How to Start Composting

By Megan Dalton

Earth Day passed on April 22, and at this time each year, we witness a lot of “green” products and initiatives roll out that insist purchasing more will save the planet. The truth is that overconsumption is detrimental to the environment, and you should use everything you already have before purchasing anything new. For example, if you purchase a metal straw, don’t just throw away all of the plastic ones you still have. The plastic straws are going to end up as waste regardless, so it only makes sense to get your use out of them or give them to someone who will before discarding them. 

By adopting this method of using what you already have, there are tons of creative ways to recycle and reduce the amount of waste you produce. One of these methods that tends to be underutilized is composting your food waste. The United States Environmental Protection Agency outlines that composting can lower your carbon footprint, enrich soil, and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers in plants and gardens. Composting is a simple method of giving back to the environment because it makes use of food scraps you already have and does not require more than an air-tight bin or dedicated outdoor space.

How to Compost

The EPA’s basics to composting include understanding the three parts- browns, greens, and water. Browns are items like dead leaves or sticks, and greens are items like fruit and veggie waste, grass, and coffee grounds. The amount of browns and greens in your compost should be about equal and composed of materials of various sizes to allow room for microbial growth. It is recommended to bury food scraps about midway down your compost to prevent any pests, rodents, or smells from arising. You can also keep a tarp over your pile to retain moisture and keep out anything that is not supposed to be there.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance explains that composts should have a moisture content of 50-60%, which can be determined by completing a simple test. Grab a handful of your compost materials and squeeze. A few drops of water should escape your handful, indicating that there is the correct amount of water in your compost pile. If you do not see any water come out, try adding more and reduce the amount of water if your compost is soaking. 

Within a few months, compost should be ready to use as fertilizer. Using compost as fertilizer is what reduces the need for chemical fertilizers and enriches your soil. You will know it is ready to be used when the material at the bottom of the bin is a dark, rich color. 

Once your compost pile is established, maintaining it is a pretty simple task. Identify what food scraps you produce that are compostable. This might include the grounds from your morning coffee, the eggshells from breakfast, the skin, or even any part of a fruit or vegetable that you don’t like eating. You can add these each day or keep a small container of things to add at the end of the week. When these greens are added to your compost pile, add an equal amount of browns like dead leaves or wood chips, and make sure there is enough water. 

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