If you don’t think twice about putting your food waste in the trash, you’re not alone – after all, it just decomposes there, right? Well yes, but it’s not that straightforward.
When our organic matter goes to a landfill it is quickly covered under layers of inorganic waste. The organic matter does break down, but when it does so covered by layers of inorganic matter, it produces methane, which contributes to global warming when released into the atmosphere.
Food scraps and garden waste makes up around 30% of everything we throw out, and all of that waste can be composted at home.
Here are 3 reasons why composting is so important and how you can start composting at home:
1. Composting at home reduces waste and greenhouse gases
When we compost at home, we can reduce the amount of waste going to landfills where it can be trapped under waste that does not biodegrade quickly, and release methane as it degrades anaerobically (without oxygen). Composting, whether at home or on an industrial scale, allows food waste to break down aerobically (with oxygen) and avoid producing methane.
2. Enriches the soil
Over-farming means that much of the soil used for growing food no longer has beneficial nutrients in it, and it needs to have well-rotted compost or manure added to it to enrich the soil once again. Composting adds more vitamins and minerals back into the soil, helps the soil retain moisture, and even suppresses plant diseases.
3. Lessens the need for chemical fertilizers
An abundance of quality organic compost means that farmers can use fewer chemical fertilizers. Chemical fertilizers can be harmful if breathed in, can contaminate water runoff, and are suspected to be causes of (or contribute to the development of) some cancers, blood disorders, and Alzheimer’s.
How to Start Composting at Home
You can start composting at home in a corner of your yard or garden, or with a composting bin in any outside space you have available.
For a compost heap that breaks down quickly, you need to ensure it has:
- Green waste – this includes anything literally green, such as waste lettuce leaves and cut grass, as well as fruit and vegetable scraps and coffee grounds.
- Brown waste – this includes anything that is literally brown, such as dead plant matter and branches. It also includes all dead organic matter, such as sawdust, newspaper, and shredded paper.
- Water – if your compost heap is open to the elements, you don’t need to do anything here, but if it’s covered, add water whenever the pile is so dry you can’t squeeze out any water when you pick up a handful and squeeze tightly.
Also, as we learned earlier, access to oxygen is necessary, but this isn’t a problem for a home compost heap.
To get the best results, you should aim for a ratio of 50:50 green to brown waste, whenever possible.
You can compost just about anything natural, including sawdust and newspaper, but there are some forms of household organic waste you’re best off putting in the trash:
- Any yard debris that has been treated with chemical pesticides
- Black walnut tree leaves and twigs (means the resulting compost may not be safe to use for plants)
- Coal and charcoal (as above)
- Dairy (causes unpleasant odors and can attract pests)
- Diseased plant matter (the disease may survive the composting process)
- Fats (oil, grease, lard)
- Meat scraps (attracts pests and will smell)
- Pet waste (not good for your compost)
For the best results, turn the compost heap with a pitchfork or shovel once every 2-4 weeks to aerate the pile. Some compost bins are designed to make this easy for you by turning or spinning. If you can’t turn your compost heap, try adding straw from time to time, as it has been seen to be almost as effective as turning it. Once your compost pile is sizeable enough, try to bury or mix in the new things you add, rather than adding them in layers. If you want to use some of your compost once it’s well-rotted, take it from the very bottom of the pile.
Remember that while composting may seem like a lot of effort to set up, once you have your compost heap it will become second nature to put your waste to the side and take it out to add to your compost heap or bin. You’ll be rewarded with less waste in the trash, a smaller carbon footprint, and nutritious compost you can use on your garden.