Have you ever forgotten to eat the spinach you bought a month ago that got shoved to the back of the fridge? (Guilty!) Or had no idea what to do with the cut grass after mowing your lawn? How about forgetting to water a houseplant for months that wilted before your eyes? There’s no need to feel remorseful; all those things and more make great materials for composting.
Composting is the process of using organic material to create enriched soil. In the right conditions, the composted material breaks down over time to form nutrient-rich dirt.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), yard waste and kitchen scraps make up more than 30% of the garbage you throw away. And there are great benefits to composting: it keeps organic material out of landfills where it would release greenhouse gases instead of breaking down, reduces the need for artificial fertilizers, introduces beneficial organisms to help with soil enrichment and increases water retention.
Compost collections can be started anywhere. Outdoor collections are the most common and should be kept in a dry, shady spot using a bin or in a pile on the ground. If there is not enough outdoor space, a compost collection can be maintained inside using a special composting container.
What Can I Compost?
Compostable materials include dried grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, newspapers, wood chips, sawdust, leaves, houseplants, small twigs, plain brown cardboard boxes, weeds, eggshells and coffee grounds.
Avoid composting meat, dairy, oils and anything treated with pesticides. Meat, dairy and oils create a foul odor when decomposing and may attract animals to your compost collection. Pesticide-treated yard waste may kill off beneficial organisms that help to break down organic material.
Composting material is categorized into two groups: greens and browns. Greens include components such as fruit and vegetable scraps, grass clippings, coffee grounds and similar waste. These materials provide nitrogen for the compost. Browns, which add carbon to the compost, are twigs, dead leaves, cardboard and newspaper. Adding the correct combination of greens and browns is essential to successful composting. The ratio of greens to browns should be 1:1 for a healthy collection. The addition of water on a regular basis is also crucial to help break down the matter. It is recommended to chop kitchen scraps into small pieces and finely shred newspaper and cardboard that is added to the compost. The smaller the scraps are, the faster they will break down into soil. The compost should be turned over with a shovel or pitchfork and mixed consistently to maintain the collection.
How to Use Compost
Depending on how large the compost collection is, it will take anywhere from five weeks to two years to break down. After the material has reached a fine texture and resembles potting soil, it’s ready to use. Spread the compost soil on flower beds, fill houseplant pots or use it to start a vegetable garden.
Turn it Into Something Beautiful
Yard scraps like twigs, leaves and fallen branches make great indoor or outdoor yard decorations and sculptures, as well as mobiles. Don’t throw scraps in a garbage bag that you send to the curb. Turn them into something beautiful that you recycle.
Michael Hess is founder and chief executive officer of Waste Harmonics, a Rochester, New York-based company that provides customized waste and recycling management solutions for businesses across North America. Michael leads Waste Harmonics’ team of waste/recycling, technology, logistics and customer service experts who manage waste and recycling services—which deliver significant costs savings—for single- and multi-location businesses in a wide range of categories, including retail, grocery, restaurant, travel center, logistics, distribution and shipping.
Prior to founding Waste Harmonics, Hess served as vice president of U.S. operations for Capital Environmental Resource Inc., a solid waste collection and disposal company with $120 million in revenue and operations in the Northeastern U.S. and Canada. During his tenure at Capital Environmental, Hess served as an integral part of the acquisition, start up and integration of 11 solid waste companies for more than two and a half years. Michael acquired Waste Harmonics from Capital Environmental in 2001 and has since grown the business from a solely Northeastern U.S. focus to serving customers throughout the U.S. and Canada. For more information, call 585-924-9640, email [email protected] or visit wasteharmonics.com.