Composting Options at Home
If you’re looking to live a more environmentally conscious lifestyle, or if you’re interested in gardening, you may have read about composting. Compost is a nutrient-rich soil additive created when plant and animal matter decomposes. With a little help from waste-conscious humans, the process of composting at home can be a great way to educate whole families on how to live a more “green” lifestyle.
According to statistics from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), household yard clippings and food waste make up somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of the waste Americans annually throw into landfills. Once there, these organic materials take up landfill space and release greenhouse gases such as methane. One way to help keep these materials out of landfills is to compost this waste at home, rather than throwing it away. The EPA provides a list of items that you can compost, and some you shouldn’t, here.
Organic material recycling has a number of rewards for your yard, greater community and overall carbon footprint. By dedicating a little time and space to proper composting, the EPA says you can start enjoying the following benefits:
- Keeping items out of landfills: This is probably the most well-known effect of composting. As mentioned above, anything you compost instead of throwing away saves space in your local landfill.
- Soil enrichment: By adding fresh compost to your garden, your soil becomes enriched with the nutrients shrubs, plants and flowers thrive on to grow strong. In addition, it enables moisture to reach thirsty roots. And, by keeping your yard and garden healthy, compost acts as a natural guard against soil erosion.
- Reduction in added chemicals: When you regularly add compost to your soil, you reduce your dependency on chemical lawn fertilizers and pesticides. Think about this win-win situation: You add scraps you were throwing out anyway to a compost pile, and — voila — you simultaneously save money and your garden from unwanted chemicals.
- Healthy bacteria production: Another byproduct of composting is the creation of good fungi and bacteria. These essential ingredients to the decomposition process encourage the microorganisms necessary to sustain long-term garden and soil health.
There are various methods of composting, but for home use, two are likely the most practical:
Soil microbes: In this method, you moisten your materials and put them in a pile or bin, in a dry, shady spot near a water source, and wait for the items to decompose. The EPA says this can take anywhere from two months to two years.
Vermicomposting: If you’re not a fan of worms, this probably isn’t the method for you. In vermicomposting, you put red worms into a covered box lined with leaves, newspaper or dirt, according to the EPA. The red worms eat fruit and vegetable scraps you put into the container, and they leave behind droppings that the EPA says can be used as a natural plant food. Because this method takes less space than the compost piles or bins needed for soil microbes, people who live in apartments may opt for vermicomposting.
Where to Compost
If you’re using the microbe method, turning yard and kitchen waste materials into compost is simply a matter of providing the right space, air and moisture. However, depending on where you live, the amount of waste you’ll be composting and how far you plan on traveling to add items to the compost pile, you have three basic composting options:
- Outdoor piles. An easy way to begin composting is to simply start a compost pile in a shady spot in your yard. Just add yard clippings and approved table scraps in alternating layers. The EPA says you can surround your pile with chicken wire or nail wood beams together to create a small fence.
- Outdoor bins. The EPA says that a compost pile may work for yard waste, like dead leaves, but if you’re going to compost food waste, you should use a bin in order to keep small animals from raiding your compost bin for dinner. You can either buy a bin or build your own; just remember: Any bins you dedicate to composting must have holes or openings to allow for air movement, to help avoid any unpleasant smells.
- Indoor bins. If you don’t have space outdoors for a compost pile or bin, you may want to consider indoor composting. Like an outdoor bin, you can either buy a special indoor composting bin or build your own, according to the EPA, But, if you’re keeping your bin indoors, it’s even more important to make sure you maintain it in order to help avoid rodents and odors.
For vermicomposting, you can either buy or make a bin for your red worms. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln says you can turn an old drawer into your composting bin, or use a plastic storage container, making sure the lid loosely covers the bin and is not tightly latched. You’ll need to line your bin with moistened bedding for the worms, such as shredded cardboard or paper. Click for more information on setting up a vermicomposting bin.
Now that you’ve selected and set up your compost pile or bin, it’s time to start composting! Not sure what you can compost? See the EPA’s backyard composting guide for a handy list of what to add and what not to add.