Many of us are familiar with composting, how to compost, and some of us have even started to compost at home or at the office, but as a refresher (or for those who aren’t familiar with it), composting is a natural process that turns organic material into a rich dark substance or hummus, that can improve the overall health of your soil and help plants grow. Not only does composting improve your garden’s health by enriching the soil, reducing the need for chemical fertilizer, and producing a rich, nutrient-filled material (humus); but it also reduces methane emissions from landfills and lowers your carbon footprint.
What You Can Compost
Most people know that they can compost fruit and vegetable peels, leaves, and grass clippings. But when it comes to things like the tea bag you brewed this afternoon, the lines can get a bit skewed. That’s why we’ve listed below some unusual things that you probably didn’t know you could compost.
- Pizza boxes (ripped or shredded into smaller pieces)
- Paper bags (ripped or balled up)
- Plain cooked pasta
- Plain cooked rice
- Stale grains, cereals, crackers, pretzels, etc.
- Natural wine corks
- Pizza crusts
- Old herbs and spices
- Crumbs swept from counters and floors
- Paper towel and toilet paper roles
- Old or expired jelly, jam, or preserves
- Paper egg cartons
- Toothpicks and bamboo skewers
- Stale beer and wine
- Paper cupcake cups
- Hair from your hairbrush and nail clippings
- Pencil shavings
- Used matches
- Flowers from floral arrangements
- Magazine subscription cards and newspapers (shredded or torn into smaller pieces)
- Pet fur from the dog/cat brush
- Vacuum bags and vacuum dust
- Old/stained cotton clothing (ripped up or cut into smaller fragments)
What You Can’t Compost
While these peculiar items are compostable, there are also many things that aren’t, including:
- Black walnut tree leaves or twigs
– Walnuts contain substances that are harmful to plants
- Coal or charcoal ash
– Also may contain substances that are harmful to plants
- Dairy products (i.e., butter, milk, sour cream, yogurt) and eggs
– These products create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
- Diseased or insect-ridden plants
– Because diseases or insects might survive when composted, the disease can be transferred back to other plants
- Fats, grease, lard, or oils
– These also create odor problems and attract pests
- Meat or fish bones and scraps
– Same issue regarding odors and pests
- Pet wastes (such as dog or cat feces, soiled cat litter)
– Pet wastes may contain parasites, bacteria, germs, pathogens, and viruses harmful to humans
- Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides
– Any remaining chemical pesticides on the trimmings could potentially kill beneficial composting organisms
Ready to get started with composting at home? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states for successful composting, three basic ingredients are required:
- Browns (i.e. materials like twigs, dead leaves, and branches)
- Greens (i.e. vegetable waste, grass clippings, fruit scraps, and coffee grounds)
Every compost pile should have equal amounts of browns (providing carbon for your compost) to greens (providing nitrogen). The water provides moisture to help break down the organic matter.
How To Compost
There are many different ways to build a compost (and ways in which you can use your compost) bin that you can keep either inside or outside of your home. If you don’t have space for an outdoor compost pile, you can purchase a special type of bin from local hardware or gardening supply store. You can either use your compost soil for gardening purposes or bring it to a local compost drop-off location.
For outdoor composting, begin by selecting a dry, shady spot near a water source for your compost pile or bin. Add brown and green materials as you collect them, ensuring to chop or shred larger pieces, and moisten dry materials as they are added. Once your compost pile is established, mix grass clippings and green waste into the pile and bury fruit and vegetable waste under 10 inches of compost material. When the material begins to turn a dark color, this is a good indicator that your compost is ready to use for gardening. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Backyard Composting Tip Sheet is a great point of reference.
There are many things you can do to help reduce your carbon footprint, and composting is just one of them! We hope the above was helpful to get you started. Another great way to help can create a more sustainable future is to choose an energy supplier that offers environmentally focused energy solutions to power your home (such as Kiwi Energy).