If you feel guilty about creating food waste, composting is an easy way to relieve yourself of the anxiety of not eating all the groceries you enthusiastically picked out last week. You can even give a second life to leftover banana peels and pineapple tops.
You don't have to have a green thumb to be a composter — it's way easier than maintaining a house plant. Here's how to compost and start saving the world, one apple core at a time.
What is composting?
Composting is the process of turning organic materials (yes, that even means non-organic-certified food scraps) into a rich soil that can then be used to grow more food.
What can be composted?
Anything that has grown naturally in the ground can be composted! That means fruit and vegetable scraps (or spoiled produce that got lost in the back of your crisping drawer) as well as yard waste, old Christmas trees and dead flowers. Paper, wood and other products made of certified compostable materials can also be composted. Depending on the composting method (which ranges to composting in tightly sealed closed bins or in a garden pile), you can also compost animal matter (i.e. chicken bones), seafood, egg shells and dairy to make nutrient-rich soil, but that's not something novice composters should try at home.
Why compost? What are the benefits to composting?
Many say that composting is the greenest thing you can do. Composting reduces landfill waste and reduces the need for fossil fuel-based fertilizers and greenhouse gas-emitting farming machinery. Composting is also a natural way to introduce new vitamins and minerals to soil and keep farmland healthy.
So how do you start composting?
Anyone can compost! Perhaps the easiest way to compost is to save your food scraps in a bag or container in your freezer (this will prevent them from smelling bad) and drop them off at your local composting center. New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston and many more major cities offer convenient drop-off and even pick-up programs for urban composting.
For those outside municipal composting programs, composting is easy. If you have a backyard, you can start a designated compost pile or use a sealed container like a trash bin or designated compost keeper to store your compost.
You'll want to build your compost with nitrogen-rich items, which are green materials like fruit peels, and carbon-rich materials, i.e. brown ingredients like dead leaves or corn husks. You can either layer or mix your compost, which you'll want to do once a week. Your compost should be as wet as a wrung-out sponge, so add water if it appears to dry.
Depending on the time of year — warm weather leads to quicker bacteria growth and material breakdown than in cold weather — compost can be ready to use in three months. You'll know it's ready when the compost is a dark color, crumbly, and you can't pick out any distant elements, like a cherry stem.
How do you use compost?
Use your compost in home gardening as mulch, soil mixture or fertilizer. If you're not a big gardener, find a community garden or local farm to donate your compost to. Thanks for helping the environment!