Composting: The Greenest (and Brownest) Way to Recycle
By Kevin Pink, Customer Service and Marketing Assistant
When you think of “green actions”, recycling is probably the first thing on your mind. Keeping cans and bottles out of landfills by turning them into other products is very important. However, there is another kind of recycling that you may not immediately consider, and it is also very important. Composting is the process by which organic matter (such as food scraps, dead leaves, and grass clippings) becomes a nutrient-rich soil additive, which can help improve the growth of new organic material. Sounds a lot like recycling, huh?
How Does it Work?
- It’s all natural. Composting is basically a sped-up version of the decomposition that already occurs in nature. It’s helping the bacteria and fungi that normally eat organic waste to help you: you provide the food source, and they turn it into “black gold”. Compost will happen on its own, and while we can certainly help speed it up, there isn’t much we can do to make the process go wrong.
- Mix it up. Microorganisms consume carbon-rich materials for energy, and nitrogen-rich materials to make proteins, the building-blocks of life. Making proteins is hard work, and those microorganisms need to feast on delicious carbon to keep up their strength! It’s important to feature the right combination of “browns” (carbon-rich materials like dead leaves, hay, twigs) and “greens” (nitrogen-rich materials like fresh grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, and coffee grounds). For a full list of compostable material, and a list of what you cannot compost, head to the Environmental Protection Agency’s home composting page.
- Three to One Rule: Three parts browns to one part greens is the proper ratio to keep your microorganisms happy and efficient. Too much of any one thing will produce odors (i.e., a huge clump of grass clippings), but restoring a 3:1 ratio will eliminate those odors.
- Let It Go! Mix your greens and browns in the right proportions, provide a little water (which is as important to these hardworking microorganisms when they’re making protein as it is to you when you’re at the gym) and some oxygen, and you’ve opened a compost factory. Your compost should be ready in 6 months to a year. To keep your pile going strong in winter, collect and store (separately) browns like fallen leaves during autumn. The inner rolls of paper towels or toilet paper, as well as newspaper, can serve as sources of browns in a pinch.
- No animal products. One thing is crucial- meat and dairy items do not play well with this kind of composting. If you do not include them, you should have a happy, odor-free compost factory. Adding in meat and dairy will not only make your compost smell, but also attract insects and other animals, which you certainly do not want rooting through the pile.
How Can I Compost at Home?
- Compost in a pile. Build a 3’x3’x3’ pile of mixed greens and browns. Remember to keep the pieces small, because microorganisms decompose it more efficiently when the pieces are smaller. Add small amounts of water to drier brown items. Once your pile is established, bury new additions like salad scraps and eggshells at least 10” deep. Turn the pile regularly with a pitchfork, and cover it with a tarp when you’re not adding to it. You can also enclose your pile in wood pallets or plywood, as long as air can get in.
- Compost in a container (like Jack’s Solar Composter, which can be purchased from EcoBuilding Bargains). This follows the same rules as composting in a pile, except it is typically easier because containers like Jack’s Solar Composter are hinged so that they can tumble, mixing the compost for you with very little effort.
- Compost with Worms! If you aren’t ready to use a pile or bin to compost outside, or don’t have the space on your property, never fear! You can use the power of worms to compost in your home in a clean, odor-free way too! Check out our previous blog on the exciting world of vermicomposting!
What Are the Benefits of Composting?
- Reduces methane released into the atmosphere. Exposing compost to plenty of oxygen causes it to produce carbon-dioxide as it decomposes. Buried in a landfill, the lack of oxygen would induce your organic waste to give off methane instead, which is much more harmful to the atmosphere than carbon-dioxide.
- Feeds trees. Trees turn carbon dioxide into sugars during the process of photosynthesis, so your compost helps a hungry tree!
- Reduces dependence on chemical fertilizers. Why use polyethoxylated tallowamine to help your garden grow when you can use leftover salad instead?
- Saves Money. Are you paying a local transfer station or waste service to take dead leaves and other brush off your hands? Compost it, and turn those browns into the kind of green that lives in your wallet!
- Supercharges your plants. Do you have a flower or vegetable garden? What about house plants? Mix some finished compost in with the soil you plant in. Your plants will be healthier and more resistant to disease, and any food grown in compost-rich soil will have even more vitamins and minerals than normal!
So there you have it- composting is a low- or no-cost step you can take at home to reduce your carbon footprint, cut down on food waste, pump up your garden, and live a happier, healthier life. Talk about having a green thumb!