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The Real Reason You Should Be Composting and How to Do It Properly

In its simplest form, composting is a relatively easy and effective way to give back to the earth. By returning left-over materials from the food we consume to the ground, we help enrich the soil that will then feed our gardens and farms.

But there’s actually more to it than that. The importance of composting goes beyond waste reduction. By integrating composting into your disposal routine, you can actually help protect the environment from climate change

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), food waste accounts for approximately 8% of greenhouse gas emissions caused by humanity. What this means is that efforts like composting and carbon gardening presents a great opportunity for you and collective communities like SOMO Village to do our part.

This article will explain the ins and outs of composting, why it’s important, and how you can compost at home, whether you live in a house with a yard or in a condo building.

What is composting and why is it so important?

Someone planting a small plant in dirtComposting is the process of food remnants breaking down into nutrient-rich soil. It is a type of recycling that reuses scraps and biodegradable debris to feed other plants, thereby eliminating unnecessary food waste. 

Here are three major ways that composting makes a difference to the planet: 

  • Environmentally beneficial: It reduces harmful greenhouse gas emissions and eliminates the need for farmers and gardeners to use chemical fertilizers. 
  • Soil improvement: The nutrients and organisms that result from compost help your lawn, plants and garden thrive.
  • Waste reduction: Composting limits the amount of household waste that ends up in garbages and landfills.

5 tips on how to compost at home properly

If you’re looking to start your own compost, these five tips will take you through the necessary steps to properly dig in!

Tip 1: Choose how you’ll compost

Food scraps decomposing on the earthBefore you begin your composting journey, you’ll need to decide how you’d like to assist your food scraps in decomposing. There are three major ways that you can go about the process: 

  1. Hot composting
  2. Cold composting 
  3. Vermicomposting

In this section, we break down the meaning of these three different types of composting.

1. What is hot composting?

Hot composting, also known as active composting, is the most effective way to turn your food waste into nutrient-dense soil. In this type of system, the compost pile can reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees fahrenheit, and the “active” component refers to how the heat basically bakes out any unwanted organisms.

When putting together a hot compost, you’ll need to use about three times more dry than wet waste and turn your pile frequently to keep the heat up. Your compost will also need to be at least three feet in diameter in order to work.

2. What is cold composting?

This type of composting is known as either cold or passive composting. Although less effective than hot composting, this process takes a lot less effort. 

Cold composting is similar to hot composting in the items that you can and cannot add to your pile of waste. The major difference, however, is that you can simply let this pile be. That is, you don’t need to use specific dry to wet waste ratios and there’s much less “managing” of your pile.

That said, the reduced effort required for a cold compost pile does result in a much longer decomposition period—sometimes taking up to a year or more. 

3. What is vermicomposting?

Vermicomposting may sound complicated but it’s actually just a fancy way to say worm composting. In this form of composting, the worms do all of the hard work for you, breaking down your food scraps.

This option works well both outdoors and indoors, since it doesn’t require the larger pile of decomposing food materials like hot and cold composting does.

Tip 2: Build or buy the right kind of compost bin

A woman putting food scraps into a compost binOnce you know what type of composting you’ll be doing, you can decide on the container that you will use. You can choose to build your own or go out and buy one.

If you decide to put together your own bin, the easiest way to do this is to drill holes into the bottom of a large plastic container—this is done for ventilation purposes. Trash cans or storage bins are two options that would work here.

For those of you who have a yard or large outdoor space, you can also choose to construct a wooden crate to do your composting in. Just make sure it has an elevated bottom to let air flow through.

You can also purchase containers specifically made for composting, such as a tumbler. This type of bin does exactly what its name suggests—tumbles the food waste around inside.

Pro tip: Get a smaller compost bin for your kitchen, so you can easily put your food scraps in a convenient place while cooking or preparing your food! Once it gets full, move your waste to your larger container outdoors.

Tip 3: Know what you can and cannot compost

Someone preparing food on a countertopNot all organic material is created equal—at least not when you’re composting. For example, certain matter like discarded animal fat, meat or even bones, should not go into an outdoor compost as these scraps would likely attract unwanted animals.

Items such as pet fecal matter should also never go into a compost, since this material can contain harmful parasites and bacteria.

Here is a list of what you can compost:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Coffee grounds and loose tea leaves
  • Eggshells
  • Pastas and crackers
  • Rice and other grains
  • Flour, spices and other dry goods
  • Paper and newspapers
  • Wood chips
  • Sea shells

Below are items that you cannot compost:

  • Inorganic materials, i.e. rocks and glass
  • Animal fat, meat and bones
  • Entire eggs
  • Dairy products
  • Seafood and shellfish
  • Grease
  • Animal feces
  • Yard trimmings if you use pesticides or weed killers

Tip 4: Make sure you have the right ingredients

Shoveling potting soilYou know that your pile will be made up of discarded food and other organic material, but there are also a few other items that a healthy compost needs.

Aside from scraps and other biodegradable waste materials, known as green matter, you’ll also need:

  • Brown matter: These are dry carbon sources, such as brown paper bags, fallen leaves, coffee grounds and wood chips. Without browns, your compost would end up as one big slimy mess.
  • Water: If your compost doesn’t feel moist, it’s important to spray it with some water. This typically isn’t a problem for outdoor piles if you get enough rain but could be an issue in dryer weather or if you have an indoor compost.
  • Oxygen: Piles of composting material must be aerated so that the organisms breaking down your food can survive. This is one of the reasons the brown materials are so important, as they help keep air flowing through the pile.

Tip 5: Compile your compost properly

Someone digging in dirt with their handsThis tip is especially important if you are composting using the active or passive method—rather than vermicomposting. You might be surprised to learn that you can’t just throw a bunch of organic material in a pile and expect it to decompose—at least, not well.

In order to properly compost your food waste, you’ll want to follow the below steps on putting your pile together:

  1. Shred your materials: Before adding your scraps to your compost, break them down into smaller pieces. You can do this by ripping, cutting or shredding them. This step will help your waste break down faster.
  2. Layer your “ingredients”: Alternate brown and green materials in order to keep air flowing through your pile, deter pests and reduce odors. Your first and last layer should be made up of dry brown matter—alternate until your pile is at least 2 feet high.
  3. Keep it damp, not wet: Water your compost to begin with and regularly check on it. The pile should always be kept damp—but it should not feel soaking wet.
  4. Turn the “active” pile: You only need to take this step if you are working with a hot or active compost. As soon as the center of your pile begins to cool, it’s important to rake or stir your compost to continue the decomposition process.

How to compost if you live in a condo

Compost, waste, and recycling bin

Many of the tips that we’ve recommended in this article won’t work as well if you live in an apartment or condo. So, how can you properly compost if you live in the unit of a multi-story building?

Here are a few tips for condo dwellers on how to compost at home:

  • Join a community garden
  • Learn more about nearby agrihoods
  • Sign up for compost services
  • Start small with houseplants or herb boxes
  • Go by the 1:3 ratio of green to brown material
  • Use compostable bags

If you’re interested in living in a close-knit community that offers the conveniences of city life with the best of country living, then we invite you to download our Residential Project Brief to learn more about SOMO Village or to get in touch with us today.

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