Learning about the importance of composting and how to compost at home can help you cut back on your waste and save the planet.
If the word compost makes you think of a smelly pile of rotting materials or a farm, you’re not alone!
But it doesn’t have to be like that. While a compost bin can certainly be smelly, that’s not always the case! You can find a method of composting that works for you no matter where you live — city, country, apartment building, you name it — that’s odor free.
In this piece we break down the importance of composting at home and specifically why it’s important to compost food waste.
What is Compost
Simply put, compost is decomposed organic matter that is rich in nutrients and can be used as a fertilizer for soil and new plants.
Plant matter, animal products, animal waste, food scraps, and all organic matter will decompose on its own, but the act of composting provides the right environment to speed up the process.
The end result, compost, is used to fertilize and nourish soil to continue growing healthy plants and food.
What is Composting
The act of composting is creating the right environment for organic materials to decompose in to ultimately create a nutrient rich compost that can be used as a fertilizer for soil for future crops and planting. It is possible to compost at home or on an industrial scale.
Why is Composting Important?
There are two main reasons composting is so important: it helps improve soil health, and it reduces the amount of trash sent to a landfill, specifically food waste.
How Does Composting Improve Soil Health?
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- The chemical composition of compost helps soil to hold on to moisture and nutrients.
- Bacteria, fungi, and other elements make compost an excellent natural fertilizer.
- Due to those (good) bacteria, it can improve soil health and prevent diseases and harmful organisms from forming in the soil.
Why Is It Important to Divert Items From the Landfill?
- There are 3,091 active landfills in the U.S. as of 2021 and in 2018, according to the EPA 292.4 million tons of waste were generated. About half of that is headed to a landfill.
- Roughly 30% of the waste sent to landfills is organic and can be composted.
- Less organic waste rotting in a landfill means less greenhouse gas emissions.
- Less waste going to the landfill also reduces the amount of trash pickups, letting your tax money go to work elsewhere.
Why Is It Important To Compost Food Waste?
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- The problem begins when organic matter (like food waste) is sent to a landfill. The conditions in a landfill do not allow it to break down and instead it sits there, rots, and emits methane.
- Methane is a harmful greenhouse gas (a gas that absorbs heat and sends it back to the surface of earth) and is responsible for 10% of greenhouse gas emissions.
- In the U.S. landfills are the third greatest source of methane emissions. Roughly 17% of methane emissions come from landfills.
What Do You Need To Successfully Compost
During the composting process, microorganisms are eating and breaking down the organic matter in the compost pile.
These microorganisms require oxygen (from introducing air to the process like turning or mixing); water (which comes from food scraps); Nitrogen and Carbon which comes from food waste and plant fibers; and soil which is where the microorganisms originate from.
There are many different types of compost piles and depending on your situation, these elements need to exist in the compost pile at certain ratios to produce results.
Different Types of Composting At Home
Almost anyone can compost at home and there are several different methods that can get the job done. Each of the following three methods has different ways to go about composting for that specific method.
Aerobic composting needs air for the microorganisms to work and decompose organic matter. Air needs to be incorporated into the compost pile whether through mixing or providing other forms of ventilation. This is the most commonly preferred method of composting at home.
If aerobic needs air then you’ve probably guess an anaerobic doesn’t need air. These types of composts use completely different organisms for decomposition. They’re placed in a sealed ‘location’ then covered with soil. Anaerobic composting is typically used for large scale composting and generating renewable energy.
Vermicomposting uses the aerobic method of composting combined with the power of worms to create a type of super compost (with more nutrients than regular compost). You can have a vermicompost in your backyard or even right in a tiny apartment if you’re comfortable with worms as housemates. For vermicomposting you need specific worms that eat your food scraps, paper, plants, & wood, poop it out, and give you super compost!
How To Compost At Home
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There are many different ways to compost, the most important step is figuring out what kind of compost pile you want to have. How Stuff Works has an excellent guide to figuring out where and how to create a compost pile in your backyard.
If you live in an apartment building, condo, townhouse, or just aren’t ready to use your backyard for decomposing organic material yet, that’s okay! There are many tools that exist to help you reduce what you send to the landfill while helping the earth.
Other Options If You Cannot Compost At Home
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Check to see if your city has a composting program. You might be able to take your food scraps to a specific location where they will be composted or there may be an option for curbside collection programs.
Always check before showing up unannounced but many local farms and/or farmer’s markets may be interested in taking your scraps and adding them to a compost to use for fertilizer.
Donate Food Scraps to Animals
Some animal sanctuaries accept food scraps to use as feed for the animals.
If your city doesn’t have a program that works for you, you can always check if there are private companies that offer the service in your city.
For more resources on starting a compost pile, check out your local city website or the following: