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What is Composting and How Can You Do It?

Shannon Higgins

October 2019

green-waste-513609_1920In today's ever-warming world, the more we can do to reduce our carbon footprint, the better. Whether that's carpooling to work in the morning, eliminating single-use plastics from your daily routine, or installing solar on your home, there are many easy things we all can do to contribute to a healthier planet. 

One of the easier ways to start helping Mother Earth is by taking up composting. Composting is a great way to cut down on food waste and greenhouse emissions attributed to food in landfills. Although it is a great way to start greening your life, composting might seem like a daunting task that only experienced gardeners know how to do correctly. But contrary to this belief, the basics of composting are actually pretty easy. To help you get started, here's a quick list of the most important things you'll need to know to start your own compost project. 

What is composting?

To begin, let's go over what compost actually is. Compost is simply decayed organic matter, whether that be a leaf or an eggshell. When you combine a lot of these organic items together in a compost pile, they naturally break down to create a nutrient-rich fertilizer that helps gardens grow. This act of compiling organic matter and letting it break down through the grand biology of Mother Earth is the act of composting. 

Composting has many environmental benefits. It helps to reduce food waste and the methane emissions that result from food rotting in landfills—and methane is a significant contributor to climate change. Since compost is a fertilizer, using it for gardening purposes reduces the need for chemical options, which can be harmful to water supplies. When added to garden soil, compost will help in carbon sequestration, acting as a kind of "carbon sink", trapping and containing it in the dirt.

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What can be composted?

A good general rule of thumb for what's compostable are things that come from the ground. This encompasses everything from apple cores, carrot peels, avocado pits, cucumber ends, and even your leftover pumpkin from Halloween. Most vegetables and fruit scraps are safe to add to your compost, as well as grains that come from the ground. This includes stale bread, cereals, and pasta, all of which can be added to your compost pile. Flowers and plant trimmings can be added too, as long as they aren't diseased. 

A few outliers to the "from the ground" rule are coffee grounds and filters, tea leaves, herbs, spices, and nut and egg, all of which are safe to add to your compost pile. When in doubt, you can look online to see a wide variety of different items that can and cannot be used for your composting goals. We always recommend double checking if you're unsure so you don't contaminate your heap.

Things that you should avoid adding to your compost are mainly animal byproducts. Meat, fish, butter, yogurt, cheese, milk, or animal fat are not good for composting. An easy way to remember this is by keeping anything oily and greasy out of your pile.

How you can start composting

Composting is a pretty easy process, but depending on where you live, your methodology might vary a little. If you live in a home, you can choose to compost in an outdoor space or a contained space inside your house. For outside composting, you'll first want to designate an area that will be where your food scraps will be piled, or use a tub to contain your heap. While you're building your pile, you'll want to keep a good mixture of "green" material, like fruit and vegetable scraps, and "brown" material, such as sawdust and plant trimmings.

Starting every other week, you'll want to turn your compost over with a shovel to let it aerate and add water to keep it moist. The biggest con to outside composting is the risk of animals getting into it, so keep an eye out for any critters rummaging around your heap. Besides that, you just need to let Mother Nature do her work! It can take months for your pile to turn into soil, but you should notice a change after a few weeks.

For inside composting, most popular with people living in apartments, choose a glass container to get started. You'll do the same material-adding step as mentioned above, maintaining a healthy mix of green and brown material added. In about 2-5 weeks, your compost should be usable as fertilizer—a great treat for any of your indoor plants!

Composting is a great and relatively easy way to contribute to a more sustainable future. If you're looking for other ways to reduce your carbon footprint, we invite you to download our free whitepaper, "Is Solar Right for You?" or request a free, no obligation quote from one of our solar integrators. 

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