Did you know that food scraps and yard waste currently make up a whopping one third of what we throw away? Our brimming landfills not only take up precious real estate, but release methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. Yikes! Luckily there is a fantastic solution to this growing problem: composting. Composting is nature’s process of using friendly microorganisms to recycle organic materials such as plant foods and backyard scraps into nutrient-rich soil. Here is the secret to successful home composting.

Composting can be done outdoors, indoors, and year-round using minimal equipment and, best of all, it’s cheap, easy to make, and great for the environment.

Composting Benefits:

  • Reduces landfill size
  • Reduces methane emissions
  • Lowers your carbon footprint
  • Restores health of the soil
  • Improves plant health
  • Great alternative for chemical fertilizers

What Can Be Composted?

Green (or nitrogen-containing) material like:

  • Vegetable scraps and peels
  • Fruit scraps and peels
  • Grains, breads, and cereals
  • Grass clippings
  • Green leaves
  • Flower cuttings
  • Coffee grounds and tea bags
  • Manure from plant-eating animals such as chicken, rabbits, cows, horses, pigs, and sheep

Brown (or carbon-containing) material like:

  • Dried leaves, branches, stems, twigs, and pine needles
  • Bark, sawdust, straw, peat moss, wood chips and pellets
  • Shredded and non-glossy newspaper, cardboard, and brown paper bags
  • Paper plates, napkins, cereal boxes, and toilet rolls (ripped into smaller pieces)
  • Crushed egg shells and egg cartons
  • Nut shells
  • Corn stalks
  • Wine corks
  • Coffee filters
  • Dryer lint, hair, fur, and dust from sweeping and vacuuming

Avoid Composting:

Avoid composting meat, dairy products, bones, fish scraps, high-fat foods, oil, grease, and lard as these food items can cause bad odors and attract unwanted critters such as insects, rodents, and raccoons. Do not use pet waste or soiled litter, yard trimmings with chemical pesticides, or plants that look diseased or insect-ridden.

How to Compost in Your Backyard:

1) Choose a location. Compost bins or piles can be placed in any location, whether sunny or shady. The best spot is one that’s close to a water source and all of your backyard scraps.

2) Select a non-fancy, do-it-yourself container. There are two types of compost bins: stationary and rotating. Stationary bins can be made from wooden crates, garbage cans, and large plastic bins (make sure to drill small holes throughout to allow for air to get in). Compost tumblers rotate with a handle and allow for an easier way to mix material and aerate the pile, which speeds up the breakdown process. A compost pile can also be started directly on the ground, but should be no larger than 3 feet by 3 feet.

3) Add your browns and greens. As a general rule of thumb, 60% of material should be brown, 40% should be green, but finding the best ratio is an art that will come with experience. Chopping, shredding, and ripping material into smaller pieces can help speed up the composting process. Continue to add material regularly to feed the beneficial bacteria.

4) Moisten dry material as they are added. Always keep your pile as damp as a wrung-out sponge.

5) Turn the pile periodically (once or twice per week). Turning helps to incorporate air, reduce odors, break up clumps, and to keep friendly microbes alive and well.

How to Compost Indoors Using Worms:

Worm composting is the process of using both worms and friendly microorganisms to produce compost from kitchen waste. This option is perfect for anyone who tends to have a lot of kitchen scraps, does not have a yard, or would simply prefer composting indoors.

1) Find a suitable place to keep your worms. Worms prefer temperatures between 60º and 80º Fahrenheit, but can tolerate temperatures between 40º and 90º Fahrenheit.

2) Purchase or build your own container. The size of the box or bin depends on how much kitchen waste is generated in your household. The rule of thumb is one square foot of surface for each pound of waste per week. If using a large plastic bin, make sure to drill small holes throughout the container to help let air in.

3) Prepare the bed. Simple bedding includes shredded, non-glossy newspaper or cardboard, or that pile of computer printouts you’ve been saving as scrap. Moisten the bedding with water, but make sure it remains damp and not waterlogged.

4) Get some wigglers. The most common type of worm purchased for indoor composting are “red wigglers.” You’ll need about two pounds of worms for each pound of food waste your household produces daily. Spread the worms gently over the top of your prepared bedding and cover the bin or box with a lid or more dampened newspaper.

5) Feed your worms. While worms feed on many plant materials, the best food tends to be fruit scraps, pepper scraps, and carrot and potato peels. To prevent fruit flies and stinky odors, avoid banana peels, lettuces, and broccoli. Worms also need coffee ground, sand, or crushed egg shells to help them crunch up their food. Place the food an inch beneath the surface of the bedding.

With both backyard and indoor worm composting, you’ll know you have a finished product when you have a dark rich soil that is crumbly and smells like fresh earth. Sprinkle your composted material onto your lawn and gardens to restore nutrients back into the ground, to produce healthy, vigorous plants, and to generate great harvests.

Check out past posts on sustainability:
Ways to Reduce Plastic at the Farmers Market and the Grocery Store
Creative Ways to Use Food Scraps and Reduce Waste
Dietitian Approved Recipes Using Leftover Foods
10 Steps for Eating More Sustainably

Michelle Shlaen, Soon-To-Be Registered Dietitian