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Why and How to Compost

What is the benefit of composting?

Composting is a sustainable approach to managing household food and yard waste, which currently comprise more than 28 percent of household waste. In place of sending these materials to landfills, where they will ultimately produce further methane emissions, composting these wastes instead creates better soil and natural fertilizers that can be used to grow healthier plants. Some key soil properties created by composting include balanced pH, mitigated soil erosion, and enhanced root structure. The soil can also present improved moisture retention abilities, which is a boon in the effort to conserve water. 

How does it work?

Under the right temperature, sufficient aeration, and nutrient balance, organic matter can be broken down by microorganisms to produce compost. This optimum temperature is between 38 and 66 degrees Celsius. To eliminate potentially harmful pathogens and parasites, the pile must be maintained at 55 degrees Celsius for three consecutive days, while also turning five times – turning ensures that adequate amounts of air can penetrate the pile and that cooler zones can mix with hotter ones. Generally, cooler piles take longer to compost. 

What will you need?

The three main ingredients required for composting are “browns” (branches, twigs, and dead leaves that provide a carbon source), “greens” (vegetable waste, grass clippings, fruit scraps, or any other material providing nitrogen), and water. Other common household materials that can be included in the pile are eggshells, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, cardboard, and shredded newspaper. Larger items such as cardboard must be cut to smaller pieces, around ½ to 1 ½ inches. Importantly, materials including coal or charcoal ash, dairy products, fats/oils, meat/fish bones and scraps, and pet wastes should not be included in the pile, as they pose risks of producing bacterial contamination that could be harmful to human beings. 

How do you get started?

A compost pile can be stored either in an outdoor backyard or indoors. If opting for composting outdoors, be sure to select a dry, shady spot and cover the top of the pile with a tarp to retain the compost’s moisture. The greens and browns should be added first, followed by water to moisten the dry materials. The bottom of the pile will be dark and rich when it is ready for use, and this can take anywhere between two months and two years to form. The compost can be generated much faster if the pile is kept indoors, but the pile must also be more diligently managed and tended to. 

Additional tips

To generate the highest quality compost, aim for an equal amount of browns and greens in the mixture, and ensure that the pile is regularly turned. The moisture content should also be monitored, as the compost should only be as moist as a wrung-out sponge, but not too dry either. Although it may seem daunting to start, composting is a worthwhile pursuit that repurposes organic waste and can play a significant role in reducing our carbon footprint. 

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