Waste is getting way out of hand. Urban areas alone send over 2 billion tons to landfills annually, 25-50% of which could be composted instead, like the 76% of food waste we throw away.
Composting could annually eliminate 475 pounds of waste per person making it a game-changer for reducing landfill waste. Even in the short amount of time we’ve been composting here at Sustainable Jungle, we’ve avoided SO MUCH waste.
With climate change rearing its ugly head, composting isn’t just a good idea, but a necessary one. We just need to learn how!
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What is composting?
Composting is an expedited way to biodegrade organic waste, or anything once living. By controlling moisture and temperature, composting optimizes microbial performance, letting you turn last week’s moldy leftovers into nutrient-rich humus in 12-24 weeks.
Learning how to compost is a great way to reduce your waste, do good for the earth, and plan for a successful garden!
Related: The best garden planner you’ll find (and why you need it)
Here are five simple steps to get you on the way towards composting with confidence!
5 easy steps to learn how to compost at home
There are a lot of ways to compost, and it’s really easy to make it really complicated. But composting is actually pretty simple! Read through these five tips, get a few tools, and you’ll feel ready to start composting ASAP.
1. Get motivated!
If those grim stats above didn’t start your compost craze, maybe a look at the benefits of composting will.
The most obvious is reducing landfill mass and subsequent greenhouse gas emissions. When organic waste biodegrades in a landfill, buried under literal tons of garbage, it degrades without oxygen, or anaerobically (whereas composting is aerobic).
This produces methane gas, which the EPA calls 25 times stronger than CO2.
Plus, humus created by composting is an amazing natural fertilizer, able to enhance overall soil quality to the point of remediating hazardous waste.
That’s some darn magical dirt.
2. Choose your compost bin
If you’ve ruled out alternatives to composting, it’s time to get down to bins-ness and choose the composting method right for you.
This depends on your available time, space, and budget. If you’re lucky enough to have a backyard capable of hosting an old-fashioned compost pile, great! But if you’re among the many urban dwellers, you’ll need something smaller, self-contained, and low-maintenance.
Here’s a quick summary of compost bin options. Read more about each at Sustainable Jungle.
- Bokashi Bins: This incomplete system uses microorganisms to decompose matter, which must then get transferred to an actual composter or buried. (You can get a complete starter kit with all you need here!)
- Vermicomposters: In “worm bins” red wigglers consume waste and poop it out (called worm castings). Maybe we’re biased toward our own composting method, but this complete method is odor-free and great indoors or outdoors.
- Traditional composters: These work like a regular compost pile, but have a built-in turning function. They smell if not placed outside. You can get a composting bin tumbler here.
- Electric Composters: These efficient but expensive machines (like this one) entirely break down waste (including meat and other organic non-compostables) using heat and vibration.
3. Collect and store your scraps
You’ve got your bin and now you’re wondering what to put in it. Composting requires roughly equal parts of three basic “ingredients”:
- Nitrogen-rich matter (Greens): Think green = living. These are items like fruit peels, flowers, and lawn trimmings.
- Carbon-rich matter (Browns): Think brown = dead. These are things like dried/dead leaves, paper, and pretty much any wood-based material.
The rules of compostability are pretty straightforward, with a few exceptions. Start by reading what is compostable and what isn’t.
Collect your scraps in any lidded container, like a bucket under the sink or a compost-specific collection bin, which usually comes with odor-reducing charcoal filters. Of course, this isn’t a necessity.
4. Add to and maintain your bin
If you haven’t already, make your scraps as small as possible for efficiency. Wood shavings break down faster than branches! Break up food scraps and crunch up eggshells.
Then mix your new additions into the lower layers, or add greens and browns on top in alternating layers.
Every few weeks, “turn your pile” or bin to aerate it. Check the moisture, too, to ensure it feels like a damp sponge. If not, either add water or some dry browns if it’s too damp.
A word on worms…
If you’ve opted for vermicomposting, remember that worms are living creatures and must be cared for.
For a healthy worm bin, maintain equal parts browns and green (nothing too rotten!). Make it easier for the worms to eat by chopping it up and covering with carbon-rich “bedding”.
Though worms are capable of eating half their body weight daily, don’t feed them too much. Overfeeding worms is worse than underfeeding them. A rule of thumb: only feed when the last round is almost gone.
Pay extra attention to developing problems too.
5. Use your compost!
After diligently tending your bin for 3-6 months, it finally yields gloriously dark, crumbly humus… What do you do with it?
The possibilities are endless!
Sprinkle it on your garden, yard, or potted houseplants, or save it to build a raised garden. If you don’t have use for it personally, someone else definitely will. Donate it to a community garden or plant-happy friend. You can even find people craving compost at your local farmer’s market.
Vermicomposters instead yield worm castings, which you can steep into worm tea for use as a natural pesticide and fertilizer.
Final thoughts on how to compost
Composting is a great way to go zero waste by recycling food waste.
Related: 5 easy ways to minimize kitchen waste
Although it isn’t totally effortless, the adjustment process is pretty easy. Now it’s just another small part of our routine, right up there with brushing our teeth!
For such an easy process, composting has monumental environmental benefits. Best, it’s accessible to absolutely anyone, no matter where you live!
Composting wisdom by Joy & Lyall, founders of the sustainable living podcast and blog, Sustainable Jungle.
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