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November 19, 2019

How to Start Composting

Whether you’re trying to make a more positive impact on the environment, or simply trying to feed the soil that surrounds your home, composting is a wonderful way to create a more sustainable life. By composting your food scraps and other materials you will not only reduce your overall food waste, but also lower greenhouse gases and nourish the earth. 

What is “compost”? 

Compost is a mixture of organic materials that can break down through natural processes, and support the life cycle of plants. Approximately 28% of what we throw away is made up of food scraps and yard waste, which could be used to benefit the soil rather than rot away in a plastic garbage bag in a landfill. 

Composting at home is easier than you might think. Following these simple steps will help you to be a little more “green” at home - composting is often considered a better practice than recycling! Composting will even help your home garden produce more vibrant and more nutritious fruits and vegetables. 

How to Compost at Home

Get a good compost bin. 

Whether you’re using a spot in your yard to dump food compost, or using a citywide bin that is picked up on a schedule, you won’t want to run outside with food scraps every time you cook. Find a small compost bin with a tight-fitting lid (to keep out fruit flies and pests), that also lets air circulate (to reduce the likelihood of mold growing). 

Make sure the compost bin is small so that you can empty it frequently. Many compost bins have a replaceable filter in the lid to reduce any odor from getting out, although if you empty it relatively frequently it shouldn’t smell too bad. 

Learn what can and can’t be composted. 

Be sure to fully understand what materials can be broken down in your compost, and what materials cannot. A good compost pile should include a balanced mix of browns (yard debris, like dead leaves), greens (fruit and veggie scraps), and water. 

Examples of items that CAN be composted: 

Food scraps
Such as fruits, vegetable trimmings, nut shells, eggshells, tea bags, and coffee grounds (including filters)

Paper goods
Such as newspaper (shredded to encourage easy breakdown), and cardboard (like toilet paper tubes)

Yard debris
Such as grass clippings, hay, wood chips, old house plants, dead leaves, and sawdust

Organic household materials
Such as hair (cleaned from a drain or hair brush), pet fur, fireplace ashes and soot (not coal or charcoal ash), dryer lint

Examples of items that can NOT be composted:

Dairy products
Whole eggs, butter, milk, cream, yogurt
These items can create terrible odors and attract pests. 

Fats
Leftover grease, lard, oils
Really, you should use leftover grease to cook with - it’s delicious! Keep fats out of the compost, however, as they also attract pests. 

Meat / protein scraps
Bones from meat or fish can attract pests, and also invite stray animals into your yard. 

Pet waste
Dog or cat feces, kitty litter
Any kind of pet waste is bad for your compost. It can carry parasites, germs, and viruses - and would you really want your garden tomatoes growing out of your cat’s old litter? Gross!

Ultimately it is best to use common sense when adding materials to your compost. Consider these questions: can the item be broken down in a reasonable amount of time? Will it create an unpleasant odor? Will it attract pests? 

Take care of your outdoor compost heap. 

There should be a good balance of brown and green compost in your pile. About once a week, use a shovel to “turn” your compost (mix it up) to encourage breakdown and allow more oxygen to flow throughout. Making sure your compost is balanced and mixed will help ensure that enough nitrogen and moisture is spread throughout as well. 

Look for worms! 

A good sign of a healthy compost pile is earthworms! When you see worms wiggling around in your soil it is a sign that your compost pile is full of good nutrients for them to eat. 

Choosing to start your own compost at home is a wonderful way to enrich the soil in your yard, encourage a nutrient-filled environment in your garden, and reduce your household carbon footprint. 

Want to get even more sustainable? Follow these tips to reduce creating unnecessary food waste at home!

[Credit: EPA. “Composting at Home.”]

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