Composting 101: How to Compost for Beginners
Updated: Aug 15
This week is International Compost Awareness Week (yes, that is a thing)! Composting is a critical way to reduce the impacts of food waste, an issue that is of particular concern during this pandemic. So, I thought this would be the perfect time to spread a little awareness of my own about composting. Let's dive on into the subject!
When was the last time you thought about the environmental impact of the banana peel you throw away after finishing your banana? Or how about the lawn clippings you throw out after a long day of yard work? Chances are these aren't things most of us regularly think about.
The average American household generates roughly 650 pounds of compostable materials each year (www.sodgod.com/composting/). Many of us are aware of plastic waste, but most don’t think about organic waste, i.e., food scraps and yard waste. That banana peel, along with the rest of the food scraps, spoiled food, and yard clippings we throw away weekly, is sent to a landfill. There it decomposes and releases methane gas, a greenhouse gas that, in the first two decades after its release, is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide (Environmental Defense Fund). In fact, according to the U.S. Composting Council, if everyone in the United States composted all of their food waste, the impact would be equivalent to removing 7.8 million cars from the road. Read that again! This is because landfills aren’t aerated, which creates the perfect conditions for a process called anaerobic decomposition, whereby the absence of oxygen triggers organic matter to release methane gas.
Yet, the decay of food waste in landfills is not the only source of greenhouse gases. The resources needed to produce, process, package, transport, ship, store, and cook the food also have a carbon footprint and are otherwise wasted when this food is tossed in a landfill.
So, how can you reduce the impact of this organic waste? Compost!
What is Compost?
Compost is organic material, such as food and yard waste, that can be added to soil to provide many benefits:
Improves soil quality by enriching soil with important nutrients
Reduces the need for chemical fertilizers
Helps retain soil moisture, meaning watering is required less often
Prevents pests and plant diseases
Avoids the production of methane from anaerobic decomposition of waste in landfills
Below are little graphics I’ve made to help understand what you can and cannot compost. Feel free to save, print out for your kitchen, and share :)
What You CAN Compost:
What You CAN'T Compost:
Okay, we're almost done here! Composting requires three basic ingredients:
Brown materials (aka carbon): Materials such as dead leaves, branches, twigs, cardboard, wood shavings, straw, etc.
Green materials (aka nitrogen): Materials such as grass clippings, vegetable waste, fruit scraps, coffee grounds, etc.
Water (aka moisture to break down organic matter): Having the right amount of water, greens, and browns is key for compost development.
For a healthy compost pile, it should have two parts brown material to one part green material (aka a 2:1 carbon/nitrogen ratio) in a layered fashion as follows. The first 4 to 6 inches at the bottom of the composter should be brown material, such as sticks, brush, hay or straw. The second layer should be brown material, such as dead leaves. The third layer should be 4 inches of green material, while the fourth layer on top of that should be brown material. Continue to alternate green and brown materials but ALWAYS end by covering with a layer of brown material at the top!
Important things to keep in mind:
Keep it moist: It is recommended to keep it as wet as a “wrung out sponge.”
Keep it aerated: Air helps speed up the decomposition process, so make sure to stir your compost frequently.
Keep it covered: Use a compost lid, or a piece of cardboard/canvas on top of your pile.
I hope you found this useful, and maybe it even inspires you to begin your own composting at home!