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Composting at Home for Dummies

Composting at Home for Dummies

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), an estimated 30% of what Americans throw away (and, shocker, we throw away a great deal) should actually be composted instead. You may have heard of composting as a trendy thing to do to help the environment but are a little unsure about how to compost at home yourself.

So, let’s break it down for you.

What is compost?

Compost, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is defined as “organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow.” In this context, “organic” doesn’t mean fresh product from the farmer’s market (…although, by all means, compost that); rather, we’re talking about “organic” in the classic sense: things that were alive. Things like plants, animal products, paper and hair.

If you normally throw these organic materials away, then they wind up in landfills. That takes up a lot of space (and, like we said, we have a lot of trash as it is already) and releases potent methane gas into the air. Which is no good. Composting at home and using that same material to make plants grow? Way better.

If you grow things in your garden, you’ll find that compost will enrich your soil, helping it better retain its moisture while keeping pests away. Composting at home can also reduce the need for chemical fertilizers (which come with their own problems and, anyway, aren’t found for free in your trash can) and can encourage the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi.

Composting for Dummies

What can I compost?

Basically, there are three basic ingredients that the EPA recommends all compost piles have: “browns,” “greens” and water. “Browns” are defined as dead leaves, branches and twigs while “greens” can be considered things like grass clippings, fruit scraps and coffee grounds. Oh, and water is water.

Having trouble with the distinction? No problem, the EPA helpfully provides this list of compostable materials:

  • Cardboard
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Cotton and wool rags
  • Dryer and vacuum lint
  • Eggshells (not the eggs themselves, though. Make this Easy Frittata first, then get back to us!)
  • Fireplace ashes
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Grass clippings
  • Hair and fur
  • Houseplants
  • Leaves
  • Nut shells
  • Paper
  • Sawdust
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Tea bags
  • Wood chips
  • Yard trimmings

Just as important to understand, though, is what you can’t compost.

  • Black walnut tree leaves or twigs
  • Coal or charcoal ash
  • Dairy products (butter, milk, sour cream, yogurt, etc.)
  • Again, eggs. Just the shells, please.
  • Diseased or insect-ridden plants
  • Fats, grease, lards and oils
  • Meats, fish bones, scraps
  • Pet waste
  • Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides

Got it? Good. If you’re in doubt about something more specific, check with your local composting organization.

Composting for Dummies

So, how do I actually begin composting at home?
There are two major options for how to compost at home – we’ll call them “outdoor composting” and “indoor composting”

Outdoor composting can be done in your backyard, your patio, your porch or deck, or even your balcony. It’s a popular option because, as you might imagine, composting at home can get a little… fragrant, especially if not properly managed. You can do it anywhere, but it’s best to choose a dry spot (though preferably near a water source) with plenty of shade.

Moisten your browns and greens with water and add them to your compost bin as you collect them, making sure to chop or shred particularly large pieces. Try to get the less pungent browns at the top to minimize odor. You’ll want mix the pile up with a shovel (or pitchfork if you want to get real farmer-y about it) once a week to make sure the pile gets enough air.

That’s sort of it. Decay does the hard work for you. Once the material at the bottom is dark and rich in color, your compost should be ready to use. This can take some time though, generally anywhere from a few months a year.

If you live somewhere without a lot of outdoor or green space (like an apartment or condo) then you likely want to opt for “indoor composting” using a special composting bin* which makes composting at home easy and will generally eliminate odor.

Composting for Dummies

Okay, so composting is only for like… gardeners then?
Far from it! If you have no outdoor or green space and are doing the indoor composting thing, composting at home is still worthwhile. Look online to find where compost can be dropped off in your neck of the woods (farmer’s markets are usually a safe bet) because even if you don’t need it, there will be plenty of folks who can find a use for it.

Even better, in certain areas, organizations like CompostNow will pick up the compost for you on a regular basis. Just fill it up and leave it on your doorstep! This makes composting at home no more complicated than taking out the trash.

So, now that you know how to compost at home, get started and start reducing your carbon footprint today!

Sources:

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