The LIM Living Composting Guide: Repurpose food waste, reduce your environmental footprint.
Unless you like to garden or grow food, you might not think about composting very often. But what if we told you that this process, which turns food scraps into organic, soil-enriching matter, is actually a simple, easy way to help the planet?
Even if you don’t need healthier soil at home, consider this: we waste 119 billion pounds of food in the US each year. Roughly 39% of that comes from our homes. Then, we send that food waste to landfills - data from the EPA shows that food waste is the most common material in all landfills in the US.
The problem? Food can’t break down naturally in landfills and instead generates methane gas - an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Luckily, we have a simple solution: composting. Here’s how you can be part of the solution to our food waste problem from the comfort of your own home.
How to Compost
Composting is the natural process of breaking down food (and some other materials, like leaves and paper) into a rich fertilizer. It can be done in various ways. In fact, there’s a composting solution that will fit just about every living situation, even a small city apartment or accessory dwelling unit (ADU)!
1. Choose a Composting Method
Your first step in your composting journey is to decide what kind of composting you’d like to do. This will likely depend on how much space you have and how convenient you want the process to be. Options include:
- Compost bins: Compost bins come in a variety of sizes. Usually, they’re about 60 gallons. Some bins require you to manually turn the contents, while others come on a stand with a hand crank that you can use to turn the contents. (We’ll explain more about turning the compost below.)
- Compost heaps: Just like the name sounds, a compost heap or pile is a space in your backyard where you put food scraps. It should typically be at least 1 cubic yard (3’ by 3’ by 3’). With this method, you’ll need to manually turn the contents with a shovel.
- Compost collections and local gardens: If you have a small space, you can collect your scraps in a container and bring them to a community garden or compost pile when your container gets full. There are also compost collection services that will pick up your scraps on a regular basis for you.
- Composting with worms: You can also compost at home with a small 5-gallon box by using the vermicomposting This method requires no turning of the contents - instead, worms in the box do the work for you, which also expedites the process. You can buy kits for this that make the process easy.
2. Save Your Scraps
Keep a collection bin in your kitchen to hold your scraps until you have enough to put in your compost bin or pile. A small trash can with a lid works great, but there are also buckets and pails created specifically for this purpose.
To properly balance your compost, you’ll need carbon-rich materials, also referred to as “browns,” and nitrogen-rich materials, also referred to as “greens.” Here’s what you can compost from each category.
- Shredded paper (non-glossy, uncolored)
- Shredded brown bags
- Shredded cardboard
- Dry leaves
- Plant stalks
- Untreated wood chips
- Food and vegetable scraps
- Coffee grounds and paper filters
- Paper tea bags
- Grass clippings
- Yard trim
3. Get Set Up
Once you’ve collected enough scraps, it’s time to set up your bin (unless you’re sending scraps to a community garden or collection service). This step varies depending on your composting method, but there are general rules that apply across the board.
Start by layering browns and greens. Browns are usually dry and should be at the bottom - these elements allow water and air to flow for aeration. That ensures that microorganisms can work to break down the material. Add greens (usually wet) on top.
Over time you’ll continue this layering process, alternating between the two types of materials. All the while, maintain a ratio of two parts browns to one part greens. You need more “dry” elements to soak up the “wet” ones.
4. Mix It Up
It’s important to rotate the scraps to ensure airflow and keep them from getting too soggy. If you have a pile, you can use a stick or shovel. If you have a rotating bin, you’ll just need to crank the lever. Generally speaking, you’ll need to turn it every 7 to 10 days.
5. Use Your Compost
Once the scraps turn into a fluffy, earthy material that smells like wood (sometimes sweet or sour), it’s compost! You can:
- Add it to your garden or potted plants
- Bring it to a local community garden
- Gift it to neighbors, friends, and family
Composting turns potentially methane-producing food scraps into rich, useful fertilizer. While food waste is a larger problem across the globe, composting allows us to limit the environmental effects of this issue and grow healthier, happier gardens while we’re at it!