We started composting a few years ago mostly because we were inspired to have a really healthy vegetable garden. We had a big bin out back and we would throw as many food scraps as possible into the bin, mix it with lawn cuttings and turn it every once in a while. It wasn’t nearly as gross as I had once imagined and it was kind of fun to be creating something out of waste. One thing that always confused me was why composting was considered so good for the environment. I thought the things I was throwing into the compost bin–veggie and fruit scraps, egg shells, coffee grinds, tea bags, lawn clippings, leaves, fireplace ashes–would decompose anyway and why did the environmentalists care if it was in my backyard or in a landfill? I’ve wondered the same thing about newspaper and other papers? Unlike my most hated material in the world, papers break down, so again, who cares where that happens? To us it just mattered that we were getting a healthy compost to help our tomatoes grow.
In researching some other topics for this blog, I’ve found the answer. When materials are dumped in a landfill,they are compacted and buried–no air, no sunlight, no water. Without those necessary ingredients, even organic materials can not decompose. So instead of being used for something good, all of these possibly recyclable / compostable materials are instead taking up precious space in our earth and will sit there for hundreds of years to come.
With that knowledge we’ve amped up our composting efforts. I keep a huge stainless steel bowl (plastic is fine too) next to the kitchen sink and I love watching it fill up throughout the day. At the end of the day I dump it in a hidden pile out back, have the gardeners throw dry grass clippings in once a month, and turn it with a big shovel. It will take a long time to get compost, but in reality what’s my rush. I love that the kids are a part of this, distinguishing what can and can’t get re-used, and seeing that there are better ways to take care of our garbage than leaving it for the garbage men. When we are religiously composting it seriously reduces our garbage impact, therefor reducing plastic bag usage and landfill impact.
Here is an incredible list from Sophie Uliano’s book, Gorgeously Green, of items that can be composted:
- pet hair, matches, lint, popcorn, hay, pine needles, leaves, unbleached paper towels and napkins, coffee grinds, ATM receipts, egg shells, old pasta, shredded newspaper, corncobs, stale bread, potato peels, peanut shells, old leather gardening gloves (seriously!), soy milk, tree bark, moldy cheese, watermelon rinds, banana peels, cooked rice, outdated yogurt, bird cage cleanings, wool socks, bread crusts, olive pits, all veggies and fruit, shredded cereal boxes, flower petals
That is an unbelievably extensive list (although not all inclusive, if you are into this there are even more things you can do)………..we don’t even come close to including all of this stuff and we still get a great compost bin. For the sake of being completely honest, composting is some work. It is a little messy. You do need a little space in the yard and a commitment to making it happen for this to work. It is so satisfying to see waste turned into something useful and it has such a significant impact on reducing our huge garbage problem. The more organic your waste, the more organic your compost (i.e if you use pesticides on your lawn–a huge disaster in the first place–you will have compost full of pesticide.)
Some helpful composting sites:
- How to Compost–vegweb.com
- RealGoods.com–for bins and compost accelerators (material to enhance the efficiency of composting)
- thewormfarm.com–really interesting, less gross than you may think, way to use worms to enhance the composting (haven’t tried yet but will this sumer if anyone wants an update in the fall!)
- dirtworks.net— a great site for all things related to organic lawn and garden care