Zero Waste Challenge Day 10: Compost

Composting is one of those incredibly simple activities that has a huge pay off. Not only is it better for the environment, but you’re left with rich, nutrient-dense soil that can be used for gardening. I love composting because it keeps food and other perishables out of the landfills so it can decompose naturally and be used later. I’ve been composting for years in my backyard, but outside of my house (such as in the office) it’s a bit more of a challenge. Can I compost anywhere?

If you have a home with a yard, all you need a bin to toss all your kitchen scraps. Most people will tell you to avoid chucking meat and oils to avoid pests and bad smells. Properly composted waste shouldn’t have a bad smell. For people who live in apartments or have compostable items in their office (like me), it’s more of a challenge. The kitchen scraps need to sit somewhere where they can break down without causing a problem with bugs or bad smells. Some people keep a bowl of compostables in their refrigerator until it can be emptied elsewhere. Others use a special container to keep their scraps. Another option is vermicomposting in which worms are used to break down the materials. I think for now, I’ll start saving my scraps in a bag or container and just regularly empty it at home.

The basics of composting are pretty simple. Anything that breaks down like produce, egg shells, paper towels, leaves, etc. get put into one place that’s ventilated and allows for drainage. As these items breakdown and decompose, they slowly turn into soil. The ratio should be about 30 parts carbon (the browns like leaves, wood chips, etc.) to 1 part nitrogen (the greens like vegetable scraps). Nature’s Path offers a thorough guide to composting for beginners. There’s some disagreement about what can go into the compost bin. I’m one of those people that tries to compost as much as possible, but some items are discouraged. The EPA gives a pretty good breakdown of what you can chuck in your compost:

What To Compost

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Eggshells
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Tea bags
  • Nut shells
  • 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

What Not To Compost and Why

  • Black walnut tree leaves or twigs
    – Releases substances that might be harmful to plants
  • Coal or charcoal ash
    – Might contain substances harmful to plants
  • Dairy products (e.g., butter, milk, sour cream, yogurt) and eggs*
    – Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
  • Diseased or insect-ridden plants
    – Diseases or insects might survive and be transferred back to other plants
  • Fats, grease, lard, or oils*
    – Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
  • Meat or fish bones and scraps*
    – Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
  • Pet wastes (e.g., dog or cat feces, soiled cat litter)*
    – Might contain parasites, bacteria, germs, pathogens, and viruses harmful to humans
  • Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides
    – Might kill beneficial composting organisms*

If you simply don’t have the space, but you’d still like to compost, another option is to see if there are any composting services in your area. Some people have made a great business out of collecting other people’s kitchen scraps and selling the nutrient-dense soil to gardeners. I’m going to start saving my scraps from work to bring home to my compost bin. Hopefully I don’t create a nuisance in the process!

Published by That Hippie Looking Chick

I'm a traveler, adventurer, upcycler, and bus dweller.

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