Home Composting - Where Do You Start?
You’ve done it. You’ve made the switch to an eco-friendly product that can be composted at the end of its lifespan. Great! Now you can leave behind nothing but joyful memories. Then you realise, “Hmm, I don’t have a home compost and the green council bin doesn’t accept organic waste”… now what?
You throw it in the trash. You tell yourself that it’s compostable so it must still decompose in landfill, right?
Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. When compostable products are sent to the landfill instead of being placed in a compost bin, the products typically remain there for several years. The microorganisms that are essential parts of the composting process (carbon, water, oxygen, and nitrogen) are not present in landfills, so the degrading of organic material takes a very long time.
What is present in landfills is rainwater, rodents, methane gases, and odours caused by items that could very easily have been composted, but instead lay on top of the ground and ultimately contribute to global warming.
But don’t be disheartened, the simplest way to overcome this is to start a home compost! And it really is super easy to do so! It can be big or small, indoors or outdoors, store-bought or homemade. The only requirement is to add a mixture of organic waste material so it can decompose.
What is compost?
Compost is a highly prized soil amendment (think of it as a treatment) among gardeners because of all the wonderful things it does to the soil and for plant life. Any organic material can be composted instead of being trashed. Composting these materials keeps the items out of the landfills, and even better the ocean, and gives the material a second useful life.
Ok, but what do I put in a compost?
Here’s the trick. A compost pile is made up of kitchen waste items (food scraps, peels, coffee grounds etc) and ‘brown’ waste (dried leaves, bamboo, straw, paper bags, newspapers etc). Ensuring a proper mixture of these materials ensures that your compost pile works properly. Without a good mix, your compost may not heat up, meaning it will take longer to break down, and it may even start to smell bad (this is easy to fix - more on that later!)
Kitchen Waste - Utilising a Food Scrap Bin
To get started, begin with where most of the organic waste material suitable for a compost bin is generated… the kitchen. Since this is an important ingredient for your compost it makes sense to have some type of food scrap bin in the kitchen. This can be as ordinary as a coffee can with a lid kept under the sink, to as fancy as a store-bought kitchen compost bin that sits on the counter and looks like an expensive kitchen appliance.
Use the food scrap bin as a container to hold food waste until it’s full then empty into a larger receptacle that is usually placed outside (remember those black bins that you used to see outside as a child but didn’t really know what it was? Or is that just me? Anyway, something similar to that).
Place all vegetable and fruit peelings in the chosen food scrap bin, along with leftover scraps from meals. Anything that is not a dairy, meat, or fish product, or that contains fat, is perfect for adding to the food scrap bin.
Food Waste And The Environmental Damage
Food waste that finds its way to landfills releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is at least 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Additional to this when food is disposed of, it also wastes the resources that went into growing it. Growing, transporting, and processing also has to be factored into the environmental damage that food waste causes. An estimated $220 billion worth of usable food ends up in landfill each year. Add a $170 billion on due to the water that was used to grow the food and you can see both the environmental and financial damage that food waste creates for us and the planet.
Brown Waste - Non-Food Compostable Products
As we mentioned earlier, a good mix of food waste and brown waste is essential for a healthy compost. The good news is any organic material is suitable for composting. If it contains any synthetic materials then avoid chucking it in. Compost bins need good airflow to promote decomposition and a little moisture. As long as the air and moisture are at the right levels your compost will not have an odour, however if decomposing material is not getting air or is too wet, it will begin to smell. The simplest way to fix this is to add more brown waste!
Brown waste suitable for composting is:
- Houseplant waste created from dead leaves, pruning, or when the houseplant dies, add it to the compost bin.
- Paper from junk mail, newspapers (black print only), and other forms of paper were created from trees and can be composted and recycled back into food for trees. Shred the paper first before adding to the compost bin so it will decompose faster. Avoid glossy, waxy, or heavily coloured paper for example a magazine. If this is the case, put it straight in recycling
- Human hair and pet fur make good additions to the compost bin.
- Animal manure from gerbils, rabbits, hamsters, chickens, cows, etc. Any animal manure, except cat and dog waste, is great for composting.
- Bamboo toothbrushes, bamboo cotton buds, organic cotton, dryer lint, floor debris, wine corks, cardboard should be tossed on the compost pile.
- Yard waste, like grass clippings, leaves, small twigs, pine needles, and dead plant matter will decompose and transform into nutrient-rich compost.
Lower Your Environmental Footprint with a Home Compost
You can’t save the world single handedly, but you can lower your environmental footprint by reducing your waste with your very own home compost. Save your food scraps in a kitchen food bin, dump them in your outside compost bin, and mix with all other organic material to create nutrient-rich plant food for your garden. If you don’t have a garden, you could donate the compost to a friend or community garden.
If you live in an apartment block with a shared outside area, reach out to your neighbours and discuss starting a community compost.
If after reading this, composting still seems like a daunting task, our only advice would be to start small. You don’t need to be a pro-gardener to make it work. Even if you reduce the amount of waste that your household sends to landfill only slightly, you are taking a step in the right direction!
Peace & love,
- Tear/shred/chop everything that goes in your compost for faster decomposition
- Alternate the layers of food waste (green waste) and brown waste
- A good ratio to aim for is 4:1, 4 ‘brown’ waste parts, to 1 green waste part
- Add water as needed to keep the materials damp but not saturated
- Mix the compost occasionally with a pitch fork or similar
- If it starts to smell, simply add more brown waste (paper, leaves, etc)