ONE OF THE MOST SUSTAINABLE THINGS YOU CAN DO AT HOME – AND IT’S EASIER THAN YOU THINK

The main purpose of ETL is to encourage people to live more mindfully in a variety of ways. A core component of this is being mindful about our place in the world, what we take from it, and what we give back. It means consciously thinking about how we live our lives day to day, and what effect that has on ourselves, those around us, and the planet we call home.

And one of the most fundamental parts of our lives is eating…we do it every day, multiple times a day, in many forms. That means that every day, we are taking nutrients provided to us by the Earth. But usually, we end up throwing a lot of it, including the scraps, and sometimes the leftovers, into the trash, which goes into a landfill and releases methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes significantly to global warming.

I think there are major top-down institutional changes that can and should be implemented to help drastically curb food waste…. but that’s a topic for another post. Right now, I’m here to break down, in simple terms, one of the most sustainable things you can do at home to help reduce waste and save the planet.

Composting.

What is compost? It’s organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow.

And this applies to everyone, because we all need plants to survive.

It may sound like a big or messy undertaking, but before you go running, I’m also going to explain how it’s a lot easier than you think to start composting from home. It’s a simple process, that comes with a plethora of benefits for you and the planet.

Now I’m not necessarily talking about getting a bunch of worms and generating a massive compost operation in your backyard. I can and will provide more information on that, but I’m not here to go into depth on that. But what I will break down are the easy steps you can take to compost indoors, in your kitchen… by gathering food scraps, coffee grounds and other things we toss out on a daily basis. Below you’ll find details on what you need to get started, how you can maintain your compost, and where you can take it to be properly used.

Ready to learn more? Let’s do it.


WHY COMPOST? BECAUSE OF THESE FACTS…

  1. First of all, food is one of the largest sources of waste among humans. Food scraps and yard waste make up nearly a third of everything we throw away. Composting helps majorly decrease that amount of waste, and creates something that can we returned to Earth for regenerative purposes.

  2. Composting keeps all that food waste out of landfills..where instead of being reintegrated into the ecsystem for good, it sits there collecting, causing a chemical reaction that releases methane gas into the air. That’s a big deal because methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases and contributors to climate change

  3. The way we grow our food impacts how it helps or hurts our body… which is why it’s so important to eat organic whenever possible. Compost is organic material that can be used to enrich soil, which reduces the need for harmful chemical fertilizers.

WHY ELSE? THERE’S ALSO THESE BENEFITS…

  • So. Much. Less. Trash. SAY IT AGAIN FOR THE PEOPLE IN THE BACK.

  • Compost improves soil quality – promoting growth of good bacteria that enriches soil with tons of nutrients, which makes for healthier plants!

  • Because composting reduces methane emissions from landfills, you’re lowering your carbon footprint. (If that’s something you care about, which you should.)

  • And if you garden, or have plans to one day start growing basil in your kitchen, it’s most cost effective for you. It’s free, and you save money on fertilizer (see above)

  • AT THE END OF THE DAY, IT’S GOOD FOR EARTH AND ITS EASY.

LET’S BE HONEST, I KNOW THERE ARE A LOT OF REASONS NOT TO GET STARTED….

  • Compost is going to make my kitchen or apartment stink!
    • False, as long as you have the right products. There are containers made specifically for indoor composting and filters that trap and eliminate the odor. Plus, you can find stylish bins online that work with kitchen decor. Check out mine HERE!

  • I don’t have a backyard.
    • Good thing you don’t need one! As I mentioned, this post is focused on indoor composting. You collect food and other kitchen scraps in your bin, and then add to a larger compost pile outdoors, or give it to a local composting facility. You can go to a drop off station or have a pickup come, they are available everywhere and easy to find (see below).

  • I have a garbage disposal in my sink.
    • Perhaps, but that’s not exactly sustainable. For one, your garbage disposal uses a lot of water every time you’re grinding down food scraps (because you aren’t supposed to use it without water!). And all that waste still travels through and thus taxes your local sewage system before it gets to its destination…where it may end up in a landfill nonetheless depending on where you are.

Okay, now that we’ve got that all cleared up, are you convinced? If not, let me know why in the comments below… and I’ll see what other information I can provide that might help encourage you. If you are, then GREAT. Let’s get started!

It’s really easy to start cutting your waste in half…

In general, composting requires three basics:

  • Browns: dead leaves,branches, twigs, paper shreds, used food wraps
  • Greens: grass, fruit & vegetable scraps, coffee grounds
  • Water: important for compost development (if you are creating your own pile at home)

For our purposes, we’ll mostly be focused on greens, which is comprised of the food scraps you’ll be collecting. Additionally, you might add some browns to your bin, including paper towels and plates you used to hold or wipe up food, napkins, even dead flowers, stems and leaves from aging bouquets.

HOW TO SET UP & MAINTAIN YOUR COMPOST BIN

  1. Get your materials. You can use an old bucket, plastic bin, or anything else that is water and leak proof. Make sure your compost bin has a lid. Most that you order on amazon will, and many will come with the filters you need. Otherwise you can order them separate.

    CLICK HERE TO START SHOPPING

  2. Line your compost bin with biodegradable bags. Plastic bags from the store may seem like an easy alternative, but they are NOT compost able. And some pet waste bags aren’t either. Your best bet is to get bags specifically for your bin, and you get them in bulk relatively cheap. I love BioBags, and you can order a pack of 100 on Amazon for 11 bucks.

    CLICK HERE TO GET THEM

  3. You’ll want to take out and replace your bag about once a week so it doesn’t start to stink as it rots! PRO TIP: If your drop off location isn’t in your building or very close by, store your compost bags in your freezer after they are full, halting decomposition (and the smell) until you can make a drop.

  4. Find a local dop-off location for your compost, or see if there is a pickup service available. In some cities, it’s free.

    CLICK HERE TO FIND YOUR CLOSEST COMPOST LOCATION USING COMPOSTNOW
    (This is where our food waste goes in Seattle: Cedar Grove Composting)
     

SO WHAT EXACTLY SHOULD I COMPOST?

There are tons of things that can go into your compost bin, including almost all of your fruit and veggie scraps. However, there are a select few things that definitely should NEVER go into your compost, and it’s especially important to keep that in mind if you drop your scraps off a larger facility (you don’t want them to have to toss all your compost!)

MORE TIPS TO KEEP IN MIND:

  • For indoor composting, it’s good have a stash of shredded paper and/or dry leaves on hand. Old mail works, paper towels (that don’t have cleaning chemicals on them) or even some dry leaves you find outside work.

  • ALWAYS COMPOST YOUR BOUQUETS! Every part of them. I repeat, do NOT throw flowers in the trash. You can see more on this HERE.

  • Mix around the contents in your bin once a day or so, to aerate everything inside, which helps the decomposition process and helps with potential odors.  

  • Cut up larger items before you put them in your bin. Smaller items break down faster.

MORE WAYS YOU CAN REDUCE WASTE IN YOUR KITCHEN!

  1. Use food economically. And eat leftovers! Try cutting recipes in half to make less food if you live alone or don’t have children. Or make leftover nights part of your weekly meal plan so you can make sure that nothing ends up in the compost bin that doesn’t absolutely need to be there. That also includes finding innovative ways to use the non-edible parts of foods. For example, bones, veggie skins, onion peelings and more can be used to make stock or the base of a soup or sauce.

  2. Try to limit waste when you’re shopping, by limiting the number of produce bags you use, and choosing products with limited or zero-waste packaging (like recycled plastic).

  3. Reuse what you can, including aluminum foil, plastic wrap, and plastic zip locks that you have (though you should get resusable ones!). You can use soapy water to clean the items, fold them and keep them in a drawer.

  4. Another reason to eat more veggies! You can buy produce at the store without packaging, eliminating waste. Plus, industrial meat production is way less sustainable than agricultural production when it comes to the planet.

  5. If you don’t want to go as far as making your own cleaning products….at least buy dish soap and dishwasher fluid, etc. in bulk, and refill and reusable container, rather than replacing small plastic bottles over and over again.

MORE INFORMATION ON SELF-CONTAINED INDOOR AND OUTDOOR COMPOSTING

For those you feeling ambitious (which would include me, except that I don’t have a yard right now) there are plenty of resources to set a full on self-sufficient composting system in your own backyard…where you can turn your food scraps into nourished soil, ready for your garden. Here are some basics to keep in mind.

  1. Pick a dry shady spot in your yard to put your bin, that’s near an easy water source.

  2. When adding your green and brown materials, think of a 3-1 brown-green ratio. And make sure larger materials are cut up into smaller chunks so everything breaks down consistently.

  3. When you add food scraps and other green waste, make sure they are buried under 8-10 inches of brown materials, or older compost.

  4. Use water to make sure your pile is damp throughout. You can also cover the top of your compost bin with a tarp to keep everything moist.

  5. Make sure to turn your mixture, just like you would with indoor compost. Use a shovel or other garden tool to mix things around every other week or so.

  6. BE PATIENT: compost takes months, even years to fully develop and become soil ready. All the stuff at the bottom will eventually become a rich dark color over time. It will look and smell like soil when it’s ready to go!
    1. As you monitor over time, see if adjustments are needed. If things get really wet and smelly, add more dry brown material. If it doesn’t look like it’s decomposing, add some more green scraps, and try mixing it up more often.

You can also create compost indoors…but it takes specific steps. You’ll need a different kind of composting bin, and you’ll need live worms to help do the work of the brown material. If you want more information on that, you can start with the EPA’s Guide…. as well as this one from Planet Natural.

MORE RESOURCES

  1. https://www.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home
  2. https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/gardening/advice/a23945/start-composting/
  3. https://blog.publicgoods.com/the-abcs-of-composting/
  4. https://www.planetnatural.com/home-composting/ 
  5. https://www.thespruce.com/tips-for-indoor-composting-2539618 
  6. https://www.thespruce.com/composting-greens-and-browns-2539485 
  7. https://www.seattle.gov/utilities/services/food-and-yard/bldg-owners/managers/composting-benefits 
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