If you’re looking to live a more environmentally conscious lifestyle, or if you’re interested in gardening, you may have read about composting. Compost is a nutrient-rich soil additive created when plant and animal matter decomposes. With a little help from waste-conscious humans, the process of composting at home can be a great way to educate whole families on how to live a more “green” lifestyle.
According to statistics from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), household yard clippings and food waste make up somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of the waste Americans annually throw into landfills. Once there, these organic materials take up landfill space and release greenhouse gases such as methane. One way to help keep these materials out of landfills is to compost this waste at home, rather than throwing it away. The EPA provides a list of items that you can compost, and some you shouldn’t, here.
Organic material recycling has a number of rewards for your yard, greater community and overall carbon footprint. By dedicating a little time and space to proper composting, the EPA says you can start enjoying the following benefits:
There are various methods of composting, but for home use, two are likely the most practical:
Soil microbes: In this method, you moisten your materials and put them in a pile or bin, in a dry, shady spot near a water source, and wait for the items to decompose. The EPA says this can take anywhere from two months to two years.
Vermicomposting: If you’re not a fan of worms, this probably isn’t the method for you. In vermicomposting, you put red worms into a covered box lined with leaves, newspaper or dirt, according to the EPA. The red worms eat fruit and vegetable scraps you put into the container, and they leave behind droppings that the EPA says can be used as a natural plant food. Because this method takes less space than the compost piles or bins needed for soil microbes, people who live in apartments may opt for vermicomposting.
If you’re using the microbe method, turning yard and kitchen waste materials into compost is simply a matter of providing the right space, air and moisture. However, depending on where you live, the amount of waste you’ll be composting and how far you plan on traveling to add items to the compost pile, you have three basic composting options:
For vermicomposting, you can either buy or make a bin for your red worms. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln says you can turn an old drawer into your composting bin, or use a plastic storage container, making sure the lid loosely covers the bin and is not tightly latched. You’ll need to line your bin with moistened bedding for the worms, such as shredded cardboard or paper. Click here for more information on setting up a vermicomposting bin.
Now that you’ve selected and set up your compost pile or bin, it’s time to start composting! Not sure what you can compost? See the EPA’s backyard composting guide for a handy list of what to add and what not to add.