Composting To Save the Planet Composting To Save the Planet

When people think about composting, they think about gardeners with big compost bins and dirt under their fingernails. Although this may be true, composting can be a reward for every home owner. It is not only planet friendly, but the byproduct can benefit everything from house plants to large garden plots.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that yard trimmings and food residuals together constitute 23 percent of the U.S. waste stream. Studies show that home composting can divert 700 pounds of material per year from each household, so it is not that we have nothing to compost. Composting in the US has become a cottage industry, and bags of good compost can run as high as $100 per ton for high quality compost. This article will focus on how to compost in any scenario.

What is Composting?

Composting is defined as a process that takes organic wastes and turns them into a soil-improving additive or a medium to grow plants. It is a stable material, rich with humus that is dark brown or black and smells earthy and soil-like. Waste such as yard trimmings, food wastes, manures, and even newspaper is usually combined with bulking agents such as wood chips to provide the proper medium. The finished product is a soil rich in nutrients.

What Can't be Composted?

There are a few things that cannot be composted. These are:

  • Black walnut tree leaves and branches. They may release agents harmful to plants.
  • Coal and charcoal ash. These also may contain harmful substances.
  • Dairy products, such as milk and egg yolks. They create odors and attract pests.
  • Diseased plant material. The disease may survive and be harmful to other plants.
  • Fats such as grease, lard, or oils. Again, these create odor problems and pest attraction.
  • Meats, scraps and fish bones. These create odor problems and the attraction of pests.
  • Pet waste. This can contain bacteria and parasites harmful to humans.
  • Yard trimmings that have been treated with pesticides.

How To Begin

Depending on location and your living situation, you can compost either indoors or out. Little is required - you already are throwing away the most important component! All composting requires three basic ingredients:

-Browns, which include things such as dead leaves or branches.
-Green materials - grass clippings, vegetable waste, coffee grounds and fruit scraps.
-Water is the third ingredient.

Ideally, you would have equal measures of greens and browns. Browns provide carbon to the process, while greens provide nitrogen. Water helps the process move along.

Building the Compost Pile

In the back yard, a chicken wire fence can be easily constructed to house a compost pile. You can also purchase bins made especially for composting. Place it in a dry, shady area of your backyard near a water source.

Be sure larger pieces to be composted are chopped or shredded. Place a 6-inch layer of brown materials on the bottom. Add a 3-inch layer of greens to the top, then some good topsoil or finished compost. Add a third layer of brown materials 3 inches deep. Lightly mix the two top layers. Add water until moist.

Turn your compost pile every week to distribute air and moisture. Move dry materials to the center. Your new compost pile will be ready in 1 to 4 months, but allow the pile to sit for an additional 2 weeks to cure.

Need help? Try troubleshooting your compost.

Composting Indoors

A properly built indoor compost pile will be ready to use in 2 to 5 weeks. Special bins are available, but you can construct your own. Don't worry about odor - if the pile is constructed properly, there will be none, and it will not attract pests or rodents.

A simple bin can be made by drilling 1/2" holes in the bottom and sides of a tall plastic garbage can. Place this can within a larger garbage can that has bricks for the inner can to rest on, and that is surrounded with wood chips. Place insulation around the outer can to keep compost warm. Build your compost pile as listed above.

Composting should be a way of life for everyone. It is not difficult, and produces some of the finest potting material you can find. I compost in a downtown apartment. I do so indoors, and use a method of composting called vermicomposting. This simple process uses worms to digest the waste products. I have a large Rubbermaid tote filled with good topsoil, and it is inhabited by a colony of red worms. The worms eat my garbage, and this provides me with some of the best potting soil available in the form of the worms' castings, the byproduct of feeding.

Follow these simple guidelines and make composting a reality in your daily routine. The planet will thank you for it.

Find further information on fertilizers, composts and mulch.

Alden Smith is an award winning author, regular contributor to and publishes Eco Friendly America. He writes on a variety of subjects, and excels in research.

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