Composting is a thing these days. It has been on my mind for a while because my diet is 90% plant based, I make everything fresh and produce quite a lot of food scraps. I’ve been feeling guilty and uneasy about throwing them into the regular trash because I know exactly where they go; they’ll rot in a landfill and release powerful greenhouse gases. Unacceptable for the environmentally conscious person.
My excuse has been that I don’t have a garden where I can compost. You can do indoor composting too, but if you want to do it on your own, you need worms, also called Vermicomposting. That isn’t very attractive to me either. I just don’t feel comfortable with worms at home. Maybe I am acting a bit too much like ‘The Princess and the Pea’ here, but no, worms and I won’t be friends or roommates. Luckily nowadays composting services and waste sharing communities are popping up everywhere, so there is simply no excuse not to do it anymore.
Why You Should Care About Composting?
Food left to rot in landfills releases powerful greenhouse gases, which many consider a contributor to climate change. If food waste was a country, it would be the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after the US and China according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Further a third of all food produced is lost or wasted. Think about how much food you are throwing away that’s gone bad because you bought too much or didn’t pay attention to until it was too late….
A third of all food produced is around 1.3 billion tonnes of food and it’s costing the global economy nearly $1 trillion each year. Yet, at the same time one in nine people don’t have enough food to eat. If a quarter of the food currently wasted or lost could be saved, it would be enough to feed the world’s hungry people.
By 2050 another two billion people are expected to join the planet. The global challenge then is to create a sustainable food system that can be shared by all. The solution to food waste is simple – stop throwing it away!
So home composting is a way to stop waste from going to landfill. It also restores vitality to depleted soil, once the matter is degraded and makes nutrient-dense garden fertilizer to aid plant growth. Soil health is also a big conversation in regenerative agriculture.
What Exactly Is Composting & What’s Compostable?
Composting is a process of breaking down different organic matter together to produce a rich nutrient-filled soil matter that can be used again.
- Fruits and vegetables
- Coffee grounds and filters
- Tea bags
- Nut shells
- Shredded newspaper
- Yard trimmings
- Grass clippings
- Hay and straw
- Wood chips
- Cotton and Wool Rags
- Dryer and vacuum cleaner lint
- Hair and fur
- Fireplace ashes
For a list of what NOT to compost click here.
The Three Basic Ingredients
- Greens: materials such as grass clippings, vegetable waste, fruit scraps, and coffee grounds.
- Browns: materials such as dead leaves, branches, and twigs, paper, cardboard etc.
- Water: the right amount of water, greens, and browns is important for compost development.
The green materials provide nitrogen for your compost, brown materials provide carbon, and the water provides moisture to help break down the organic matter.
You need an equal amount of browns to greens for your compost pile. Best is to alternate layers of organic materials of different-sized particles. Regular mixing or turning of the compost and some water will help maintain the compost.
It’s important to tend to your pile and keep track of what you throw in. A well managed compost bin will not attract pests or rodents and will not smell bad.
- A hoe, a pitchfork, or a cultivator, square-point shovels or machetes, and water hoses with a spray head (for outside composting). You can get all supplies at a local hardware store, gardening supplies store or order online.
- A bin for collecting your kitchen scraps. Countertop options range from plastic to ceramic to stainless steel. Each compost crock comes with charcoal filters to eliminate any smells in the house. An affordable and visually pleasing one is the Bamboozle Food Composter, Indoor Food Compost Bin.
Collecting the Scraps
Stick to uncooked vegetable and fruit peels and yard waste. Stay away from meat and cooked food. If they are left untreated, they could putrefy. The strong scent of rotting meat could attract the wrong kind of pests.
- Select a dry, shady spot near a water source.
- Dig a deep hole or trench in the ground.
- Add brown and green materials as they are collected, shred or chop larger pieces.
- Moisten dry materials as they are added.
- Bury it with eight to ten inches of soil, and let nature do its thing.
- Optional: Cover top of compost with a tarp to keep it moist.
- When the material at the bottom is dark and rich in color, your compost is ready to use. This usually takes anywhere between two months to two years. But there’s no real need to harvest it because it’s already in the right place, microbes and insects have already consumed them, pooped out and dispersed them. Unless you want to use it as a fertilizer for something specific.
If you don’t want to dig a trench you can use outdoor compost bins. There are basically two types:
- A rotary-style composter, which can be placed anywhere and keeps all the material organized and off the ground. They produce compost quickly because they are easy to turn and aerate the material, but tend to dry out more quickly.
- An on-ground compost bin. It keeps material contained and in contact with the soil, which helps keep moisture content high and adds naturally occurring microbes and worms to the process.
Same general composting rules apply as listed above. You can get all supplies at a local hardware store or gardening supplies store.
If you don’t have access to outdoor space vermicomposting (worms) is a popular method. Basically the worms, called red wigglers, will eat about half their weight in food scraps. You can build a worm composting bin yourself with a five-gallon storage bin, like a Sterilite, and drill some holes for air for example. It’s also possible to purchase worm composting bins. You have to keep your bin in an indoor space as you do not want the worms to freeze in the winter or get too warm in the summer.
For a step-by-step guide on what you need and how to do vermicomposting click here.
All indoor compost materials can be bought at a local hardware store, gardening supplies store, make yourself or order online.
If Home Composting Isn’t For You
You have two options, you either find a community compost near you where you can drop off your food waste or you can hire a food waste pickup service.
Compostable’s Food Waste Pick Up Service collects your food waste weekly or bi-weekly for a fee. They deliver you a startup kit, which includes a 4-gallon sealable bin and sawdust pouch, and choose a good place for you to leave your bin for pickup. After pickup, they leave you a clean bin and take your compostables to their nonprofit partner for processing. Super easy! They also provide a list of compostables to guide you.
If you don’t want to pay for a service….
LA Compost is a network of community composters maintaining compost hubs throughout LA County. Their team of educators and soil enthusiasts build and facilitate cohesive composting communities for individuals and communities in shared spaces.
A community compost hub is a space where food scraps are processed into finished compost. They are shared spaces in gardens, schools, parks, places of worship and places of work. These hubs are available for food scrap drop off, compost education and hands on learning. You can go on their site and find a compost hub near you.
Compostable and LA Compost are Los Angeles specific but Share Waste is a global community. It originated in Australia but now has networks of people all over the world.
Share Waste connects people who wish to recycle their kitchen scraps with their neighbors who are already composting, worm-farming or keep chickens. Also here you go to their website, create an account, type in your location and you will see a map with locations near you.
Litterless is a ‘where to compost’ directory for all over the US. You can search by state.
I chose the food waste pick up service with my current living situation. If you don’t want to pay the full fee maybe ask your neighbor to share the cost and bin with you.
Either way, there’s an option for everyone, it’s only a question of how much time and energy you want to invest and what works best for you. It’s also very satisfying to be part of this sustainable living movement.
To dig deeper into the subject matter with a little help of a pro check out the book Compost City by Rebecca Louie.