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How to Compost

How many trash bags do you put out curbside or bring to your local transfer station each week? Now how much of that is food waste?

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans (consumers and food service) throw away an estimated 18 billion pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables annually. This comprises approximately 19 percent of consumer and food service food losses. The Environmental Protection Agency more recently estimated that Americans generate approximately 30 million tons of total food waste each year. 98 percent of that food waste ends up in landfills compared to the 62 percent of yard waste which is composted.

Bottom line: Rotting food in landfills produce methane gas (a green house gas) which contributes to global warming. Composting your food waste produces carbon dioxide instead of methane because it is exposed to oxygen. (Buried landfill does not receive oxygen). On a molecule for molecule basis, methane is a much stronger green house gas than carbon dioxide.

So what is composting?
Composting by definition is the aerobic decomposition (or decaying) of biodegradable organic matter, producing compost (a gardener’s best friend).

How do I do it?
Find a spot in your yard for a compost bin. (We will discuss compost bins in more detail in a follow up article). Collect food waste (see list below) throughout the day and toss into your bin. As the pile grows you should turn it with a shovel or pitchfork to circulate air and increase decomposition.

What can I compost?
Almost anything that was once living, but avoid meat, and dairy products as well as human and some animal waste. (Vegetarian animals like horse, rabbit, and cow are okay). Strive for an equal mix of green (nitrogen rich) materials and brown (carbon rich) materials.

Green Materials
Fruit and vegetable scraps
Coffee grounds and filters, tea bags
Fresh leaves, green plants, flower bouquets
Grass clippings, prunings, and hedge trimmings

Brown Materials
Fall leaves, small twigs, and wood chips
Spent plants, dried flowers
Sawdust & wood shavings (hardwood only)
Shredded newspaper
Egg shells and nutshells
Corncobs
Bread and grains, stale flour, cereal, spices, beans
Wood ashes
Old potting soil
Food-soiled paper towels & napkins
Food-soiled cardboard (recycle if clean)

What to Avoid
Meat and fish scraps
Cheese and dairy products
Fats, oils and grease
Dog, cat waste and cat litter
Large branches
Pressure-treated Lumber
Invasive weeds or weeds with seeds
Pesticide-treated and diseased plants
Coal and charcoal ashes
Colored or glossy paper
Non-compostable materials such as: plastics, metals and glass

General Wrap Up
Make sure you turn your pile, water when dry, and in no time you’ll have dark black soil to use. You’ll also enjoy the benefit of knowing that you contributed to keeping usable waste out of landfills.

Do you have a compost pile or a compost tip? Let us know by commenting in the comments section below.

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About Ruth LovettSmith

Ruth LovettSmith is a writer, artist and designer with a BFA from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. She is the Founder and Editor of Mission DIY as well as a popular food allergy information guide Best Allergy Sites. She also writes articles on art and design, food allergies, parenting, gardening and healthy living and is an advocate for and within the food allergy community.
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