What Is Composting?
Composting is the use of compost to enrich soil and give growing plants a moist environment to thrive. Compost simply refers to decaying or decomposed organic matter, such as coffee grounds, vegetable peels, apple cores, eggshells and even paper plates. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there are five different types of composting. These types of composting include onsite composting, vermicomposting, aerated windrow composting, aerated static pile composting and in-vessel composting. Read below to learn more about each of these different ways to compost and what type you will most likely use in your own home.
- On-Site Composting
On-site composting will usually be implemented by organizations or individuals who will only be composting a small amount of food waste. If you decide to learn how to compost and practice this process in your own home, you will likely follow on-site composting procedure. With on-site composting, you can use the food scraps you produce in your kitchen to help enrich your outdoor garden and yard. This is not only beneficial to the plants your want to nourish and grow, but is also favorable for earth’s environment, as on-site composting can drastically reduce the amount of food waste that individuals throw away in their homes. In addition to composting small amount of food scraps, you can also compost yard trimmings on-site. Any animal food products and waste should not be composted when you are following on-site composting procedures.
Vermicomposting is the use of worms to breakdown food scraps and other composted items such as paper or yard trimmings. This type of compost is also ideal for individuals and especially those who live in smaller spaces, such as apartments. When the worms feed on food scraps and other organic materials, it is broken down into an excellent quality of compost called castings. In order to make usable castings, worms will need to feed on your composted items for three to four months. Once the castings are ready, they can be used as potting soil. Another product that is made during vermicomposting is called “worm tea”. Worm tea can be used as a highly effective liquid fertilizer for the plants you keep in your home as well as your outdoor home garden.
3. Aerated Windrow Composting
Another type of composting called aerated windrow composting, is used to process large amounts of food scraps which are produced by entire communities or business that generate high volumes of food, such as restaurants, cafeterias and packing plants. This method requires the use of large plots of land, as it places compost into rows of lengthy piles called “windrows”. These piles are then occasionally aerated by using manual or mechanical methods. The ideal height of one of these compost piles is from four to eight feet, while the ideal width is fourteen to sixteen feet. Unlike on-site composting and vermicomposting, the aerated windrow composting method allows for the use of animal products, including fish and poultry waste.
4. Aerated Static Pile Composting
Aerated static pile composting is one way that local governments or farms can quickly produce compost from large quantities of waste. This method of composting works well when items like yard trimmings of paper products are being composted. However, it is not a good method to compost animal products. This composting process includes mixing the organic waste into a large pile and then aerating the pile by adding bulking agents, such as wood chips or shredded newspaper, so that air can freely move throughout the compost pile.
5. In-Vessel Composting
In-vessel composting is a good method to compost many types of waste, including animal products, without taking up as much space as the windrow method. During the in-vessel composting process, organic matter is placed into a drum or similar piece of equipment and is then aerated by mechanically turning the vessel.
What Items Can Be Composted?
The items that can or cannot be composted depend upon which method of composting is being used. However, because on-site composting and vermicomposting are the only two composting methods which are suitable for residential use, only compostable items for these two methods will be covered.
Because compost consists of organic material, almost any product that is natural and comes from the ground can eventually be composted. However, there are certain items that you will need to further investigate before deciding to include them in your compost bin. The items that are generally good for your compost pile are grass clippings, tree leaves, vegetable food scraps including coffee grounds, lettuce, potato peels, banana peels, avocado skins, black and white printed newspaper, printed paper, disease free yard waste, cardboard, vegetarian animal manure such as cow manure, horse manure, rabbit droppings and hamster droppings, wood shavings and sawdust.
Items that need more consideration before composting include non-vegetarian animal manure, noxious weeds, food scraps containing animal products and color printed newspaper.
Non-Vegetarian Animal Manure
Waste produced by animals that eat meat, including cats, dogs, pigs and even humans can be composted. However, this waste introduces the risk of pathogens which can spread and cause diseases. In order to kill off the microbes in a compost pile that uses the manure of non-vegetarian animals, the compost must get very hot. If you do not plan on keeping your compost pile in an area that gets very hot, such as in direct sunlight, or if you would prefer not to worry about the risk of disease, it is a good idea to stay away from using non-vegetarian manure in your compost pile.
If you use invasive weeds such as creeping Charlie or Canada thistle in your compost and then use the compost on your yard, it can sometimes cause the spread of these noxious weeds. Even if these weeds are broken up into small pieces and then thrown into your compost bin, they are still able to spread once the compost is used on the soil in your yard or garden. Using these weeds will not harm your compost, but can have negative impacts in areas where the compost is used.
Food Scraps Containing Animal Products
As mentioned, food scraps which come from animals are not a good item to include in your at home compost bin. However, food items which are not necessarily made of organic animal matter, but that come from animals can be composted. You will need to use your best judgement when deciding to compost these items. If you compost food scraps such as eggshells, dairy, fats and animal oils, animals who scavenge in the night such as raccoons, rats and opossums might be more attracted to your compost bin. These items, like eggshells, bread and noodles are a great addition to your compost pile, however they can also invite an unwelcome and highly problematic pest infestation down the line. If you use these food items often or are determined to include them in your compost bin, just make sure that your bin has a lock. If your compost bin does not have a lid or a lock, you should seriously consider not including these items in your compost pile. If eggshells are a food item that you use often and would like to compost, just make sure you wash them well before composting. Washed eggshells can be used in an open compost bin.
Color Printed Newspaper
Today, the majority of color printed newspaper or magazines use a soy based ink, making them a welcome addition to your compost pile. However, some color printed newspapers are coated in a layer of wax that will hinder the rate at which your compost becomes usable in garden or yard soil. If the color printed paper you want to compost is covered in this layer of wax, consider shredding the paper before adding it to your compost bin. If you do not have access to a paper shredder, consider leaving color printed newspaper or magazines out of your compost pile.
What Items Should Not Be Composted?
It is easy to understand why some animal products should not be composted, as they can attract pests to your compost bin. However, there are even more food items that do not come from animals which are not suitable to use during composting. Keep reading to find out which food items and non food items that you should not be composting in your home.
- Bread Products
For the same reason that it is a risk to compost animal products due to scavengers, bread products are also not recommended for composting. These food items include bread, cakes, pasta and other baked goods.
2. Cooking Oils
Like bread and animal products, cooking oil can also attract pests, such as scavengers and insects. In addition to risking a pest infestation, composting cooking oil can also disrupt the moisture balance in your compost pile.
3. Milk Products
Milk, yogurt, cheese, cream and other products with high fat contents should not be composted, as these food items can also attract pests as they decay.
4. Diseased Plants
It is important to make sure that the plants you include in your compost pile are not diseased. Throwing diseased plants in your compost bin can cause fungal or bacterial problems for your compost. This can then cause problems for the soil where you will ultimately place your finished compost.
It may come as a surprise, but composting cooked rice can actually cause dangerous bacteria to breed in your compost bin. When you compost dry rice, you are also introducing the risk of insect and rodent infestations, as these pests love to dine on dried rice.
Other items that you should consider leaving out of your compost pile are sawdust, walnuts and acidic items, such as citrus fruits and tomato products.
How To Start Composting At Home
Composting at home is simple and a great way to reduce your food waste. Simply follow the steps below to start composting your own food scraps at home.
- Select a bin for your compost pile. Ideally, composting bins should have a lid that fits tight and sit at a height of about twenty-four inches.
- Drill about eight to ten small holes in the top of your bin for aeration.
- Decide what composting base you would like to use and fill the bottom of the bin about one-fourth to one-eight inches with the base material. Compost base is commonly made up of shredded newspaper or dry leaves.
- Next, place dirt on top of your base until the container is about half full.
- Toss in a few compost friendly food scraps to get the compost pile started.
- Then, stir the compost with a shovel. As your stir, make sure to cover the food scraps with dirt.
- Wet your compost bin by spritzing with enough lukewarm water to moisten the material inside, but not to the point that it is soaking wet.
- Find a good location for your compost bin and add any compostable food scraps as you use them in your home.
It will take a couple of months for a compost pile this size to be ready for use. Once your compost pile is ready, you can then use this material to enrich the soil in your garden and yard, or sprinkle the compost over your grass to condition your lawn.
How To Reduce Your Use of Single-Use Plastics
Single use plastics are a magnificent threat to marine life and cause huge ecological problems that will have detrimental affects on the future of our earth. By reducing your use of single-use plastic, you can help to slow the rate at which these plastics are harming animal life and threatening the future of the planet we live on. Read below for a few tips on how to reduce your use of single-use plastic.
- Use reusable sandwich bags instead of those that should be thrown away after each use.
- Do not use saran wrap to cover your leftovers. Instead, choose reusable glass dish ware that will keep your leftovers fresh without wasting plastic.
- Invest in a reusable water bottle instead of drinking from single-use plastic water bottles.
- Do not use plastic straws. Instead, invest in a reusable metal or bamboo straw.
- Take your own bags when you go grocery shopping.
- Refrain from placing produce in plastic bags while grocery shopping.
- If you are faced with the choice, choose beverages in aluminum cans over those in plastic bottles.
- Instead of using paper plates or plastic ware at home, always use reusable dishes and silverware.
Both composting and reducing your use of single-use plastics are a great way to help preserve our environment. We hope these tips have you well on your way to living a more sustainable lifestyle.