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What Is Composting?

Updated: Jun 22, 2022

By Kaeley Sterkel

What is Composting?

Over the last few years composting has gained a larger platform to be a part of the common household. Human beings make up an enormous amount of waste that can end up on the streets/oceans or in landfills. Part of the waste we produce is organic waste such as food and different cardboard items. These items can’t be cycled back into the food web properly in a landfill and the product of that mass amounts of methane. Methane is one of the deadliest greenhouse gasses because it is exponentially more heat-trapping than carbon dioxide. Composting eliminates that threat, when done in an oxygen-rich environment of food scraps there is no runaway methane emissions that are produced. Everything that grows is able to break back down and composting helps to speed up the process creating “black gold” that is rich in nutrients.

What Can We Compost?

Many things that we end up throwing away can be composted. Generic organic waste is always compostable such as garden and yard scraps such as leaves and grass cuttings as well as kitchen scraps. You can also compost many other things such as papers, untreated wood, and cardboard. Somethings you should not compost are coal, insect-ridden plants, fats, grease, meat or fish scraps

Pic: Compost Tea

Different Levels of Composting

There are many different forms of compost and mulch that everyone can get into. The process can be done on an industrial scale or in smaller community systems and even individual houses. There are two types of home composting methods: Cold and Hot composting.

  • Cold Composting: This is also known as passive composting and this method breaks down matter slowly and takes the least amount of energy and effort to maintain. This process is best for people who don’t create much waste like smaller households or your limit of space. You can have a mini container that has a lid, and you can put away your scraps to help the process to move along.

  • Hot Composting: This is also called active composting which is faster but requires more manage and demanding process. There needs to regulate the optimum carbon and nitrogen ratio to compost the organic waste. It also requires the right balance of air and water for organisms to flourish. This option is best when a yard is present because it tends to call for a bigger container that needs to be rotated.

Why Should We Compost?

Composting has many different benefits and can be both helpful to the environment and to your home life!

  • You can use the compost that you collect over time and use it to fuel your garden with nutrition or if you don’t have a garden, it can still be extremely beneficial to any plants you may have in your yard. By doing this you will also be saving money on fertilizers and chemically pumped mixtures.

  • You will also be reducing the waste stream that gets thrown into landfills, compostable waste makes up more than 28% of what we throw away.

By composting you will be conserving water which California is in dire need of right now. Research shows that when composting the water-retaining capacities of soil increases which means that organic matter can help soil hold 20,000 gallons of water that it would otherwise be losing.

What can I compost:

This list is not inclusive, but should be enough to get you started:

Nitrogen-Rich Matter (called green or wet matter)

-Fresh grass clippings -Fresh weed clippings (Except weeds that have gone to seed or with persistent root systems) -Fruit and vegetable scraps (even rotten) -Egg shells

Carbon Rich Matter (called brown or dry matter)

-Wood Chips (disposable wooden cutlery included) -Dry leaves (palm leaf plates and bowls included) -Coffee grounds (including filters) -Tea leaves (including bags) -Straw/hay -Sawdust -Napkins -Paper (recycling is recommended) -Fruit pits -Bread -Pasta -Rice -Peanut shells -Natural fibers (wool, linen, cotton, untreated leather…)

Material That Should Not Be Composted

-Bones -Dairy products -Meat and Fish -Oil (fat) -Rhubarb leaves (stalks can be composted) -Weeds that have gone to seed or with persistent root systems -Treated grass -Diseased plants or leaves -Wood ashes -BBQ briquettes -Animal or human excrements (can contain pathogens) -Vacuum dust -Materials contaminated by pesticides or other dangerous products (ex. : treated wood) -Large quantities of waterlogged material

Is composting going to be smelly?

Not if you do it right… Composting only gets smelly when there is a lack of air or if there is an improper balance between the nitrogen-rich matter (green/wet) and carbon-rich matter (brown/dry). The way to resolve this is to rebalance the pile, aerate it, and make sure the bottom of the pile is not waterlogged.

Here are 10 Easy Steps to Home Composting

1) Get a garbage pail or container that you keep on the counter or under the sink. 2) Post the list of compost matter in plain view so that everyone in the home is clear on what is and isn’t compostable material. 3) Purchase a compost bin from your municipality or gardening supplies store, or if possible, make one yourself (see links below). 4) Using a shovel, prepare an area for your composter by turning the soil, preferably in a sunny, well-drained area. 5) Cover the bottom of the area with a 2 to 3-inch layer (5 to 6 cm) of small, dry branches. 6) On these branches, place a layer of dry leaves (the disposable palm leaf plates and bowls can also be used here effectively). This step will allow for air circulation and it will also improve drainage, thus helping to prevent the bottom from getting waterlogged. 7) Place 2 parts of the carbon-rich matter (brown or dry matter, including the disposable wooden cutlery and palm leaf plates) to 1 part of the nitrogen-rich matter (green or wet matter). 8) Add some finished compost from your last composting batch, or add gardening soil on top of your pile to keep the flies out of the compost bin. Some will also do this to add the necessary bacteria, similar to adding starter to a batch of yogurt. 9) You should aerate the compost pile using an aerator or a pitch fork once a week. 10) Check the degree of humidity of your compost pile from time to time. If it is dry, you can add water to the compost until the degree of humidity is similar to that of a wrung-out sponge (not a sponge that would let out water if you wring it out). Be very careful with adding water. A little water can go a long way… it is always easier to add water than to remove it!

As was mentioned in the beginning, composting is good for gardening and the environment. The final product will be rich, dark soil. Take pleasure is using it in your vegetable garden, flower beds, hanging baskets, and on your lawn. And feel good about leaving one less footprint on our beautiful planet!

Have you started composting? Share your success stories here!

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