Getting Started with Composting in 2020
It's finally summertime! There's no better time to begin composting than RIGHT NOW! Whether you want to reduce you household waste, lower your carbon footprint, or grow a bountiful garden, composting is the answer. This guide will outline what compost is, what can be composted, andhow you can start a compost pile of your very own.
From the beginning, BioGreenChoice has been committed to creating simple, high quality compostable products to stand up against the global challenges of plastic pollution, climate change, and unnecessary waste. No matter what your reason for composting, this post will give you all the knowledge you need to create your own composting operation with only minimal effort. After all, we believe that composting is for everyone!
What is Composting?
Composting is a method for turning organic materials into fertile soil that has been around since the dawn of agriculture. For millennia, home gardeners and farmers alike have relied on their ability to convert waste products like food scraps, manure, leaves, grass, and straw into a cheap, nutrient rich food for their crops.
Composting at its core is a way of harnessing the natural power of decomposition in a controlled way. Decomposer microbes, fungi, and animals use our would-be trash as a food source and break it down into the fundamental building blocks of life. For composting to occur, you need just 4 ingredients:
Carbon and nitrogen both provide fuel for microorganisms and can be found in varying amounts in all kinds of compostable materials (more on this later). Oxygen and water are necessary for the microorganisms to survive and multiply to break down waste material into compost efficiently.
Types of Composting
Home composting is relatively straightforward and is the main focus of this article. A home compost pile tends to have less microbial action and thus generates less heat when compared to commercial composting. This means that certain materials (like PLA bioplastic) can't break down easily.
Luckily, there is an easy way to tell if the compostable products you buy can be composted in your own backyard. TUV Austria is a certification agency which rigorously tests products to verify that they break down completely into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass in typical home composting conditions without releasing any toxins into the soil. Click here if you want to learn more about their certification process.
Commercial composting is a much larger scale operation than typical home composting. It uses machines to grind, aerate, and screen compost to achieve a higher degree of speed and consistency than home composting. Due to the ideal composting environments in commercial facilities, they are capable of breaking down items which would not break down easily in a home compost environment.
The Biodegradable Products Institute is the leading compostability certification agency in North America and partners with a network of labs to run vigorous tests which ensure the compostability of products in a commercial environment. You can learn more about their testing process here.
Our PLA cutlery and cups have been certified by BPI for commercial compostability. This means that they can break down in 12 weeks, and show at least 90% absolute biodegradation within 6 months--far better than other plastics which can take more than 1000 years.
Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle have become the cornerstones of environmental progress and composting incorporates all three. First, composting reducesthe amount of waste sent to landfills, organic matter is instead reused as it is repurposed into food for your compost, and finally it is recycled into a useful soil amendment.
The usefulness of compost doesn’t stop as a soil amendment, it has many other uses including natural pesticide, erosion control, land and stream reclamation, wetland construction, and landfill covering.
By composting at home you are helping to eliminate waste which would otherwise fill up landfills, while also providing rich food and nutrients for new life in your garden. Wasting less leads to a lower carbon footprint, a more sustainable lifestyle, and a greener world.
What Can I Compost?
All organic matter can be composted, but that doesn’t mean that all of it should be composted. You’ll want to avoid adding animal bones or meat which can rot and attract wild animals. Also avoid excessively greasy foods as oil can go rancid and doesn’t break down easily. Nearly everything you can put in your compost can be broken up into two categories, “browns” and “greens”. Brown materials are higher in carbon and are typically (but not always) brown in color, hence the name. Green materials are rich in nitrogen and often green.
The goal of composting is to create a hospitable environment for microorganisms to multiply and work their decomposition magic. This requires a mix of both brown and green substances. An even mix of brown and green substances is a good place to start, but don’t worry if your ratio varies, everything will decompose given time.
By mixing fallen leaves (a brown material rich in carbon) and grass clippings (a green material rich in nitrogen) in equal parts, you can easily achieve a well balanced carbon to nitrogen ratio in your compost pile. For many, this will make up the bulk of your compost as these items are readily available. If you don’t have access to one or both of these materials, don’t fear! There are many other compostable materials.
Here are some ideas of compostable items to get you started, but know that it is far from an extensive list!
Shredded paper (avoid glossy paper)
Small pieces of twigs and branches
BioGreenChoice Plates and Bowls
fruit and vegetable scraps, peels, and pieces
Plain cooked pasta or rice
Plant and bush trimmings
Starting Your Compost Pile
Before you can start composting, you’ll need to find a good area. For compost piles, any flat area will work, but ideally somewhere convenient so you don’t neglect your compost. Its also best to start the pile on lawn or soil so that microbes and earthworms can easily enter the pile and speed up the process. If the climate you live in is particularly hot or dry, you might want to keep the pile in the shade, so it doesn’t dry out as quickly.
Compost bins make things even easier, as they can typically be placed anywhere and can be easily relocated. Still, you’ll want to make sure it is in an easily accessible area so that you can regularly feed the pile with kitchen scraps.
If you don’t have space in your yard, vermicomposting (composting in a worm bin) might be a good option for you. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll stick to bins and piles, but the EPA has some great resources on vermicomposting which you can read here.
After you've decided on a location for your compost bin, you're going to need a foundation of compostable materials. Straw makes a great base layer as it helps with drainage and aeration, but leaves, grass clippings, twigs, shredded paper, or anything you have a lot of will work just fine.
Next, continue to add compostable materials on top of the pile and thoroughly moisten. You don't wan't your compost to be soaking wet, but it should always stay damp. You can water occasionally, or let rain do the job, depending on your climate. Covering with a tarp or other covering can help retain moisture and reduce maintenance.
Finally, make sure to mix up your compost to aerate it and evenly distribute materials about once a week. This is also a great time to add any kitchen scraps or BioGreenChoice plates you've collected. You'll see the breakdown process happening before your eyes and finished compost will be ready in weeks to months, depending on the conditions of your pile.