Have you ever looked around the neighborhood on trash collection day and cringed?
It's hard to believe we humans consume so much and toss out such hefty amounts of garbage on a weekly basis, but the true shame lies within the fact that much of it is wasted (literally). All you need to do is check out the rate of trash accumulation in your local landfill to realize just how much of a problem our wasteful nature has become.
Fortunately, composting is one of the solutions!
Even though it has been a beneficial domestic practice for decades, it is an often overlooked aspect of environmental sustainability. One of the main reasons it is so underutilized is that so few people really understand what it is, much less how simple it is to do in one's own backyard.
To shed some light on this bright practice, here's a bit more on the dos and don'ts of composting, as well as some tips on how to set up your own composting program in your home or small business.
In a nutshell, DIY composting is the process of converting organic waste into a soil-enriching fertilizer for yards and gardens. By upcycling this discarded material into something useful, you can improve the productivity of your plants and ensure they are healthier and more robust than their non-composted counterparts.
And plants aren't the only beneficiaries of this eco-friendly practice. Indeed, an estimated 30 million tons of food are thrown away annually in America and if we were to cut our food waste in half, we could effectuate a 25% + reduction in the nation's carbon footprint.
Create Your Own Compost!
The beauty of creating your own composting program is that you can make it as simple or as large-scale as you like. You can even start with a single storage container that you can convert into a compost bin to get the biodegradable ball rolling.
Although most people who are familiar with composting realize food scraps and yard waste are the main components of compost, many folks aren't aware of what specific items will and will not break down successfully.
What You CAN Convert into Compost
- "Browns" are the dry materials like yard waste (dead leaves, pine needles, dead plants, twigs and branches)
- "Greens" are organic materials like grass clippings and kitchen waste (fruit scraps, vegetable waste and coffee grounds)
- Manure from horses, cattle, goats, rabbits and poultry/pet birds
- Paper and cardboard (torn into strips or hand-sized pieces)
- Dryer and vacuum cleaner lint
- Human hair and pet fur
DON'T Try to Compost
- Meat scraps
- Lard or other types of fats and oils
- Portions of chemically-treated yard items (like herbicide-treated lawns or wood chips/sawdust from treated woods)
- Feces from omnivorous animals (dogs, humans, cats – no kitty litter)
Tip: Certain single-use items like cutlery and utensils, although advertised as "biodegradable," do not break down very easily. This is likely due to their very nature: they are designed to withstand heat and breakage (knives need to cut through hot things, after all) and as a result, they are not as susceptible to composting as other items and should not be included in your stash.
If you are low on outdoor space, you can easily create your own indoor composting station with a few simple materials and these steps.
- Gather 2 plastic storage containers or garbage cans: one larger and one smaller (with holes drilled into the bottom and sides – approximately ½" in diameter – of the smaller bin).
- Place a brick at the bottom of the larger storage bin as a spacer and place the smaller, perforated bin inside the larger bin atop the brick.
- Wrap the outer storage bin with insulation to keep it warm and cover it with a lid.
- Add a mixture of browns and greens, at a rate of two parts brown to one part green, with water to moisten them, as you collect the waste.
- You can allow the compost to "cook" as long as you like but it should be sufficiently composted in about 5-8 weeks.
How can you tell when it's done? When the compost resembles dark, rich soil without identifiable bits of matter (except for the occasional twig), then it's ready to use.
Tip: Be sure to turn the compost each time you add material as the added oxygen speeds up the rotting process and ensures even distribution of moisture to parts that may be dryer than the rest.
What home-grown goodness do you plan to nurture with your newly created compost?
Garret Stembridge is part of the team at Extra Space Storage, a leading provider of self-storage facilities. Garret often writes about sustainable practices for homes and for businesses. Many Extra Space Storage locations, such as the one Cordova, Tennessee, have been retrofitted to reduce energy consumption.