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If you’ve been curious about home composting you’re in the right place! In this post, I’ll share how to start home composting by providing some basic facts and tips to get you started – even if you’re a total beginner!
Why You Should Home Compost
If you’re a typical family, chances are you throw away at least some food waste. Maybe it’s food scraps leftover from preparing or eating a meal. Or maybe it’s food that has gone bad before you got the chance to use it. (Anyone else always ends up with at least one or two moldy strawberries? :-0)
It might not seem like it at the time, but tossing food and food waste is a problem for a variety of reasons.
For one, it’s a waste of the resources used to grow and produce the food. It’s also a waste of your own financial resources.
And, food dumped in the trash contributes to landfill waste. Actually about 20% of landfill waste is food waste!
You may be thinking, it’s just food, it’ll break down in a landfill, right? What’s the big deal?
Unfortunately, conditions in a landfill aren’t designed to help break down anything, not even food waste.
Instead, landfills are designed to store waste leaving it to sit stagnant for years and years.
This slow, oxygen-deprived environment causes food waste to decompose very slowly. This slow process causes harmful methane gas to be emitted.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming and has to be controlled and/or captured in some way.
In short, food waste and landfills don’t make a very good combo.
Composting, on the other hand, allows food waste to properly breakdown in a safe, more efficient way that even allows the material to be reused.
Choose Your Home Composting Bin
I’ll get to what to compost soon but let’s start with what to compost in. There are a few options to consider.
I think the easiest option is a tumbler composter.
It allows you to easily “mix” and aerate your organic waste with no more than the turn of a handle. This is similar to the one we have in our backyard:
You can also go with a stationary bin. With this type, you’ll need to manually mix your composting material to keep it aerated a few times a week with a pitchfork.
Both the tumbler and bin typically have a lid but you can also go with an open pile. The open pile also needs to be mixed frequently.
Home Composting Bin Location
There are a few things to consider when choosing a location for your home compost bin.
First, you want your compost bin on level ground. It won’t be any fun if your bin tips over leaving half decomposed food all over the place. 🙁
You’ll also want to find a location that is convenient for you to visit frequently since you’ll be making trips to it often to add compostable material.
You may be thinking, “Am I supposed to run out to the compost bin after every meal to drop in food waste? What if it’s raining? Or cold?” 🙁
A good alternative is to keep a small pail indoors that you can fill up and then dump into the compost bin every few days.
We have used this one that does a great job of eliminating any odors:
Starting Your First Home Compost Pile
Getting started involves a little more than just dumping banana peels and grass into your bin. Home composting is easy but it does take a little bit of work.
Think of your home compost pile like a lasagna. You’ll want to add the different components in layers.
The layers include a balanced mix of “browns” and “greens.” These layers work together to make compost magic. 🙂
Green (or wet) materials are rich in nitrogen or protein and help microorganisms in the pile to grow, multiply and help break down the material.
Green materials include things like:
- Veggie and fruit scraps
- Bread, crackers, pizza crust
- Coffee grounds, tea bags
- Crushed eggshells
- Grass clippings
The brown (or dry) layer of your compost pile is the carbon or carbohydrate-rich materials. Their job is to serve as a food source for the microorganisms in the compost pile.
The brown layer will also allow air to filter throughout the pile. It includes things like:
- Twigs, branches and bark
- Pine needles
- Autumn leaves
- Cardboard (no wax or plastic coating)
- Paper (newspaper, napkins, plates, unbleached coffee filters)
[The lists above are just a sample of what you can put in your home composting bin. This post from the Backyard Boss, “147 Things You Can Compost and 9 Things You Can’t” is a great reference with an extensive list of do’s and don’ts.]
To get started, begin with a layer of something like twigs that will allow for air and water to get through. Next, add a layer of something like leaves.
From there, add a layer of greens and food scraps then alternate to keep the lasagna going!
Using the formula of approximately 75% garden waste with 25% kitchen waste is a good rule of thumb to keep things moving along.
You may also want to consider adding a compost starter to help get things rolling. Compost starters are full of microbes that are ready to start working to break down organic materials.
If you decide to add in a compost starter, go for an organic one, like this one on Amazon:
What Can’t Be Composted
Like I said, composting takes a little more effort than just dumping banana peels and leaves into a bin. 🙂
Not only do you need to keep a good balance of both green and brown in your compost pile, but there are also things you need to keep out of your compost bin completely.
You should NOT put any meat, fish, dairy waste (i.e. bones, fat, etc.) or grease and oil into your backyard compost bin.
These are the food waste items that will attract rodents, maggots, and cause smells! Yuk!
Speaking of attracting bugs, it’s true that fruit and vegetable waste can attract fruit flies as it decomposes. A simple solution to this is to add a bit more “brown” material to the mix to dry it out just a bit.
Home Composting with Worms
Vermicomposting is a type of composting in which a certain species of earthworms is used to break down organic material.
In a nutshell, earthworms feed on the organic material which is broken down in its digestive system. Their excrement – okay, let’s not sugar coat this – their poop is the composted material.
My kids used a worm composter in elementary school in science class and it seemed pretty darn cool but it isn’t something we’ve taken up at home.
If you want to learn more about how it works and how to set up a work composter at home, this video does a good job of getting you started!
Home Composting Pick Up Services
One other alternative to home composting is to use a compost pick-up service.
This means that you do the separating and collecting of food waste (and other accepted compostable materials) and a third party will pick it up from your home on a regular basis.
From there, the service will likely take the food waste to a commercial facility where it is professionally managed through the composting process.
After several years of managing a compost pile in our backyard, we decided to give a home composting pick-up service a try.
Unfortunately, where I live, this isn’t a county provided service that picks up food waste – they pick up yard waste only – so we do pay a monthly fee.
The company local to me in Maryland that we use is The Compost Crew. They make it super easy to compost at home.
[And, if you use coupon code GREENILYCOMPOSTS when you check out, you’ll get $2 off the monthly fee!]
However, I know there are other places in the US that do offer a home composting pick up.
Compost Now does a pretty good job of providing information about home composting pick up services in the US.
Ready to Start Composting?
Now that you’re armed with the facts about home composting I hope you’ll give it a try!
Whether you opt to compost in your backyard with or without worms or you choose to use a pick-up service, I wish you luck!
It really is easy and a great way to help reduce landfill waste and reuse!!
What are you waiting for? If you create kitchen scraps when you cook you’re halfway there. Red wiggler worms are vital to the process.