Everyone knows composting is a cheap and easy way to reduce your household waste. Those with green thumbs will know that composting creates nutrient-rich organic soil, perfect for a window-box to a backyard flowerbed. Even if you don’t garden, composting still diverts solid waste from landfills. Food waste only breaks down in a natural environment – not in a trashbag or a stifled landfill. Though it is not a quick process, composting is rewarding and eco-friendly, and can be done in the home or yard.
In terms of content, compost has the same rules whether indoors or out. You want a 60:40 ratio of “brown” to “green” materials. These names don’t have to do with physical color – instead, they refer the carbon to nitrogen ratio of an item. Brown items include leaves, sawdust, mulch, and paper or wood. Grass clippings and food scraps are considered green. Maintaining this ratio – and your moisture balance – is key for effective composting.
Indoor composting is easy with the right space and a little maintenance. There are machines that compost more quickly and with even less hassle, but if you aren’t squeamish, there’s a more eco-friendly option: worms! This is called vermicomposting, and it uses a ventilated bin and red worms to break down waste, and eliminates the need for “turning” your compost. The New York Times ran a great guide to easily build your own, but you can also purchase them.
If you have a yard, pick a shady area for your compost bin. You can purchase standing bins, or build your own enclosure with wood or wire fencing. You want a 3’x3’ area. Whether you are composting indoors or out, begin your pile with dry materials, then add leaves or clippings, and then your first layer of food waste. Keep your compost moist, and turn it using a shovel every four weeks. Sometimes in as little as a month, you’ll have usable compost.
Some items you may think are compostable are not, and adding them to your compost will hinder the entire decomposition process. These include diseased/herbicide-treated greens, plants with live roots, and kitchen scraps like meat, oil, fish, dairy or bones. A great tip is to add a little sugar – think flat soda, syrup, or plain sugar. This will provide a burst of energy to the organisms decomposing the waste, and speed up the process – just don’t overdo it.
Composting doesn’t have to be intimidating, costly or inconvenient – and your garden (and garbage man) will thank you!