A Green Idea: Composting Your Trash

Composting is an easy way to turn the organic waste you make each day–such as vegetable and fruit peels, egg shells, and newsprint into nutrient-rich soil. With only a few simple materials, you can easily make your own composting bin.

compost bin

Organic household wastes such as egg shells and non-meat food leftovers can be composted. (Credit: Andrew Walters/Alamy)

What is Composting?

Composting refers to the process of controlled decomposition of organic materials. In composting, organic material decomposes into a nutrient-rich material called humus. The resulting humus can be added to soils to improve its nutrient and moisture content.

Using a compost bins also keeps organic materials out of landfills, where they take up unnecessary space. In addition, when organic materials decompose in landfills, they produce methane gas and acidic leachate. If not dealt with correctly, the production of methane gas can lead to explosions and leachate can pollute the local water supply.

On a large scale, composting is used in landscaping to stifle pest and weed growth, prevent the need for chemical fertilizers, and promote crop yield. In addition, compost has been used to help remediate polluted soils by aiding in the removal of heavy metals, pesticides, and both chlorinated and nonchlorinated hydrocarbons. On a smaller scale, compost can be used as potting soil for houseplants and as a soil enhancer for home gardens.

Building An Indoor Compost Bin

To make a compost bin for indoor use, initially you will need a plastic storage bin with a iid, shredded newspaper, and red worms. You can purchase red worms from many garden centers or from online retailers. The rule of thumb is to use two pounds of worms for one every pound of waste you plan to compost.

Your storage bin will ideally be longer than it is deep. It is more important to have more surface area than depth. An ideal bin size is 2′ x 3′ x 1′. After procuring your container, poke holes in the lid and along the sides of the bin, about 1 to 2 inches from the top.

Next, gather some black-and-white newsprint and shed it into 2 inch-width pieces. Wet the paper in the sink and wring out the excess water. Place the moistened paper along the bottom of the container until the container is about half-full. Add your worms onto the newspaper layer and cover them with another two inches of moistened newspaper. Place the lid on top of your container.

Let your worms acclimate to their new home for about a week before adding scraps (see the lists below) to the bin. Before adding the scraps, chop them into small piece if necessary. Bury the scraps within the bedding layer; don’t just pile the scraps on top. Don’t overload the bin with too much food at one time as this can lead to spoilage. After about three months, move the compost over to one side and add food and newspaper to the other side. After about two weeks, all the worms should have moved over to the new bedding area. You can now remove the compost and use it in your gardening projects.

Building an Outdoor Compost Bin

outdoor compost bin

Some composting bins are kept outside. (Credit: Cultura/Alamy)

If you have the space outside, you can make an outdoor compost bin. Bins suitable for composting can be bought at garden centers (such as the one shown here), or you can build one yourself. See the resources below for instructions on how to make your own outdoor compost bin. Place a layer of wood chips, saw dust, or straw in the bottom of the bin to absorb any excess moisture. Similar to your indoor compost bin, you can place food scraps into your outdoor bin. In addition, the larger-sized outdoor bin is an ideal location for yard clippings (such as cut grass or raked leaves). To help with oxygenation, use a shovel to turn over the contents in your compost bin every week or so.

What Can and Can’t Be Composted

Not everything can be put into your compost bin. The following items can be composted:

  • black-ink newsprint
  • cardboard rolls
  • coffee grounds and filters
  • eggshells (washed clean of egg residue
  • nut shells
  • vegetable and fruit peels
  • tea bags

These items should not be put in your compost bin:

  • dairy products
  • fats, grease, lard, or oils
  • meat, fishbones, or scraps
  • pet waste
  • colored paper or newsprint with color ink

Troubleshooting Your Compost Bin

Your compost bin should not smell. There are several reasons why your compost may develop an odor. First, make sure that you are burying your food scraps underneath the bedding. If there is too much moisture in your bin, add more newspaper scraps to soak up the excess. Some food items are naturally stinky when they decompose–you may want to avoid composting broccoli and onion scraps, and never compost dairy, meat, fat, or oil products. If you notice that your compost is too moist, add more dry bedding (newspaper scraps). If fruit flies seem to be gathering around your bin, make sure that you are properly burying the food. Also, wash off vegetable or fruit peels before you add the scraps to your bin to remove any fruit fly eggs that may be present.

A Perfect Earth Day Activity

As you have learned, starting your own compost bin is a fairly easy process. Composting is a fun way to make use of much of the organic waste that you produce each day that would otherwise take up space in a landfill. Building your own compost bin is just one way that you can live a greener life. You may even want to consider making a compost bin to help celebrate Earth Day on April 22! Are you doing anything special to celebrate Earth Day? Leave a comment below about any special activities you or your classmates are doing in celebration of Earth Day.

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