Idea #9: Compost

I reckon most people have heard of composting. Let’s review why it’s a good idea, as well as some tips and tricks for doing it properly.

Composting is “controlled decomposition.” Food and yard waste decompose whether they’re in a landfill or a compost pile. However, there are several advantages to composting:

  • The products of decomposition are useful to gardeners and farmers, but not if they’re mixed with other (non-organic or toxic) kinds of household waste.
  • In a compost pile, organic waste undergoes aerobic decomposition, which produces fewer greenhouse gases than the anaerobic decomposition which happens in a landfill.
  • Unlike landfills, compost piles are easy to put near residential areas. This means less energy is spent transporting organic waste.

For those of us without a backyard garden or a farm, an important question arises: where can I find a compost pile near my house? Well, if you live in a city, there’s a good chance there’s a community garden nearby. Seattle has ninety. Alternatively, your community may organize curbside compost pickup along with trash and recycling. Many private companies provide compost pickup! Check out this list for options.

The next challenge that arises is knowing what to put in your compost bucket. It’s fairly straightforward—pretty much anything made of organic material is fine—but here are some interesting corner cases:

  • Coffee grounds and tea bags are compostable!
  • Dryer lint, vacuum lint, and hair are compostable!
  • Paper is compostable! This includes most kinds of cardboard. In particular, pizza boxes should be composted, because they are usually not recyclable.
  • Double check before composting meat, seafood, oil, and dairy. These take longer to decompose, and in the meantime they can attract pests, so many compost piles do not accept them.
  • Triple check before composting poop.

The final potential challenge of composting is the odors, but (assuming no poop) these are easy to manage. My own compost bucket does not even have a lid. I take it out once a week and have never noticed any smells. If your bucket does have a lid, or if you take it out less frequently, then you may notice a temporary smell when you open it. Meats and dairy, excess nitrogen, or lack of oxygen may lead to stronger odors.

Good luck.

For more information:

  • A great page from the Environmental Protection Agency
  • A video about Seattle’s curbside compost program
  • A fascinating paper about the science and art of composting. Excellent reading for gardening nerds. Did you know compost piles can spontaneously heat up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit?

2 thoughts on “Idea #9: Compost

  1. Vermicomposting is also an awesome way to cut down on landfill bound waste. Essentially it’s the same as a compost bin but you add composting worms, and you get what gardeners call “black gold” basically really really good fertilizer, which is great if you are trying to not use store-bought nitrogen fertilizers.

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  2. When we lived in MD, we had a compost bin in the backyard ~ great for veggie peels, grass clippings, leaves, etc. Moving here, we joined a CSA for fresh organic produce. I persuaded the farm to start a community compost bin for members and local families. Sadly, the farm went under. I’ll have to check into some of your other suggestions to see if I can find a place to compost.

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