There’s no wonder that so many municipalities offer (and even require) recycling programs. The benefits of recycling glass, plastic, paper and aluminum products are numerous. But what about food scraps and yard trimmings? These kinds of waste make up a little over a quarter of total U.S. waste. Yes, the cores of organic apples and the ribs of farmers market kale can produce environmentally harmful methane gas.
So what’s someone who lives in a densely populated urban environment to do? Try composting!
Composting is the process of turning organic waste into a soil-like mixture rich in carbon and nitrogen. This is accomplished by a 50/50 mix of “green” and “brown” matter. “Green” matter usually consists of bark, leaves, sawdust and paper. “Brown” matter includes food scraps and coffee grounds. But before you start throwing everything into one container and thinking that’s where your involvement ends, read these four guidelines on how to compost the right way.
To Worm or Not to Worm
Before starting, it’s the question each composter has to ask himself or herself: Do I want to compost with worms or without worms? Choosing to compost without worms means you’ll need a community composting program, a yard large enough for a compost vessel or a city bio-waste program. My experience is with worms, so that’s where I’ll focus my attention.
Before you worry about having worms in your home, fear not. These critters are magicians when it comes to composting: they work fast and leave little to no odor. The best worms are red worms — also called red wigglers — which can be purchased from online worm stores (yes, they exist). You’ll want to keep your bin inside, as worms are sensitive to extreme temperatures. Add only as much food waste as your worms can easily eat; cut or shred food scraps into small pieces; and keep a good mixture of brown and green matter.
The Right Stuff
Unfortunately, not everything is compostable. Those worms are scavengers, but picky. Here is your list:
Yes: bread, grain, cereal, tea bags, coffee grounds and filters, fruits, vegetables
No: meat, dairy products, fatty and oily foods, animal or baby feces
You will need a sealed container with a few holes in it so oxygen can travel. You can use an aluminum or plastic trashcan, an under-the-sink compost bin, or a stone or ceramic container. Fill your container halfway with dry leaves, sawdust or newspaper. Add food scraps on a regular basis and mix with a gardening fork, or by rolling the can around on its side. Compost should be kept moist but not soggy, so add more dry material regularly.
How Long Will it Take?
If all goes well, you should have usable material in about one to two months. The material will look dank, brown and free of large chunks. Use your homemade compost in a small vegetable and herb garden wherever you have space: near a sunny window, in a hanging pot, in a window box or on your fire escape. Or, share your “black gold” with a friend to entice them to start their own composting bin.