will get soggy and smelly. Compost Junkie recommends the “hand-squeeze test” for beginners. “After evenly applying water to your compost, grab a handful and squeeze it. If a lot of water drips out of your squeezed hand, you’ve watered too much. You’ll now want to add more dry material…or ensure extra air gets into your pile through additional turning or increased venting. If you squeeze and open your hand, and the compost crumbles and falls apart, you need to add more water. If you squeeze and open your hand, and the compost stays in a clump, and your hand feels damp…it has the ideal moisture content.”
7. Turn it!
Compost turners are often used for commercial composting or larger jobs, but they can also work for home composting. A compost turner helps you to aerate your pile, which speeds up the composting process.
8. Finished Product
“When finished (your composting pile) should look, feel and smell like rich, dark soil. You should not be able to recognize any of the items you put in there,” according to Composting 101. “The perfect size for a compost pile is one that is at least 3′ x 3′ x 3′. It’s not only a manageable size to turn, but it’s ideal for retaining heat while still allowing air flow.”
9. Plant it!
Compost what is “finished” in your garden. “Master gardeners consider compost ‘black gold’ for their lawns and gardens,” according to Compost Instructions. “One of the reasons is that compost is so rich in nutrients that it improves the fertility of your soil, making plants healthier.” Weeks before you plant, giving the compost time to integrate and stabilize within the soil. Apply the compost two to four weeks before planting, and enjoy the fruits of your labor!
Do you have any composting tips to share with our readers? Leave them in the comments below!