The idea of composting may seem a bit intimidating, especially for those living in smaller spaces in urban environments. But the good news is that anyone can learn how to compost at home, regardless of your living situation. In a few cities, such as San Francisco and Seattle, you may already be required to separate your yard waste as part of the city waste program; composting this waste yourself is a natural next step!
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, food scraps and yard waste make up 20 to 30 percent of what we throw away. Composting these materials can keep them out of the landfills, which helps reduce your carbon footprint. Composting will also supply you with natural fertilizer that will enrich your garden's soil, and reduce your need to buy chemical fertilizers. You'll be surprised by how little you will need to throw out with your trash once you start the process (especially if you recycle, too!), since so much of that material can be diverted into the compost bin.
What Goes Into a Compost Bin?
- Shredded newspaper
- Grass, withered cut flowers and yard clippings
- Food scraps: Eggshells, coffee grounds, bread, fruits, vegetables, tea, nutshells
How to Get Your Outdoor Compost Started
- Get an outdoor compost bin from a hardware or gardening supply store or online
- Select a dry, shady spot outside for the location of your compost bin
- Collect kitchen food scraps in a small sealable indoor container to bring outside to the main bin
- Add the materials listed above, by layering in approximately 25 percent "green" food scraps to approximately 75 percent "brown" grass & lawn clippings, wood chips, shredded newspaper, etc.
- Cover the compost with a lid to keep it moist
- Water and mix it about once a week
Other Things to Note While Composting Outside
Your compost is ready to use when the material is dark in color and feels crumbly. That could take anywhere from two months, if you are stirring it around and adding water frequently, to two years if you let this happen naturally. Make sure larger material is either chopped or shredded so it will break down faster. You don't want to add any dairy, meat or bones to the compost because these things can attract pests or animals. You will also want to moisten dry materials with some water as you add them to the pile. Try to maintain the 3:1 ratio of brown to green materials for the right balance of carbon to nitrogen.
You can reduce your carbon footprint by composting indoors even if you don't have a backyard! It's only a little bit different than the steps above. Get an indoor composting bin online or at a hardware or gardening supply store (or make your own DIY bin from a plastic container). Indoor compost bins are usually smaller in size to fit in a small space, such as under a sink or in a closet. The bin should also come with a lid and some holes for air circulation. There should be no odors if you're achieving the right mix of soil to food scraps to shredded newspaper along with mixing it in once a week. There are also indoor systems that use worms and microbes to speed the process.
Keep an eye on the compost and dump the fertilizer on your houseplants or your patio garden plants every two weeks to maintain the bin. A well-maintained and secure compost bin should not attract insects or rodents. Be sure to add about a cup full of dirt and shredded newspaper to your indoor composting bin every two weeks as well, or your compost may emit unpleasant odors, which is certainly not something you want to have inside your home!
About Julie Jacobson
Julie Jacobson is a real estate agent for Redfin and a green home expert. She applies her 18 years of real estate experience while teaching classes and writing articles on green homes and sustainable living. She is also a LEED Green Associate, a Certified Green Real Estate Professional, serves as the vice chair of the San Fernando Valley branch of the U.S. Green Building Council in Los Angeles, and composts in her own backyard. Julie is a graduate of U.C. Berkeley and holds an MBA from the University of Southern California.