Americans generate roughly 254 million tons of trash each year according to the EPA. On average, we recycled and composted 1.51 lbs of our individual waste production of 4.40 lbs per day in 2013. This is a lot of progress from where we were in the past century, but that still leaves 65% of any individual’s waste headed to a landfill where it either (hopefully) decomposes or (less hopefully) takes up space until we figure out what to do with it. This is especially frustrating when we consider that one-third of the material in landfills is compostable. On top of this being easily divertible waste, organic material decomposing in landfills produces methane, a gas with a “Greenhouse Potential” thirty times greater than that of carbon dioxide. But do not fear, you can help combat this problem by starting your very own compost operation!
Composting has a multitude of benefits. By diverting your waste from landfills while also repurposing your waste so that it can be used in your own personal garden, it turns a problem material into a valuable resource. Compost is nutrient rich and its many microorganisms help to aerate soil, break down organic material for plant use, and ward off plant disease. It also offers a natural alternative to chemical fertilizers, run-off from which often contaminates nearby water sources and ground water.
Starting your own operation can seem daunting if you’ve not done it before: What do I compost? How do I compost? Lucky for you, this simple guide should have all the answers!
A Handy Dandy Guide to Composting
Lots of different things can be composted, with some of the most common you may come across being fruit scraps, vegetable scraps, table scraps, eggshells, straw, grass or plant clippings, leaves, coffee grounds (filter included), shredded paper (avoid glossy paper and colored inks), dryer lint, wood chips, saw dust, and tea leaves. Some things not to put in your compost pile are: meat, bones, or perennial weeds. It is best to keep your kitchen waste compost in a container with a lid, and take it out to your garden regularly.
To start your compost pile, lay down a layer of straw or twigs first to help aerate the pile. Then being to add in your collected materials, alternating between moist materials (fruits, vegetables) and dry materials (shredded paper, saw dust). Next add green manure (such as grass clippings) to activate the pile and speed up the process. Keep your pile moist by watering occasionally. Cover the pile with plastic sheeting or tarp, or anything you have to keep it moist and retain heat. Every few weeks you should turn the pile to aerate the material, because oxygen is essential to the process of composting. Once you have an established compost pile, you can mix new materials in rather than layering them in. If you want to get fancy with it, a common alternative to a regular old compost pile is a compost tumbler. A tumbler is a fully sealed container that has a handle for rotating the bin and the compost inside. This way it completely encloses the compost, retaining heat, and is easy to maintain. If you can afford the extra buck or build one yourself, tumblers are excellent at speeding up and simplifying the compost process.
If you do not have a place to compost at your home, some cities have food waste pick up services that will compost for you! Check to see if there are any of these services offered in your area.
Written by Olivia Pearson, published October 16, 2016
Feature photo courtesy of http://getyourphx.com/