Okay, so maybe composting doesn’t actually make the world go round. But, it does help to support the cycle of life, inhibit the production of greenhouse gas emissions, reduce food waste, and so much more. Many people believe that throwing food scraps and paper products into a landfill is harmless because they are biodegradable. However, when these materials break down in a landfill they become powerful contributors to greenhouse gas emissions by enhancing the production of methane. Composting also enriches soil and reduces the need for chemical fertilizer. I started composting regularly in May of this year. I’m lucky because the apartment building I live in in Portland has a composting bin along with a trash bin, recycling bin, and glass bottle bin. One of my favorite aspects of Portland is how proactive and environmentally conscious everyone here is.
Composting is not sexy and glamorous, but it’s a conversation that should be had. If it is accessible to you, it is a very simple way to incorporate another sustainability practice into your life. It took me a couple weeks to get into the habit of throwing food into my compost bin. If it is something that, like myself, you did not grow up doing then you will have to recondition yourself a bit. Before you know it you won’t think twice about it though! A big part of adopting more environmentally friendly habits into our lives is being willing to create new habits. Change is not easy for most of us, but the well-being of our planet deserves the extra effort. Now, let’s get into the nitty gritty of home composting…
Your first step will be choosing your compost bin. I have this one from World Market. It sits on my kitchen countertop in between my stove and sink because that is where I do most of my chopping and cooking. Putting your compost bin in a convenient and obvious place will be crucial in helping you get into the habit of composting. This is what works for me. Play around with it and figure out what works for YOU. I find that I usually need to take my compost out about two times per week, and I throw it in the dish washer once per week. I also have several charcoal filters on hand to replace them every so often. If you live in a house with a yard you have the luxury of keeping a larger compost bin outside, or if you’re into the whole DIY thing you can even create your own!
WHAT NOT TO COMPOST:
black walnut tree leaves & twigs
coal & charcoal
meat & fish
oils & grease
yard trimmings of plants treated with chemical pesticides
WHAT TO COMPOST:
fruits & vegetables
crushed egg shells
tea bags & coffee grounds
yard trimmings, grass clippings & leaves
saw dust & wood chips
100% cotton or wool rags
hair & fur
fire place ash
If, like myself, you live in an urban area and don’t have a yard then you will need to find a place to dump your compost. Like I mentioned my building has a compost dump in our trash room. I know that in many cities this option won’t be nearly as common. If you aren’t sure where to dump your compost you can try using a curbside compost service! You can also give your compost to a gardening neighbor, add it to your potted plants, donate it to a community garden, or see if a local farm can use it. There are plenty of options, so I urge you not to rule out composting just because you don’t know where to take it.
On the contrary, if you are using your compost for your own soil at home than you have a few more considerations to think about. You will need to build a decent foundation. Try some shredded newspaper or leaves! Your base should take up about 1/8 to 1/4 of your bin. Then, layer dirt and/or hay on top of your base so your bin is about 1/2 full. Now it’s time to add in your food waste and scraps. If your compost bin is outside, consider keeping an airtight container in your kitchen to collect scraps. A mason jar would do the trick. A good rule of thumb is to add equal parts brown (leaves, dirt, etc.) to equal parts green (grass, coffee grounds, food scraps, etc.). The brown materials provide carbon for your compost, while the green materials provide nitrogen. Water provides moisture to help break down these organic materials.
For some, composting might be common practice. I wasn’t introduced to composting until I worked on a few farms in Europe after graduating college. We all have different values and truths in this life. I respect that, and I know composting might not be accessible to everyone at this point in time. If I had known about composting sooner I probably would’ve incorporated into my routine sooner. I am just here to create awareness. To raise curiosity. To inspire you to question if there is ANYTHING else you can do to help protect our suffering earth. Composting isn’t convenient. Throwing out your food scraps is definitely the more convenient option. But, unfortunately that isn’t sustainable. We are in a precarious position in regards to the well-being of our planet. Convenience needs to be thrown out the window. Let’s be bigger than ourselves. Let’s make the extra effort to embrace new habits. Let’s do lots of little things everyday to lead to big change.