It may seem counterintuitive to promote composting during the coolest time of the year; I realize no one is dying to take their food scraps for a walk right now (at least not in the Midwest). However, composting is a continual process that requires all months of the year and needs planning, so why not start learning now? Lucky for us, composting is very hands off, but it will require you to change your lazy habits. As I’ve educated myself on living a more sustainable lifestyle over the last couple of years, truthfully, some of the changes seem small and inconvenient. Composting has NOT been one of those changes, so it’s a great place to start. Not only is it easy, but it’s rewarding because you witness on the daily what you’re not adding to a landfill of trash!
Before I get ahead of myself, let’s cover why it’s so much better to compost vs. throw away. Think of all the food waste that goes in your trash can on a daily basis – this can be anything from eggshells and apple cores to coffee grounds. If this is hard for you to visualize, I highly recommend putting a bowl on your counter one morning to collect compostable items so you can actually witness the quantity. Some days this bowl will be more full than others, but it adds up fast! I’ve gotten in the habit of placing a cereal bowl on the counter whenever I prepare a meal to remind myself to place anything compostable in the bowl vs. the trash. On average, one third of household waste can be diverted from your trash can by composting! This percentage increases if you focus on kitchen-only waste.
When compostable waste finds itself in a landfill full of plastics and other trash that can take hundreds to thousands of years to decompose, its environment does not provide a quick transition. The composting process works to speed up the decay of compostable items in an ideal setting. Furthermore, food waste will generate greenhouse gas methane when buried in landfills which then leads to this thing called global warming… kinda a big deal. The bonus of composting is the result of nutrient-rich soil that can then be used to garden or plant trees etc. It’s one of those rare win-win-win situations.
If you are aiming for a zero waste lifestyle, composting is key. Even after just a week or two of not throwing compostable items away, you will develop an awareness of what products have excessive packaging and what can be saved from the trash bin.
If you will be adding to a city compost, make sure you get details on what they accept. To the left, I have a photo of the Minneapolis “Organics Recycling Guide.” While food items are usually a given, some city programs may not accept other compostable items. Even if your city offers organic waste services, you may still want to have your own mini compost operation at home for gardening soil and then turn to the city for items that may not compost as quickly (pizza boxes, chopsticks, coffee grounds). Either way, I’d recommend getting a small bin to throw compostable waste in throughout the day and empty into your larger compost bin daily or every other day, otherwise it will start to reek. (:
Assess Your Situation
While most cities are starting to have an organics program, I realize not everyone has access to one. Therefore, you’ll have to assess your home situation and determine if composting is feasible for you. Having a backyard helps! If you do have a yard, there’s a couple different options: 1) Dig a hole in the ground and kick it old school -OR- 2) Purchase a compost bin for your yard – I have this one which came with my house. It’s non obtrusive to my smaller yard and can easily be swiveled around to mix up the dirt n’ food mixture that’s brewing. Since I live in a household of two and am not actively rotating my compost bin, my compost pile will be good soil to use ~ year. Some individuals will have two compost bins, one that they are actively adding to and another that is decomposed to use. I found this Composting Timetable helpful. There are ways to speed up the decay process by adding worms and heavy rotating – the internet is your friend, use it!
To decompose, your pile needs humidity and heat which is hard to come by these days. If you don’t have a city compost to add to, it probably would suit you best to start your compost endeavors in the spring. However, there are winter care tips if you want to compost through the cold. For one, place your bin somewhere where it will be protected by wind; draping a tarp over the bin can also help insulate. You will also want to turn or rotate your compost often. Chopping your food waste and adding lots of greens will keep your pile active. Okay, so winter composting requires a little more hand holding, but your summer garden will thank you! Under less freezing temperatures, the composting process becomes fairly hands off; simply add your organics and give it a rotation every week or so – easy!
If you plan to take advantage of your city’s organics program, getting started is fairly easy. You can usually find specifics on how to request an organics bin via the public waste and recycling website or phone number. Determine what compostable items are accepted and begin using a separate organics bin in addition to your trash can. Take your collected compostable waste out to your organics bin regularly. The city will collect your organics similar to any other trash!
Composting on your own requires a little up front work. First, decide if you want to dig a composting space or get a personal composting container for your backyard. A healthy compost pile is made up of carbon and nitrogen matter. Eartheasy recommends a one-third green material(nitrogen) and two-thirds brown material (carbon) ratio. Nitrogen or green material is your table scraps, tea leaves, lawn clippings etc; carbon is leaves and wood chips (brown things!). I would encourage visiting that linked Eartheasy website to figure out what composting method would work best for you, along with finding tips on how to get your compost pile jump-started. Since a personal composting bin does not have the capacity of a city organics program, refrain from adding meat, bones, fish scraps, pizza boxes, egg cartons because these items will take much longer to break down than most food-related waste.
Once you master composting in the kitchen, bring sustainable living choices to other areas of your life. The more aware you become of your waste patterns, the better you’ll get at avoiding products and habits that are wasteful. Bathrooms are also notorious for collecting plastic soap containers, hair products, cleaners etc. I am lucky to live close to Tare Market, a store with sustainable focus that sells many products in bulk, where I refill all my essential soaps and shampoos! The cost is similar and I’ve saved several plastic bottles from the dump. The goal is to make these earth friendly decisions part of your lifestyle for years to come. Better yet, grab a friend or family member to join you on your journey! Or make sustainable choices part of your New Year’s resolution this year! Either way, I hope this article inspires you to make earth friendly changes. Slow and steady wins the race!