These expert tips will make composting at home a total breeze

We all want to be more sustainable and eco-friendly, but today, there’s so much pressure to be a purist that it can be intimidating—not to mention costly or geographically unattainable. That’s why, throughout April, Going Green Without Going Mad will unpack how to be more eco-conscious without sacrificing your sanity or 401k. We’re diving into the truths about sustainable fashion, talking about the business of going green, and highlighting the brands and people making changes toward a better and safer planet.

When you think of composting, you probably imagine having a backyard filled with chickens, a chain-link fence, and a big plastic bin with layers upon layers of compost inside. While there may be some truth behind this, there are actually more convenient ways to give back to the planet—and they don’t even require a backyard.

According to The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in its 2015 Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures Fact Sheet, 34 percent of Americans compost. While that number may seem low, the EPA has claimed that recycling food waste has been growing in popularity, from 1.84 million tons in 2013 to 2.1 million tons in 2015.

But why should people put composting on their radar in the first place? Lauren Singer, founder of Trash Is For Tossers and Package Free, says it can literally save Mother Earth. “When you throw something organic into a landfill, it doesn’t actually biodegrade the same way that normal things biodegrade using aerobic digestion, or digestion with the presence of oxygen,” she explains. “And what that happens, it releases methane gas, which is up to a hundred times more effective of a warming gas, and carbon dioxide.”

According to Singer, we need to address short-term climate impact to reduce methane gas, and one of the biggest drivers of methane is—you guessed it—animal agriculture and landfills. “Throwing foods into the landfill is actually one of the worst things you can do,” she says.

But if composting intimidates you, don’t fret. Below is the complete breakdown (pun intended) of how and why you should compost at home, so that you can give back not only to the earth, but to your community as well. “We all have the power now to help [our] community be more sustainable and give fresh food to an area that might not have access to fresh food,” Singer says. “If you pull resources and distribute responsibilities, you can make a really positive impact.”

What is composting?

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), composting is a process that helps speed up the natural decay of organic material by providing the “ideal environment for bacteria and other decomposing microorganisms.” This mixture usually involves food scraps, cardboards, and other natural materials to create nutrient-packed garden soil that can be used for growing plants and crops.

How to compost at home

“One of the best ways to learn is to talk to a farmer,” says Singer. “So many cities have a farmers market. There’s usually always a community of people who care about agriculture.” However, if you don’t have a farmers market near your home, below are a few different ways you can compost.

Freezer Compost:

“The best thing to do is keep your compost in a freezer because it doesn’t take up that much space,” advises Singer. Even better, this method will prevent your food scraps from spoiling and smelling. All you need is a large metal or plastic container to help keep your compost cold. Once the container is full, place your compost in a paper bag and drop it off at your nearest farmers market, where there’s usually a drop-off composting site available.

Worm Compost:

Worm composting, or vermicomposting, is when red wiggler worms help create the nutrient-based soil for gardening. For this kind of composting, you’ll need the below ingredients, according to the EPA:

  • Two-pounds of red wiggler worms (according to Local Roots NYC)
  • Two plastic bins
  • A drill to drill holes into the top of the bins
  • Window screen materials
  • Waterproof glue
  • Shredded paper
  • A small amount of soil
  • Water
  • A trowel
  • Food scrap container

However, if you prefer not to go down the DIY route, you can go to Amazon or a local eco-friendly story to buy a kit that is already prepared for all your composting needs. Keep in mind, you’ll need a warm spot (around 55-75 degrees) for this form of composting to work.

Outdoor Composting:

If you’re one of the lucky few who has a back or front yard, then you can go the traditional route and do outdoor composting. According to SodGod, you want to make sure the area you choose for your compost is no smaller than 3’ x 3’ x 3’ but up to 5’ x 5’ x 5’ at a maximum, as a “pile within this range will cultivate the ideal anaerobic environment for compost breakdown.”

Next, opt for a dry, shady spot. Spread your first brown layer (things like dry straws and leaves will work), then add a green layer (like fruits and vegetables). Next, spread a layer of garden soil and add water to moisten the dry materials. As the days go on, you’ll want to turn the compost with a pitchfork to help speed up the decaying process. The process can take anywhere from one to two months to deliver nutrient-rich soil.

What can be composted?

“It depends on the kind of combustion you’re doing,” says Singer. “Anything that comes from a natural source—so paper, paper towels, animal products, human nails, and hair” can work, she says. On the other hand, she adds, “Certain things like eggshells and animal fat take longer to break down, especially if it’s for a smaller composting setup.”

According to the EPA, you want to have a nice mixture of green and brown materials (with a little bit of water). Fruits and vegetables, teabags, paper, grass trimmings, eggshells, and cardboard are just some of the items you can include.

What can’t be composted?

The things you want to steer clear of are dairy products, oils, grease, meat, fish, and pet waste. These materials might contain parasites, cause odors, or kill beneficial composting bacteria, according to the EPA.

What are the benefits of composting?

“Municipal solid waste is food waste. So not only does it prevent methane from being released, but it also reduces tax cost because there’s less garbage that needs to be hauled, which is a taxpayer expense,” explains Singer. Plus, according to a study issued by Bioresource Technology, plants grow more quickly in soil that has been supplemented with compost, and greenhouse emissions tend to be lower for composting facilities than for landfills.

Singer adds that composting also helps put nutrients back into the soil, so there’s less demand for synthetic fertilizers. “You keep soil healthy, and healthy soil makes more productive food systems, which feeds people. It’s honestly a win-win,” she says.

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