Written by Christel Schultz
Did you know that food scraps and yard waste make up approximately 30% of what we throw away! That means nearly 1/3 of what goes into our landfills is actually “useful trash” because it can be composted to serve a new purpose. Compost can be used to help improve soils, grow the next generation of crops, and improve water quality. You may be surprised how easy composting can be!Whether you live on a farm in the country or have an apartment in the city, composting can fit your into your space and lifestyle. You may have the perfect spot in mind if an outdoor compost pile is feasible at your location, but a multitude of bins are available for indoor and outdoor use as desired. Canisters specific to composting are available through hardware stores, garden shops and various locations online. If you like to get creative, there are plenty of ideas and tutorials for building a personalized container more specific to your lifestyle. The basics ingredients of composting remain the same: browns, greens and water. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides a detailed list of what to and not to compost.Compost should have an equal amount of browns (dead leaves and branches) and greens (grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps). The pieces need to be relatively small and mixed into the pile regularly, preferably on a weekly basis. Dry materials should be dampened with water. The browns provide carbon, the greens provide nitrogen, and water aids in the breakdown of organic materials. Keep track of what goes in, and maintain the contents – properly managed compost should not have a nasty odor or attract pests. Indoor bins may create usable compost in as little as one month. Depending on environmental conditions, outdoor compost may take several months or more. As a general rule, once the material is dark brown or black, soft and crumbly with an earthy smell, you have nutrient-rich humus, and the compost is ready to use.The finished product should be applied differently depending on your gardening situation. Seeds generally require more soil than compost to grow in a pot, but some seeds make take root and flourish in straight compost. Established seedlings and plants are typically more tolerant to higher concentrations of compost. For outdoor gardens or entire lawns, a thin compost layer can be applied across the whole area – this is called top-dressing. Water will infiltrate the soil carrying the nutrients with it. Research what you’d like to do to determine the best compost to soil ratio or application process for your scenario. If you don’t have a garden, potted plants or a yard, but you’d perhaps like to see your kitchen scraps put to use, there may be a community garden or compost center near you!
It’s not just lawn cuttings, fruit or vegetable scraps that can be composted, either! Since our society has become more conscious about environmental impacts, the consumer demand for earth friendly products has increased. The public wants to know what is biodegradable or compostable. In 2002, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) developed regulations and test methods (ASTM D6400 and ASTM D6868 ) so that materials could be scientifically proven to biodegrade. Several types of products and packaging in today’s market meet the compostable certification standards. Specific brands of hot and cold drink cups, cutlery, yard and food waste bags are among these items. Testing and certification of these products is completed by organizations like the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) – the leading certifier in North America. BPI created a database of certified products with an easily recognizable logo:
PLEASE NOTE: These products are certified compostable in industrial facilities; they are not suitable for home or backyard composting.
Whether you choose to buy compostable products or give your useful trash a new life, I encourage you to consider all the advantages. Aside from gardening or landscaping, compost provides numerous environmental benefits:
- reduced need for fertilizers and pesticides
- reduced landfill methane emissions and reduced vehicular carbon emissions from waste transport
- increased soil nutrient retention
- improved runoff and soil erosion prevention
- balanced soil pH
- improved water retention in sandy soils and improved drainage in clayey soils
- enhanced soil remediation through binding, increased plant uptake and removal of contaminants
A small change in the way we dispose of things can significantly reduce our environmental impact. Share some insight with your friends and family or start a conversation with your neighbors. Imagine the possibilities if more households participate in practices like these!