Illustration by Shore Creative
Approximately 95% of food scraps in the US are thrown away and end up in landfills. Composting is an easy way to divert those scraps, which when tossed into a landfill generates methane gas (harmful greenhouse gas which contributes to global warming), and turns them into something useful. I know many of you are interested in composting, and truthfully it’s really not as hard as it may seem. My goal is to get you started. There are many ways to compost, the amount of space you have and where you live will dictate the type of composting you can do. This post is mainly based on our experience composting in a suburban area with a yard. If you’re in an apartment in a city this won’t work for you, but I’ve included some resources and information for that as well.
We use a compost bin with a locking lid (to keep animals out) that has ventilation to allow air to move through the composter and help speed up the composting process. Our bin also has no bottom, so the pile starts on the ground. This allows beneficial organisms and worms to aerate the compost.
Start with twigs or straw on the bottom layer which will help with drainage. You want to create a compost with layers alternating moist and dry materials, this will result in having to turn the pile less. Moist ingredients are things like food scraps and grass while dry ingredients include brown leaves, sawdust etc.
What You Need
Indoor Compost Bin (not required but nice to have on the kitchen counter or outside the door if your compost pile isn’t close to the house)
Outdoor Compost Bin (make sure you put it in an area that gets enough sun as you want your pile to be hot)
Pitchfork or Compost Aerator
Compost Starter (not required but can be beneficial)
What To Put in Your Compost
Coffee grounds and filters (unbleached is ideal)
Sawdust (needs to be mixed or scattered thinly to avoid clumping. Sawdust must be clean-no machine or chain oil residues from cutting equipment).
Newspaper (shredding will aid in composting process)
What Not to Compost
Perennial weeds or diseased plants
Pet manures (if you plan to use compost on food crops).
Banana and citrus peels (organic or not, peels may contain pesticide residues and generally shouldn’t be put into compost). We scrub our peels really well if planning to put them into our compost pile. I add banana peels directly to the soil underneath my roses rather than adding to the compost because we use it for food planting.
Some additional tips
Your compost pile needs to be moist but not soaked. If it needs it you can water occasionally but typically rain will do the job. We have our compost bin under a tree but it gets plenty of light and sun throughout the day.
It can help to turn your pile every once in a while with a pitchfork, though we rarely turn ours and it still turns out fine. Last year we added a lot of sawdust which helped create the perfect pile and required little turning up until right before we were ready to use it.
When your compost is ready will depend on a number of factors but typically anywhere from 2-4 months is a realistic timeline. Our compost was ready towards the end of the summer last year (we started in the spring), so this year we plan to save it for the end of growing season, when we will add it to our raised beds and then cover it with cardboard so we’ll have rich and nutrient soil for the following year.
Composting in a City
For those of you that want to compost but live in a city there are several options available. This list is not comprehensive but the best information I could find available. If you happen to live in a city and have additional suggestions or information please share in the comments!
Municipal composting: Many cities have programs similar to recycling where the sanitation department will provide a small bin to keep inside and a larger to keep outside which get picked up weekly. San Francisco has a mandatory composting program. Similar programs exist in Portland, Seattle, New York City. Washington, DC has a free food waste drop off program.
This is another list of compost collection programs in cities around the country.
Worm bins: These require a little more work but can be done indoors and don’t take up a lot of space. Here is a step by step guide for getting started.