This is part of our ongoing series, called DTL (that stands for Down to Learn), where we take deep dives into the odd, nuanced and mysterious world of sustainability. Each article in our series should give you a good icebreaker for your next Zoom, or perhaps even inspire you. This killer guide to compost is by Planet G contributor Jacqueline Parisi.
So you’re considering composting. Wooo! We’re so happy you’re here and *beyond* thrilled that something farmers have been doing for centuries is now catching on in cities across America. Like many newbie composters, you may have a few questions before you get started—especially if you live in a small apartment with a nonexistent backyard.
Is anything off-limits? Will it make my apartment smell like rotten food? Will it grow fuzzy white mold, or attract flies that’ll buzz around during my Zoom meetings? Where do I even bring the bag once it’s full?
We’ve been there, we get it, and we’ve got you covered with everything you need to know to begin composting like a pro.
First things first… what is composting?
Here’s the deal: composting is essentially a fancy word to describe the process of making food rot faster. And continue rotting and breaking down and whatever it needs to do to become a soil-like substance that helps new plants grow. And repeat. And repeat.
What are the benefits of composting?
When organic waste ends up at a landfill with heaps of other trash, it gets buried. And with little to no exposure to oxygen while decaying, it releases methane—a potent, not-so-green greenhouse gas that is second only to carbon dioxide in its implications for climate change. What’s more, increased methane emissions are responsible for half of the observed rise in tropospheric ozone levels (one of the main ingredients in smog). Long story short...methane is bad, and composting reduces it.
But that’s not all. Composting also…
· Diverts food away from landfills, thus reducing carbon emissions from garbage transport in the process
· Enriches the soil with all the good bacteria and fungi to create the nutrient-rich, organic matter: humus
· Limits the need for harsh chemical fertilizers
How do I do it inside?
There are two main methods to indoor composting, which we not-so-scientifically refer to as the “collect and toss” method and the “worm” method.
Collect and toss
· Best for: Anyone who’s not interested in watching organic matter slowly break down into soil over the span of several months under a tiny kitchen sink
· How it works: All you have to do is get a bin (more on that below) and some compostable bags. Start piling in the scraps and bring 'em to a composting collection site to let the magic happen outside.
Looking for a collection site near you? Refer to CompostNow for a complete list by state.
· Best for: Anyone with more space who’s looking to up their composting game by replicating what would happen in an outdoor bin
· How it works: For this vermicompost shindig to occur, you’ll need two plastic bins—one that’s shorter without a lid and another one that’s taller with a lid, holes drilled through it, and a vinyl screening covering each hole. The small bin rests inside the larger one. You’ll then combine soil with shredded paper and a bit of water into the tall bin (about three inches deep) before adding your worms (red wrigglers are recommended because of the pace with which they consume waste, but earthworms will also work). The mixture should be moist, but there shouldn’t be puddles of water. Then, about once a week, create a hole in the mixture, toss in a handful of shredded paper, and add your food scraps on top. Cover the scraps with more moist paper and dirt to avoid attracting fruit flies before putting the lid back on.
What can I compost?
The list of acceptable compost items can be split into food and browns (aka everything else).
· Food: Any and all fruit scraps, breads, grains, coffee grounds, eggshells, veggies, tea bags
· Browns: Shredded paper/newspaper, dry leaves, napkins, paper towels, cardboard, toilet paper rolls
What can’t I compost?
No meat or fish scraps, no dairy products, and no fats (e.g., oil or grease).
What should I look for in an indoor composting bin?
In a small space, you'll want one that uses some sort of carbon filter or charcoal liner. This way, air can freely come in (because remember, oxygen = good) and leave through the filter, preventing odor. Got a bigger space or know you'll be emptying your compost bin more often? You're free to go filterless.
Other nice-to-have features to look out for? A carrying handle, so you can tote it to a compost drop-off center, and a sleek, minimalist design, so it’ll look oh-so-chic in your kitchen.
Goldune’s Bamboo Compost Bin checks all those boxes. Plus, the bin itself is biodegradable and will eventually break down in compost, too.
Need a way to easily collect all your food scraps while cooking? Look no further than our Fallen Tree Countertop Compost Bins—large and small. (Trash bowls are totally a thing, by the way...ask Rachel Ray.)
If your compost gets soggy...
Add a handful of shredded paper or dry leaves every time you toss in food. Works double duty to soak up moisture like a sponge while providing additional carbon to your bin. A win-win!
If, despite the filters, there’s still a smell...
Make room for your compost bin in the freezer. That’ll do the trick.
If you notice fuzzy white mold on your compost...
No need to panic and immediately toss everything out, because it’s not actually a health hazard to you or your compost. The collection site will still accept organic matter speckled with some fuzz. But if you want to avoid this from occurring again, toss in the freezer.
There ya have it, folks! Time to go forth and make food rot.
Composting questions? Concerns? Just want to say hi? Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org