What is compost?
Compost is the result of nature’s natural process of breaking down plant materials, such as yard waste, food scraps, or other organic material, that becomes rich and dark soil. The breakdown of these materials happens with the heat created by the bacteria from the plant material, the oxygen that controls how many microbes there will be, the nutrient mix which controls how healthy and active the microbes will be, and moisture to balance all of these elements. A good mixture of carbon-rich material, or “brown material” and nitrogen-rich material, or “green material”, altogether will create a rich and healthy mixture that will add fertility to your soil.
Composting has many environmental and economic benefits that we do not always think about. First, it greatly enriches the soil, protects plants against diseases and pests, and allows for better moisture to improve the soil structure. It then reduces the need for chemical fertilizers, as well as reducing the amount of methane and carbon dioxide released from landfills. According to Grow Ensemble, the third leading human-related cause of methane emissions in the U.S. is organic matters in landfills!
The microbes and plants from the compost are also a great source of carbon dioxide sequestration, which our atmosphere could really use. Lastly, compost has the ability to filter waters that penetrate the ground, which cleans the water flowing into our oceans and decreases the chemical pollution from farming in the ocean.
As for the economic benefits, composting can reduce the global cost of waste disposal. It has been shown that the cost of local landfills can decrease with composting; Middlebury College, The Mariners’ Safeco Field, and Joint Base Lewis-McChord are examples of institutions that have boasted savings between $100,000-$300,000 in yearly disposal costs!
Composting also transforms food waste into a valuable resource and helps farmers reduce their fertilizers and pesticide expenses. Lastly, it will give you a clearer idea of what you are throwing out, and can help you rethink your consuming habits, saving you food and money.
What to compost?
Fruits and vegetables, eggshells, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, nutshells, shredded newspaper, cardboard, paper, yard trimmings, grass clippings, houseplants, hay and straw, leaves, sawdust, wood chips, cotton and wool rags, hair and fur, fireplace ashes (According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, EPA).
Black walnut tree leaves or twigs, coal or charcoal ash, dairy products, diseased or insect-ridden plants, fats, grease, lard, or oils, meat or fish bones and scraps, pet wastes, yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides (According to the EPA).
How to compost at home?
If you have enough outdoor space to compost, you can choose a dry and shady place for your compost bin or pile (make sure you have a water source nearby). Dispose of your green and brown materials, and shred larger pieces into smaller ones. Moisturize the material as it is added, and mix it up a few times a week to provide oxygen. Once you have a pile, you can mix grass clippings and green waste into the pile and bury fruit and vegetable waste deeper into your compost material. And just like that, you have a healthy and rich compost pile!
Different ways to use your compost
Once your compost is ready, it will make a great potting mix or mulch that you can use for your plants, that will help hold moisture and maintain warm soil. You can also use it as a soil amendment to start a healthy garden bed and add nutrients. Additionally, you can make compost tea to use as a liquid fertilizer for your plant; simply leave compost in water for a couple of days, strain out all the solid material and spray your liquid around plants! (Gardening Know How). Lastly, if you have too much compost or you simply don’t want to keep it all, you can share it with neighbors who garden, or with your community and school gardens. You can even start a small business if you have the means to process, package, transport, and sell your compost!
Some everyday compostable alternatives to plastic
Moving away from plastic and finding compostable options for our everyday products is a great way to help our planet! For example, you could replace your ziplocks with storage bags made from renewable plant materials and compostable. You could also switch from plastic wraps to beeswax food wrappers that are organic and reusable, and that you can compost once they wear out. Similarly, there are many other everyday products that you can find compostable alternatives for, such as garbage bags, dryer sheets, coffee filters, bamboo hair brushes, cutlery… (click here to learn more).
Although composting might be intimidating at first, it is not as complicated and tricky as it looks. Most of our waste can be added to it, benefiting our environment, our habits, and our economy. It can also be a fun source of education for our little ones at home and spend some family time outdoors. Why don’t we try to challenge ourselves, by replacing some of our plastic products with compostable ones, and try something new for which our planet will thank us!