Why should we compost?
“About 95 percent of the food we throw away ends up in landfills or combustion facilities. In 2014, we disposed of more than 38 million tons of food waste.” The problem with sending organic material to landfills is not only that it emits large amounts of methane gas (a greenhouse gas that is 72% more powerful than carbon dioxide), it limits the amount rich soil that could be used again by living organisms and placed back in our lands, farms, and gardens. Think of all that food waste that instead could have been given back to the earth, where it belongs.
Composting is the process of turning organic material into healthy soil. It is one of the most important and effective steps you take on your journey towards a zero-waste lifestyle. If you think about it, composting really is a beautiful thing, a true representation of the circle of life. It’s essentially nature doing what it does best, being zero-waste!
Within last couple years, I’ve slowly acquired the habit of placing my kitchen scraps into a compost bowl rather than the trash can. For me, it’s been one of the easiest transitions I’ve made in my journey towards zero-waste. Once I got in the routine, it became second nature. TIP: If you don’t have a backyard compost bin to toss your scraps into, you can freeze your food scraps to reduce the rotting smell and deter ants and other bugs until you are ready to it give away.
You don’t need a yard to start composting
My husband and I currently have a yard that allows us to hold our DIY aerobic compost bin that collects our green, moist, nitrogen-rich materials (such as, apple cores, coffee grounds, grass clippings, etc.) and brown, dry, carbon-rich materials (leaves, corn stalks, cardboard, etc.) and organic household materials. There are many ways to store your compost, but we decided to keep it simple and made an open bin out of free, untreated wooden pallets. Some hardware stores are willing to give these away for free, so be sure to ask around.
Don’t judge this bin by its looks. Its beauty comes from its ability to produce organic, fertile soil!
You don’t need an outdoor bin to begin to reduce your waste! You could still collect your uncomposted food scraps and donate them! Before having a yard, we lived in small apartments without much space to hold a bin. With a quick google search, we were lucky to find a local nonprofit with a garden that welcomed our scraps with open arms.
There are plenty of other places that are happy to take organic materials. Try searching through Craigslist to find local farms, neighbors, health food stores, or community gardens that are looking for donations. Also, there are a few cities and municipalities that allow you to drop off your materials at their recycling facilities–some even provide curbside pick up. Be sure to check with yours to find out.
You can also place your organic materials into a vermicomposting bin aka a worm bin. Though, I haven’t used this system yet, it’s great for indoor composting and, best of all, not smelly!
What can I compost?
Almost all organic material can be added to a compost pile, unless it’s radioactive or diseased. To get started on your composting journey, check out a few examples below to see what and what’s not recommended to place into your food scraps/compost bin. Please note, these recommendations can change based on your municipality’s, local farm’s, or your own composting goals.
- Fruit* | Endless possibilities here! For example: apple cores, watermelon rinds, banana peels, etc.–except for citrus (see below)
- Vegetables* | Mostly all veggies! For example: leafy greens, carrots, red pepper stems, etc.
- Coffee grounds | Hallelujah!
- Loose leaf tea
- Dried leaves
- Hair and nail clippings
- Untreated wood saw dust
- Unfertilized plants, flowers, and grass clippings
- Uncolored and unbleached paper | cardboard, coffee cups, paper napkins, toilet paper rolls, etc.
- Ashes from untreated and unpainted wood
- Tofu or tempeh
* Remember to remove the sticky produce labels. You can avoid most of these labels if you purchase your produce from your local farmers market.
- Onions | Please note: onions CAN be composted, but they are recommended for worm bins (vermicomposting)
- Dairy or Meats | May attract unwanted scavengers in your compost pile–not an issue if you’re vegan! Since meats are an organic material, they can be composted, but it’s best if they are composted separately in an anaerobic bin.
- Citrus | This is unfortunate, because I go through many lemons, however citrus and many acidic scraps can kill the good bacteria in your compost. Like meats, it may be best to keep this in a separate pile if you still decide to compost.
- Cooking oil | The oil reduces air flow and slows down decomposition process. Synthetic oils are never recommended, however I’ve heard that very small amounts of natural oils like sunflower or olive oils aren’t really an issue.
- Cat and dog feces | Feces may carry harmful microorganisms and parasites that can contaminate crops when the composted soil is used on food bearing plants (this goes for cat litter too!). However, I’ve read that you can compost cat and dog feces, just don’t mix it in with your plant soil!
- Glossy paper | For example: Magazines, flyers, sticky produce labels, etc. This includes conventional wrapping paper as well. The chemicals added to this paper don’t break down and will end up in your compost with your veggies! Best to recycle.
- Used personal products | For example: Diapers, tampons, etc.
- Walnuts | Mostly, walnuts are ok, however they contain juglone which is compound that is toxic to some plants. Just something to keep in mind.
Now that the growing season is underway here in the South, we just planted some herbs and tomatoes with soil made from our first full year of composted household scraps. I’m excited to see how it will turn out.
What have been your biggest struggles with composting and/or collect food scraps from your kitchen? Let’s chat in the comments below!