I’ve been hearing and reading about composting since I first became aware of zero waste. But the idea was frankly a little intimidating. There seemed to be so many rules around what can be composted and how to do it properly.
When I was in high school my parents got a rotating composter for the back yard, but it never seemed to work properly (or it could have been that they just found it easier to give all the scraps to the chickens) and they gave up after a season or two. So I’ve always harbored this idea that composting is hard.
But let me dispel that myth right now… composting is not hard! In fact, it can be downright easy. Before we get too far into it, let’s start right at the beginning.
What is composting?
Compost is decayed organic material. Organic material covers a lot - it can include food scraps from your table, dead leaves from your yard, and more. Composting is a natural process by which organic material is “recycled” into a dark, rich soil conditioner that gardeners nickname “black gold.”
Why should we compost?
Composting is critically important because it’s a return of nutrients to the earth; it’s the completion of the cycle of life. When plants are grown in soil, they sap needed nutrients from that soil. Those nutrients need to be replenished, and composting is the natural way that happens. When nutrients are trapped in the food scraps we throw away and have no way of returning to the soil, we are removing those nutrients from the cycle, depleting the earth of its richness. Farmers then turn to other ways of repairing soil, like chemical fertilizers. But when we turn our food scraps into compost we are returning the nutrients to the cycle and enriching the soil.
Composting also solves another problem: keeping food scraps out of landfills. Because landfill conditions prevent things from decomposing naturally, food that ends up there does not return to soil. Instead it sits there for ages letting off methane gas, which is a greenhouse gas with more potential for warming the globe than carbon dioxide.
There are a few different ways to compost. One being community compost bins or having food scraps picked up from your house with a subscription service. One of the benefits to this is that commercial composting facilities have the capability to compost things that can’t be broken down in your yard, such as egg shells or even bones. THIS is a really great resource for learning what composting programs are available in your area if you live in the United States, searchable by city.
You can also vermicompost, a specific method for composting using worms and a series of bins to help break down food faster, in your house or apartment. Composting done right doesn’t smell, so it’s perfectly acceptable to do so right in your kitchen.
Another way is doing it yourself in your yard - ideal if you have a yard of your own, since it only takes a few square feet and some time spent learning the basics (the rule I’ve heard is that backyard composting needs a vegan diet and the right ratio of brown to green materials).
Composting can be simple and rewarding.
We now collect our apple cores, peach pits, carrot ends, pistachio shells, and other non-animal-product scraps in our countertop composter (in case you’re interested, you can find it HERE or HERE). Once it’s full, which is usually about twice a week or so, I take it two blocks down the street to the community compost drop off.
Richmond doesn’t have a pickup option for residences, and since we’re renting I don’t think our landlord (or the HOA) would take too kindly to experimental backyard composting. So it made the most sense for us to drop off our compost once or twice a week.
I thought it was a small thing to divert our scraps from the landfill, but I’ve been surprised at the difference it’s making in our home. I hung a small print above the composter showing what can be composted and what can’t, and my husband has taken to composting without a second thought; that makes it the easiest zero waste change so far! Our trash doesn’t fill up or smell nearly as quickly as it used to, and it makes it super easy to see what kinds of things we’re still throwing away so I can cut down even more.
Probably one of the biggest shifts I’ve seen is in our eating habits. It’s really the result of a mix of things, but composting has played a role. I’m the one who’s mostly responsible for our meals, and lately I’ve been learning to cook and eat more seasonally. Late summer is an ideal time for this with all the amazing produce in season! Seeing the peels and ends of all these delicious vegetables and fruits go into the bucket and knowing that all those nutrients will be going back to nourish the soil is a good feeling. I feel more connected to the earth and the food and the farmers at the markets who grow it. It’s helped motivate me to add more plants into our diet and freed me from the guilt I had throwing good scraps away. We are eating less meat and dairy than we used to and are learning to appreciate a huge variety of foods we never used to eat. (I have much more to say about seasonal eating and some absolutely delicious dishes I’ve tried lately :) so stay tuned for an upcoming post!)
Are you a composting veteran or are you feeling as intimidated as I was? If you have any tips please share them in the comments!