Composting is proof of life after death by transforming garbage into nutrient rich life again. It is a way of giving life back to the soil and leaving a positive human footprint. During my sophomore year at Providence College I took a course titled Sustainable Futures with Professor Jim Tull. It was my first college course where I felt empowered and equipt to start making small, yet meaningful shifts in my every day behavior towards creating sustainable change. The class was modeled on experiential learning, which means we spent hours outside of the classroom visiting local RI organizations dedicated to reducing out impact on the earth. This includes:
- The Compost Depot
- Urban Greens Cooperative
- Revive the Roots
- Farm Fresh RI Farmer's Market
- Listening Tree Cooperative
- African Alliance Community Garden
It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do a little. Do what you can. -Sydney Smith
- Save money by reducing over-purchasing and disposal costs
- Reduce your environmental impact
- Create rich fertilizer
- Minimize use of chemical fertilizers
- Reduce landfill waste which produces methane gas, a greenhouse gas more harmful than CO2
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), "compost is organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow." This means you are turning food scraps into nutrient rich plant food. It is an eco-friendly activity that has major benefits for your garden. Even if you don't have a garden, not to worry. Ask a neighbor if they need it or place it in the woods! The earth will thank you for it.
FFAQ: Frequently Family Asked Questions
When I pitched this idea to my family, more like told them my plan and hoped they didn't stop me, my mom was immediately on board. She mentioned that growing up before the days of garbage disposals her parents used to take empty milk cartons, cut off the top, put their old food scraps in it, and once it was full they'd bury it in the earth. She grew up composting without knowing it. My 23-year-old brother was not as easy to convince. He begrudgingly agreed to another one of my many at-home projects, but not before raising valid points that, I too,was weary of at first.
"Gross, won't it smell?"
Actually, no. It will be in a covered container outside away from the house. I compare the smell to a farm- bales of fresh hay, dirt, and soil. By keeping the food scraps out of the house, we are also controlling the trash can odor within the house. So, you're welcome. Also, by not including animal biproducts, eg.bones, fat, oils, or grease, this also helps eliminate the odor.
"That takes up too much time, I'd rather just throw it out."
In my town in Massachusetts we must pay for our trash by buying green trash bags or else it won't be collected. 30% of household trash is comprised of food scraps. Therefore, by composting you save space in your trash bags, therefore saving money by purchasing fewer bags. Also, eventually you create nutrient rich soil which can replace having to buy potting soil which can be upwards of $9.99 per pound.
7 Helpful Tips to Get Started:
Okay, even if I haven't convinced you yet the following 7 tips outline how simple and effective composting is.
1. Nothing Fancy!
My neighbors have a fancy metal rotating compost machine. Mine is an old trash can I found in my basement. Contrary to some beliefs, you don't need a lot of space because the organic materials are constantly breaking down. An ideal container size is about three feet in diameter and waist high. I also drilled holes on two opposite sides, about two inches apart to allow the compost to breathe for better oxygen circulation which also reduces the odor. Drilling in an upward-angled motion will prevent water or debris from falling out. Don't have a container and don't want to buy one? No worries, you don't need one! Instead, choose an open space to pile the compost. To avoid unwanted critters getting in, put up a chicken wire fence or cover it with a tarp.
2. Location. Location. Location.
As the realtors say, location is important! First, find a ground, level surface. Second, rest your compost, whether it's in a container or on the ground, on a few bricks or on a wooden palette. This improves the draining process. Third, compost needs sunlight, but not too much because the heat activates the compost mixture which speeds up the process. I suggest a spot that gets plenty of direct sunlight throughout most of the day.
3. Feeding the Compost
Simply put, there are two main elements to the organic material that composes your compost. The "green" and the "brown". The "green/wet" materialssupply nitrogen which composes the cell structure of your new soil. The "brown/dry" materials are the carbon that feeds the organisms and breaks down the scraps. As with any living organism, balance is important to guarantee your compost reacts and breaks down efficiently.
To get you started, here are some suggestions:
- Fruit and veggie scraps
- Eggshells- rinse out lining before adding
- Green leaves
- Fresh grass clippings
- Coffee grounds/filters and tea leaves/tea bags (remember to remove the staple)
- Small, green weeds and certain flowers
- Dry/dead leaves
- Wood shavings or sawdust
- Shredded newspaper
- Dryer lint
- Hair, human and pet
4. To Add Meat or Not to Add Meat, That is the Question
I personally do not add animal byproducts such as fish bones, bacon grease, or leftover chicken gone bad because it does not break down properly. Also, I live in a wooded area home to deer, fisher cats, and some coyotes. So, to be on the safe side and to protect my two small dogs, I don't add anything from an animal or oils to avoid attracting unwanted animals.
5. Treat it Like a Plant!
Compost thrives on a warm and moist environment that needs shade, sunlight, and occasional watering."Water is the key element that helps transports substances within the compost pile and makes the nutrients in organic material accessible to the microbes (EPA.gov)". Believe it or not there are microorganisms living in and helping the compost, and they need moisture to survive. If there is a particularly rainy week, or you think you overwatered, don't worry! That's what the drainage holes are for.
About once a week it is important to turn your compost pile. Simply put, this means mixing up the contents to get the air and oxygen flowing. Using a garden tool such as a pitchfork, shovel, or even a hoe makes for an easy turning process. In addition, adding broken twigs, newspaper clippings, and yeseven Chipotle burrito bowl containers, helps aeration.
Composting can take from 3 to 24 months depending on how large your pile is, how much you add, and how attentive you are. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Creating sustainable gardening practices takes time but overtime you will have a surplus of fertilizer while starting another fresh compost pile. Your garden will surely envy your neighbors.
Whether you live alone or with friends and family, composting can make a difference in your life, your community, and for the earth. It's not easy to sell people on taking care of their garbage, but even my brother, who wanted to ignore his persistent younger sister, was caught a few days later adding clementine peels and eggshells to the compost pile.
- How to Compost at Home, No Matter What Your Living Situation Is ... ›
- Composting At Home | Reduce, Reuse, Recycle | US EPA ›
- How To Make Compost At Home (WITH FULL UPDATES) - YouTube ›
- How to start a compost bin - YouTube ›
- Composting: How to Make Compost using Tumblers & Bins ›
- How To Start Composting : NPR ›