Why do I compost? Is it because I am an avid gardener with an amazing assortment of fruits and vegetables that I nourish with my all organic compost? Sadly, no. My garden is pathetic. Nothing grows. I try, but nothing grows. Is it because I’m an environmental hippie chick who grows my own hemp to make all my families clothes? Nope. (Well, ok, I might be a little bit of an environmental hippie chick, but I don’t grow hemp or make my own clothes.) I do it to reduce the amount of garbage I dump into our landfills. Do I manage to get every possible compostable item into the composter. No. But I get most of it, and it does decrease the amount of garbage my family makes.
According to the EPA study, Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2008, “In 2008, Americans generated about 250 million tons of trash… On average, we recycled and composted 1.5 pounds of our individual waste generation of 4.5 pounds per person per day.” (emphasis is mine)
That’s a lot of garbage. Three pounds per person per day that is not recycled or composted. Can you imagine putting 3 pounds of garbage per day per person in your house in your backyard? Gross. So, what’s the problem with putting stuff in the garbage to go into a landfill? The problem is very simple, our landfills are so full and so tightly packed, even biodegradable items don’t break down. There just isn’t enough air circulation and microbes to do the job in massive landfills.
In the article, Do Biodegradable Items Really Break Down in Landfills,: Debra Lynn Dadd, a green consumer advocate and author is quoted, “Typically in landfills, there’s not much dirt, very little oxygen, and few if any microorganisms.” The article goes on to say, “She cites a landfill study conducted by University of Arizona researchers that uncovered still-recognizable 25-year-old hot dogs, corncobs and grapes in landfills, as well as 50-year-old newspapers that were still readable.”
So, what can we do. Follow the three R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle). In this case, reduce the amount of stuff you throw into landfills by composting it yourself. It will actually break down in a small compost bin. You can then use the compost to fertilize your yard and garden if you choose, or throw it out at that point. It’s already degraded. It will take up less room in the landfill, and with the microbes on it, maybe it will help degrade other things.
Composting is pretty easy to do, and can be inexpensive. Here are some guidelines to do it yourself.
1. Choose Your Composting Bin
To be effective, the compost bin needs to have air circulating and be turned. You can either buy one pre-made, or make one yourself. I use a pre-made bin, the Urban Compost Tumbler. I actually have two, one I am adding to, and one that is finishing so I can pull compost out. If you’re going pre-made, look for one that’s easy to turn and has some kind of divider in the middle. The divider helps separate the compost when it’s turned, so it doesn’t just clump together. There are also worm compost bins available. Or, you can make one out of a large, plastic container with a lid. Just dump your scraps in it, keep it covered, and use a shovel to turn it over daily.
2. Choose Your Garbage
Composting requires both wet and dry materials to contribute Carbon and Nitrogen to the mixture. Wet material includes fruit and vegetable scraps (have some salad that went bad, into the compost bin it goes), bread, cooked pasta and rice, coffee filters, tea bags, and fresh cut grass. Dry ingredients include dry yard clippings, newspaper, untreated cardboard, egg cartons, and egg shells. You need both to get good compost. If you’re compost looks too soggy or is smelly, you probably need to add some more from the dry items. If it’s too dry, add more wet stuff. Never add meat or dairy products. I find things compost faster if they are in smaller pieces, so shred the newspaper and cardboard.
3. Make it Easy and Convenient
I keep an airtight container in my kitchen to collect scraps. When it’s full, I run out and dump it all in the bin at once. It saves me having to run outside after every meal.
4. Get the kids Involved
Kids love composting. They like to sort the garbage and spin the compost bins. When the compost is ready to use, they like to dig through it and see if they can identify anything. (Note: Fruit pits do not decompose.) They’ll have fun and learn to be kind to the Earth all at once.
It’s really a very simple process. And don’t worry about what you’re going to do with all your compost. A whole lot of garbage actually makes very little compost. What you do make can be spread in your garden as a natural fertilizer. And, coffee grounds act as natural pesticides. So you get a fertilizer/pesticide all in one. It’s really a pretty amazing process to watch.
Do you compost?
**Photo by Watt Dabney via Flickr