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Composting 101: A simple guide

Laura Malomo Menelle

Content creator and a certified translator student from Argentina. Laura was raised by powerful women who taught her that we can be unstoppable if we want to. She values independence, self-development, and self-confidence. In her free time, she practices meditation, enjoys reading about everything but particularly about the environment, mindfulness, and activism. She also enjoys working out and swimming, as she believes in a balanced lifestyle. Moreover, she considers herself as curious, determined, stubborn (in a good way) which is why she fights proactively for what she thinks is right.

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Composting 101: A simple guide

Composting has become a quite common practice in the last few years since climate change awareness gave rise to changes in our habits, routines, and practices. However, this practice may seem simple, yet it has its secrets. So, let’s plunge into this topic.

 

Composting is the natural process of recycling organic matter, such as leaves food scraps, natural fibers, among others, into a valuable fertilizer that can enrich soil and plants. This process allows decomposing organisms to decompose the organic matter in a quicker way. Therefore, the resulting matter is what we call compost. It’s rich in nutrients and can be used for gardening and agriculture. What was part of nature, goes back to nature.

 

Benefits of Composting

1. Reduces waste

Composting is a way of recycling organic and household waste. What is more, almost 30% of our household waste is organic. Therefore, composting allows us to prevent that waste from ending up in landfills.

 

2. Cuts Methane Emissions

When organic matter is decomposed, it’s broken down by microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, etc.) that require oxygen. So, when organic waste (i.e., compostable) goes to a landfill, it gets buried with amounts of other kinds of trash so the oxygen supply for these decomposers is cut out. Therefore, organic waste undergoes a process called anaerobic decomposition, i.e., the waste is broken down by organisms that can live without oxygen. Consequently, biogas is created, and it is composed of approximately 50% methane and 50% carbon dioxide, potent greenhouse gases that usually are trapped in the atmosphere.

 

3. Reduces Personal Food Waste

One of the biggest issues related to pollution is food waste. The best way to reduce this is, firstly, to avoid waste from occurring. However, even if we tried our best to reduce household and food waste, there will always be going to be discarded anyway, such as a banana peel. So composting is a great way to recycle organic waste instead of tossing them in the trash.

 

How to Compost

Organisms that decompose organic waste need four elements: nitrogen, carbon, air, and water. Since all compostable materials contain carbon, with varying amounts of nitrogen, composting successfully requires the right combination of materials to get the proper balance of carbon and nitrogen and, at the same time, providing the right amounts of air and water to achieve the best results. Ideally, a successful formula would be (in terms of carbon-to-nitrogen ratio) 25 to 30 parts carbons for every 1-part nitrogen. A carbon-rich pile will result in dry compost, and it will take longer to break down. On the other hand, a nitrogen-rich pile may end up creating a slimy and smelly compost pile. Yet, these problems can be easily solved by solely adding carbon-rich or nitrogen-rich material as needed.

 

What to compost?

Compostable materials:

 

  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Meat, bones, fish products
  • Pasta, bread, cereal
  • Cooked foods
  • Dairy products, eggshells
  • Coffee grounds, filters, & tea bags
  • Paper towels and paper towel rolls
  • Soiled paper food packaging
  • Pizza boxes
  • Muffin wrappers
  • Flour and sugar bags
  • Paper plates
  • Candies, cookies, and cake
  • Baking ingredients, herbs, spices
  • Household plants including soil
  • 100% cotton cheesecloth
  • Pet food
  • Items labeled BPI Certified Compostable

 

NOT compostable:

 

  • PLASTIC (unless labeled compostable)
  • Styrofoam trays
  • Aluminum foil
  • Clams, oysters, mussels (basically rocks)
  • Candles, synthetic corks, and gum
  • Artificial flowers and plants
  • Rugs, carpets
  • Cigarette butts, tobacco
  • Dental floss and Q-tips
  • Baby wipes
  • Disposable mop sheets
  • Dryer lint sheets
  • Vacuum cleaner bags
  • Hair, pet fur, pet waste
  • Fireplace or BBQ ashes
  • Recyclable materials
  • Items labeled biodegradable (meaningless)
  • Items labeled Oxo-Biodegradable

 

When I first read the non-compostable list, I was bummed. There are A LOT of items that cannot be either composted or recycled. Therefore, that can take us to the next question: what could we do to avoid these items? Are there alternatives that we could use instead of these?

 

Suggested read:

 

Compostable, biodegradable, recyclable, recycled, degradable… Have you ever been confused about some of these words? Let me tell you that YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY ONE! Learn about what are the actual differences between them here: “Recyclable, Compostable, Biodegradable… What is the difference?” article by Laura Busquets.

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