Starting to compost in your home doesn’t have to be a dirty journey. Sure, there are some systems that may contain worms and oozy smells, but that isn’t the single experience and starting your composting journey might be one of the best decisions you’ve had – Yeah you!
In the beginning, you’ll become more familiar with your own consumption habits. What better way to identify where you’re overconsuming (and under eating) than to take note of what is pulled from the refrigerator past due, maybe moldy, kinda slimy, and just sad (looking at you spinach bags). Adjusting your shopping habits to limit the amount of food waste you’re producing can cut down your composting stream and potentially save you some extra money in your wallet.
Photo from gardeningknowhow.com
So, what is composting and who’s doing it?
Composting is the natural process of recycling organic matter, (food scraps and plant material) into a fertilizer or “Black Gold”. Essentially, anything that grows will decompose. The process of composting simply speeds up the breakdown by providing an ideal environment to do so (Hu, 2020). Composting can be done as an individual pursuit, a household commitment and even on the commercial scale. Here are a few basic concepts to master:
- Yes to Organics: Veggies, fruits, egg shells, coffee grounds, plant debris, newspaper
- Items to avoid: meat, fats, oils, dairy, pet waste
- Industrial Composting: most often, there are items that declare themselves as a “Compostable Plastic” - unfortunately many of these compostable utensils and food ware require a specific set of conditions that can only be met on the industrial composting facility scale. (Check out our post on “bioplastics and why we’re not ready for them” post!)
- Bananas don’t grow in Wisconsin: I am 1000% guilty of tossing apple cores and banana peels out of a car window on a road trip or leaving orange peels left off the hiking trail... While I had an understanding that these “natural” materials would break down in the “natural environment”, I failed to think about the ideal environment for such items to grow and decompose in. For example, bananas don’t grow amongst the corn of the Midwest. So, they should not be left to decompose in these unideal climate conditions. A variety of negative impacts are associated with organic littering (yes, organic littering!) such as, longer decomposition times, curious hungry animals, and feeding into more organic littering habits.
Mahalo for letting me share my confession above… and maybe you can relate in some way. We are all working through our own sustainability journey, and growth often means acknowledging mistakes of the past.
Now, you may wonder what it takes to break down organics outside of their growing and decomposing environments. Well, let’s get into the compost mix.
Greens & Browns or Carbon & Nitrogen
Borrowing a quote from Charles Dowding’s Youtube Video on Compost making, balancing green & brown, or nitrogen & carbon, composting is a “heap of magic and alchemy” - which made me giggle, thinking back go my potion making days as a child, tossing twigs, wildflowers, grass clippings into a caldron. Now my composting isn’t all that different, but I do have a bit more understanding of the science behind the “potion” and what my potions are for.
Typically you want a mix of both green and brown materials into your compost. Green materials are most often your food scraps and fresh plant cuttings, and these items are typically high in nitrogen. Brown materials are newspapers, dried leaves, twigs, woodchips, etc. that are high in carbon. We need a solid mix of both carbon rich and nitrogen rich ingredients for a healthy compost. Advance your knowledge and perfect your Carbon-Nitrogen Ratio. “Any pile of organic matter... will eventually decompose and feed the soil, but when the ratio of carbon to nitrogen in a compost pile approaches 30 to 1, the decomposition process rapidly accelerates as “thermophilic” bacteria move in and the pile heats up to over 160 degrees Fahrenheit” (Barth, 2017) - and we like bacteria to move in and heat to break down our compost!
Easing into Composting
What I’m hoping you, my friend, are coming to realize is that there are incremental steps into sustainability practices - composting included. So far we haven’t even touched on the types of composting that may or may not work for you in your home nor have we gotten into the nitty gritty science of the breakdown of organisms into “Black Gold,” but we have touched on acclimating yourself to the information and how to begin to incorporate it into your own lifestyle.
Check out these tips to get the most out of your food scraps!
- Strawberry Greens in smoothies! I keep a container in the freezer for strawberry tops to pop into smoothies! The whole berry is edible, so this is a great way to utilize every part.
- How to Make Veggie Stock from Kitchen Scraps - Youtube Video
- Save the Herbs! Tip to making your herbs last longer
- Open air composting (hot composting)
- Direct Composting (in-ground composting)
More Recent methods of composting are:
- Tumbler Composting (A form of hot composting)
- Worm Farm Composting (Vermicomposting)
- EMO Composting (Bacteria composting)
- Combination Composting (Compot Composting)
- Commercial Composting
- Mechanical Composting
Check out these compost options
Take your time! Rest, digest and test out some of this information in your own home living situation. Next on our composting journey we’ll get into some of the dirty details of getting your compost back into the soil. Nutrient Cycling, food waste in landfill impacts and a bit more on advanced composting practices. Stay tuned!
Alternatively, I wanted to highlight some organizations that may be able to further assist with your food waste needs. Food Rescue Programs like Aloha Harvest, collect and redistribute food to Hawaiʻi's hungry rather than letting good food go to waste. The North Shore Community Compost Movement was also piloting a community compost program, as many individuals collect compost materials but have nowhere to process them. There are some rad people out there doing some rad work! Thanks for being one of ‘em.