Composting: What Makes It Important and 4 Ways You Can Get Started Today
Why Mummified Foods, Earthworms, and Grass Clippings Really Matter. And How You Can Ruin An Entire Load of Recyclable Products With A Greasy Piece of Pizza
Why Should I Compost?
Reason #1: Your Leftover Pizza Crust Will Mummify In the Landfill
William J. Rathje was a professor at the University of Arizona, and started the “Garbage Project” in 1972. During his 20 years participating with the project, he took teams of student volunteers to landfills, where they treated the landfills like archaeological sites. He found that most organic matter in landfills, doesn’t completely decompose, but instead it becomes mummified. That mummified food could have been composted, and then used to enrich the soil, but instead, it was sitting at the bottom of a landfill, causing more methane gas to be produced.
Vice.com says that in the time span of 100 years, methane gas is 21 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. In the same article, they go on to say that,
“The source of this methane isn’t something toxic. It’s rotting food. It might seem like an apple core or cheese rind thrown in with the trash would break down quickly, but the opposite is true. Sealed up in plastic garbage bags and buried under pound-upon-pound of plastic, glass, and paper, these scraps begin to break down at a rate far slower than you might think. Those plastic bags that contain our food waste, limit their exposure to oxygen and pests, the two factors that make short work of food waste when combined. Instead, in this dark, anaerobic environment, decomposition happens very slowly, and the food releases far too much methane throughout the process. Deprived of oxygen, the food barely breaks down.”
Reason #2: Your Leftover Pizza Crust Will Ruin A Whole Load of Recyclables
Just as it might seem harmless to place food in with your trash, food is not harmless when it is placed in your recycle cart. Food scraps can contaminate an entire load of recyclables. Common examples of this mistake is leftover food in paper take-out containers, food in glass and plastic food jars, or throwing food scraps into the recycle cart. That food will often seep out, and contaminate recyclables. The most common items that is contaminated by food are paper products. In the paper recycling process, the paper is placed in water, and if there is any grease or food that has contaminated the paper, it will float to the top, and all the paper that is in that batch becomes unrecyclable, which means that all of that paper must go to the landfill, instead of being recycled.
Do NOT Contaminate Recyclables
When In Doubt, Throw It Out!
Or, Better Yet,
What Are the Benefits of Composting?
There are many benefits to composting. One of the benefits to composting is that it is very cost-effective. There might be a larger upfront investment if you decide to buy a composter, but it often cuts down costs in other areas. Trash service is something that almost everyone has, and by composting food scraps, lawn clippings, old flowers, etc., your trash bill might go down, especially if you have a cart specifically for lawn clippings.
Grass cycling is one of the easiest ways to compost. Instead of collecting the grass while mowing, the grass is just left on the lawn. The clippings break down easily, and promote healthy grass, and will save you time, money, and fertilizers. For an extensive explanation on how to grass cycle, and a full list of the benefits, visit this site.
In an article entitled, “The Economics of Composting”, author Amelia Josephson stated that, “In 2011, Middlebury College in Vermont saved $100,000 on landfill fees by composting 90% of food waste generated on campus. The 370 tons of food Middlebury composted translated into a savings of $270 per ton of waste.” A household will not see as large savings in one year. It will however, make a large difference after the first few years! For the full article about how composting can help you financially, click here.
Another area that composting can save you money is when you can swap out compost for the fertilizers that you might need to help your plants grow. As plants grow, they take nutrients out of the soil, and if the soil is not being replenished with more nutrients, it will become increasingly difficult to grow any plants. In the extreme scenario of soil being depleted in nutrients, you may need to add chemical fertilizers, in order to grow anything.
However, compost will improve the composition of the soil, and reduce the need for fertilizer. When you are deciding if you want to use composting or fertilizers in you flower beds or garden, consider whether you want to feed the plants or the soil. Fertilizers can help plants grow really fast, but most fertilizers don’t add anything back into the soil. Therefore, you will need to buy fertilizers year after year. However, compost will add nutrients back into the soil, which will in turn help the plants grow, and save you money since you don’t need to buy plant fertilizer.
Another benefit to using compost instead of fertilizers is that most fertilizers have chemicals in them. If fertilizers are used in your garden, the chemicals in the fertilizers will then be absorbed by the plants. If you eat those plants, you will consume the chemicals from the fertilizers. However, if you compost, and add nutrients into the soil naturally, you will need to use fewer or no fertilizers on your garden, which will your benefit your health and the environment.
One of the more obvious benefits of composting is that it will cut down on the waste that goes to landfills. In an article for vice.com, Lauren Rothman, wrote that one-third of the waste that goes into our landfills is compostable. In 2005, the Delaware County Landfill built a composting facility housing machines that separate out food waste, and a bioreactor that is 180 feet long and has a 14 food diameter. The food waste is placed in the bioreactor. The composting process takes three days to complete. After it is fully composted, it is then aged for a minimum of 3 months, after which it is sold for $10.00 per yard. The article also said that this composting facility has extended the life of the Delaware County Landfill by 20 years. Imagine the benefits if all the landfills had a facility like this! To read the full article on how the Delaware County Landfill’s composting facility is operated, check it out here.
The Different Methods of Composting: Deciding What Way Works Best for You
There are several different factors to keep in mind when you are choosing the method you are going to use to compost:
- What will work best for where you live?
- Do you have any outdoor space?
- What materials will you be composting the most?
- Are you physically able to manually turn the compost?
The last question is an important consideration for people who have back problems or other physical limitations. Compost needs to be turned (stirred) every 1-2 weeks. Depending on your composting method, this turning can be a large commitment with a lot of hard work, putting a strain on weak backs. As for the other three factors, the chart below (from eartheasy.com ) gives guidance in helping you determine what composting method is best for you.
|Where Do You Live||What Will You Be Composting the Most|
|Composting Kitchen Scraps|
Plus Some Yard Waste
|Composting Lots of|
|Urban (No Outdoor Space|
Worm bin (vermicomposting)
|Urban (Some Outdoor Space, Patio, or Balcony)||Worm bin or compost tumbler||Compost tumbler|
|Suburban (With Yard)||Enclosed bin or compost. tumbler.||Enclosed bin or compost tumbler||Enclosed bin or DIY Bin|
|Rural (With Yard/Acreage||Enclosed bin or compost tumbler||Open compost pile, enclosed bin, or tumbler||Open compost pile or multiple enclosed bins|
Composting Method #1: Worm Bins
If you don’t have any outdoor space or your back isn’t ready to turn compost, a worm bin is best. This method of composting has been called “the organic garbage disposal”, since red worms take food scraps, and turns it into compost (castings). This is very beneficial to plants.
There are many different kinds of worm bins that are available for sale, which can get overwhelming if you are new to using worm bins. However, there are also many great resources that explain how to build your own worm bin. These can give you more insight to what to look for when buying a worm bin.
Worms will eat about half of their weight in one day. Therefore you will need to take into consideration how many food scraps you will have per day. If you’re not sure, save all of your food scraps for one week, then divide that amount by seven, and you will get an average amount of how many food scraps you have per day. Then you can figure out how many worms you will need to buy.
When you’re choosing a location for your bin, keep in mind that worms don’t like light, and need to be kept away from extreme cold and extreme heat. Once you have picked out the location, you can add the bedding into the bin. Soak newspapers for a couple minutes, and then add them to the bin until the bin is about half full.
Now you are ready to add the worms. Place the worms toward the center of the bedding, and don’t add any more food for about a week, and let them start eating the bedding. After a week, you can start adding the food scraps. If you are interested in a complete explanation of the composting process or the instructions on how to build your own bin, see the EPA’s article at here.
Homecompostingmadeeasy.com outlines what to compost in your worm bin with this simple chart.
|Worms Love||Worms Hate|
Breads and grains
Fruit rinds and peels
Coffee grounds and filters
Crushed egg shells
|Meat or Fish|
Cheese (any form)
Greasy, Oily Foods
Composting Method #2: The Compost Tumbler
If you have some outdoor space, the most efficient method is a compost tumbler. The drum acts as an insulator, and keeps the internal temperature of the tumbler hot enough that it can compost year-round. Some tumblers have a paddle in the center of the tumbler to help aerate the compost and keep the compost from clumping. If the design doesn’t have a paddle in the middle, it will most likely have holes on the ends of the tumbler to let oxygen into the compost.
One of the many benefits that come with a compost tumbler is that it is an enclosed bin, and doesn’t allow rodents and pests into the compost. The enclosed bin also keeps the area odor-free, which makes it work well in residential areas.
Simple compost tumbler designs are available if you don’t want to buy a tumbler. Wiki How has an easy to follow step-by-step guide to making your own compost tumbler. The main components that are used in these designs are an old barrel, several pipes, and bungee cords. To look at the full article, go here.
Once you have a compost tumbler, you can add a little garden soil to help get the composting started. However, it is not necessary, and you can begin adding some food scraps and a little yard waste. However, you need to keep in mind the relationship between carbon and nitrogen. A healthy compost pile should have more carbon producing materials than nitrogen producing materials. If you have the correct ratio, the time it takes for the food scraps and yard waste to decompose will be greatly reduced. Learn.eartheasy.com has a very helpful chart that shows how most materials that would be added into a composter would be classified. Below is a partial list from the chart.
|Carbon Materials||Nitrogen Materials|
Corn Cobs and stalks
Straw or Hay
|Lawn and Garden Weeds|
Fruit and Vegetable Scraps
Composting Method #3: Other Enclosed Bins/Containers
Whether you have a little or a lot of outdoor space, an enclosed compost bin might be for you. This method of composting doesn’t need to be turned by hand, so it will reduce the amount of strain it puts on your back. However, it will take much longer for the composting process to finish. If you want to use this method of composting, but want the process to move more quickly, you can turn the compost with a shovel or a pitch fork. This will speed up the process a little.
This method doesn’t need an expensive composter. You can use a tub, barrel, or pail that you already own, it just needs to have a lid. The advantages to this method, is that it is low maintenance, since you don’t need to turn the compost. The enclosed style also discourages pests from getting into your compost, and keeps the compost from getting too wet during rainstorms.
Composting Method #4: Open Compost Piles
If you have a lot of outdoor space, an open compost pile might be for you. You will want to find a location where there is good drainage, and have partial sun and shade. This will keep the pile from drying out or becoming too wet. Once the pile has been started, decide whether or not you will be turning the compost. It is not essential to the process to have it turned. However, it will take much longer for the process to finish if you decide to not turn the compost. Ideally, the pile should be turned every week or two. Happydiyhome.com has a helpful article with more information on how to make compost at home with an open system.
What Should I Not Add to My Compost Pile
Meat and dairy decompose efficiently, and add a lot of nutrients back into the soil. However, they attract pests that you don’t want. The pests could break into your pile or bin, and scatter everything. The smell is another large issue. Your neighbors will not appreciate the fact that you are composting, if they can’t handle how it smells.
Diseased plants are another category that shouldn’t be placed in your compost bin or pile. The disease might not die during the composting process, but may continue to grow in the finished compost. This will cause harm to plants in the future. Your composting experience will be much more enjoyable if you leave these foods out of your compost pile or bin.
Sometimes, the most difficult part of composting is finding people to participate. For people to want to compost, they need to see the immediate benefits, and see how composting can be made easy. When there is a community of people that are committed to making composting work, the benefits are huge! Let’s think and do what is best for us, those around us, and the environment, even if it takes a little more time.