Composting 101: How To Compost At Home

February 15, 2021

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How To Compost At Home

How To Compost

Composting isn’t the most glamorous topic but it sure is a simple way to give back to our planet. Composting is a process that converts organic waste into nutrient-dense soil-like material that can be used as valuable fertilizer (or as some people like to call it, black gold!) while simultaneously helping to divert methane-producing organic materials from landfills and reducing your carbon footprint! It’s a win-win on so many levels. Wondering how to compost at home? Or, what you can or can’t compost? Keep reading.

Composting 101

For the longest time I just assumed that if I tossed out my veggie and fruit scraps in the trash they’d eventually break down in the landfill. Unfortunately, to my disappointment, I found out that’s not necessarily the case. Just because your fruit and veggie peels are biodegradable doesn’t mean they’ll decompose in the trash. Bummer.

In order for an organic item to actually decompose, it needs oxygen, which will help break down molecules much faster, a process called oxidation.

Unfortunately, landfills are compacted so tightly (trying to make room for as much trash as possible) that they often don’t have much oxygen flowing — they’re anaerobic. As such, any biodegradation that does take place does so very slowly.

In fact, in “a landfill study conducted by University of Arizona researchers uncovered still-recognizable 25-year-old hot dogs, corncobs, and grapes in landfills, as well as 50-year-old newspapers that were still readable.

Any food that does decompose in a landfill releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is at least 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide. 1 (You can read more about methane gas here if you’re interested)

So, yeah, that apple you threw away when you were 12 years old because it had that brown spot is very likely still “sitting” somewhere in a landfill — just hanging out all sad and lonely and emitting methane gas. Tragic.

What is Compost?

Officially, according to the EPA’s AGstar Handbook, compost is, “organic material that can be used as a soil amendment or as a medium to grow plants. Mature compost is a stable material with a content called humus that is dark brown or black and has a soil-like, earthy smell. It is created by: combining organic wastes (e.g., yard trimmings, food wastes, manures) in proper ratios into piles, rows, or vessels; adding bulking agents (e.g., wood chips) as necessary to accelerate the breakdown of organic materials; and allowing the finished material to fully stabilize and mature through a curing process.”

Basically, composting is a process that converts organic material into nutrient-dense soil-like material that can be used as valuable fertilizer (or as some people like to call it, black gold!) while simultaneously helping to divert methane-producing organic materials from landfills. It’s a win-win on so many levels.

How To Compost At Home

How To Compost indoors

There are various ways you can dispose of organic matter — commercial composting, backyard composting, vermicomposting, etc. The key is finding the process that works best for you and your lifestyle. This is often determined by the amount of time and space you have to dedicate to the composting process.

Commercial (Indoor) Composting 

Commercial composting is probably the easiest way of composting. It’s also a great option for anyone who doesn’t have much time or space to properly maintain a compost pile. This is the process I currently use to compost because I don’t have a backyard to set up a  compost space.

How it works?

If you don’t have a backyard nor the time to maintain a compost pile, consider collecting your food scraps and storing them in an airtight container (I keep mine in my freezer) until you’re able to drop them off at your local compost collection site or have it picked up curbside.

1. Collect and store scraps until you’re ready to compost them.

How to store your food scraps in a small space?

I compile all my compostable food scraps in an air-tight plastic container that I keep in the freezer (helps to keep everything smelling fresh, especially during the hot summer months) and dispose of them on a weekly basis either at my local farmer’s market or local grocery store (my grocery store collects compost for its customers).

But if you’d like to get a bit fancier you can also invest in compost pail and filter such as:
Hammered Copper Compost Pail

Epica Stainless Steel Compost Bin

Chef’n EcoCrock Compost Bin
Bamboozle Food Composter

You can also store your compost pail on your countertop (helps to remind you to compost) or under the sink if you prefer to keep it out of site. Again, whatever works best for you!

2. Dispose of compost.

Not sure where you can drop-off your compost?

Here are a few resources to help you locate compost drop-off sites:
BioCycle’s Find A Composter 
Litterless: Where to Compost
Compost Now

Other places you might consider checking:

  • Your local farmer’s market
  • The local recycling/public works program
  • Your local community gardens
  • Or just Google to see if there are any curbside pick-up programs in your area. You’d be surprised to see how many organizations offer curbside pick-up for compost.

Backyard Composting

Backyard Composting

If you have a backyard you might consider backyard composting. While there are a few learning curves, once you get it down it’s actually quite simple. Added bonus? Once your organic scraps have been converted into rich-soil you don’t have to buy expensive compost to nourish your plants!

How to backyard compost?

There’s more to backyard composting than just throwing your food scraps into a pile and letting them decompose (that would be too easy).

Here are some simple steps to help you start your backyard composting pile:

1. Find a space in your backyard. 

Preferably, you’ll want to find a space near a water source as you’ll need to hose down your pile every so often. The space should be leveled, dry, and shady. A space of about 3x3x3 ft  is considered ideal. You can either start a basic pile or get a bin/tumbler (NOTE: I am going to be focusing on how to build a compost pile but the same approach should be applied if you’re using a tumbler).

2. Build your compost pile.

Once you have your space picked out you’ll want to start adding your organic scraps to your pile. This is where the science part kicks in as you’ll want to ensure you add just the right amount of green items (veggies, fruit, grass, etc.) to provide nitrogen to brown items (paper, cardboard, dead leaves, etc.), which provide carbon.

Most people recommend sticking to a 3:1 ratio (three parts carbon-heavy “browns” for every one part nitrogen-centric “greens“) to ensure your pile isn’t too wet or too dry. If you add too many greens your pile may start to smell bad (like rotting eggs) or too many browns and your pile may not heat up enough to properly decompose the organic matter.

What Can You Compost

Click here to view a simple one-pager that explores what you can/can’t compost.

Cornell University created a great “composting at home guide” that provides super helpful troubleshooting solutions to composting problems you might encounter.Also recommend you check out the EPA’s guide on Backyard Composting and NRDC’s “Composting is way easier than you think!” — packed with great resources.

Interested in Vermicomposting, also known as worm farming?

I won’t be going into detail on worm farming in this course but if this is something that interests you, check out the following resources:

So much goodness stems from the simple process of decomposing organic matter.

The Wise Consumer
  1. Washington Post

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