Why Is Composting Important & How It Works
Composting is a natural process that involves the breaking down of organic materials. This can include food scraps, yard waste, and other biodegradable materials. It is a sustainable and environmentally friendly way to manage waste and create nutrient-rich soil.
In this article, we will explore what composting is and how it works.
What is Composting?
Composting is the process of breaking down organic materials into a nutrient-rich soil amendment called compost.
There are several benefits to composting including:
- Reduces waste sent to landfills
- Improves soil health and fertility
- Reduces the need for chemical fertilizers
- Helps retain moisture in the soil
- Reduces greenhouse gas emissions
How It Can Help The Environment
Composting not only helps your lawn and garden but also helps the environment as a whole by reducing waste in landfills.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), roughly 30 percent of municipal solid waste in landfills in 2018 was lawn trimmings and food waste. In landfills, the same food and lawn waste produces methane gas, which enters the atmosphere and pollutes our water.
Compostable waste also takes much longer to break down in landfills. According EPA, landfills account for about 15 percent of human-related methane gas pollution that contributes to climate change.
Composting your lawn waste and food scraps at home could dramatically impact the environment.
What Is It Used For?
Compost is used as a soil amendment to improve the quality and fertility of the soil. It can be used in various applications, such as:
- Gardening: Compost can be added to garden beds, flower pots, and raised garden beds to promote healthy plant growth.
- Lawns: Compost can be applied to lawns to improve soil health, increase nutrient availability, and enhance grass growth.
- Landscaping: Compost can be used in landscaping projects to improve the quality of the soil and establish healthy plants and trees.
- Agriculture: Compost can be utilized in agricultural practices to enhance soil fertility, increase crop yields, and reduce the need for other fertilizers.
- Erosion control: Compost can be used to control soil erosion by stabilizing slopes and improving the structure of the soil.
Ways to Compost
There are four main types of composting: backyard, with worms, fermentation, and electric composting.
Creating a compost pile in your backyard is a great way to recycle organic waste and produce nutrient-rich fertilizer for your garden. Here are the steps to create a compost pile:
- Choose a suitable location: Find a level area in your backyard that is easily accessible and receives partial sunlight. Avoid placing the compost pile too close to your house or any structures, as it may attract pests or create odor.
- Collect organic materials: Gather a mix of green and brown organic materials. Green materials include fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, grass clippings, and fresh plant trimmings. Brown materials include dry leaves, straw, shredded newspaper, and cardboard. Avoid adding meat, dairy, oily foods, and pet waste to the compost pile, as these can attract pests or create an unpleasant odor.
- Prepare the site: Clear the area of any debris or vegetation. If possible, create a base layer of twigs or small branches to improve airflow and drainage.
- Start layering: Begin by adding a layer of brown materials to the compost pile, followed by a layer of green materials. Aim for a ratio of about 3 parts brown materials to 1 part green materials.
- Turn the pile: Every few weeks, use a garden fork or shovel to turn the compost pile. This helps to aerate the pile, speed up decomposition, and prevent odors. You can also mix in additional brown or green materials as needed.
- Maintain moisture and airflow: Regularly check the moisture level of the compost pile. It should feel like a damp sponge. If the pile is too dry, add water. If it's too wet, add more brown materials to absorb excess moisture. Ensure the compost pile has good airflow by occasionally turning it and avoiding compacting the materials.
- Patience and monitoring: Composting is a natural process that takes time. Depending on various factors such as temperature, moisture, and the size of the materials, it can take several months to a year for the compost to be fully ready. Regularly check the compost pile for progress, and adjust the moisture and airflow as needed.
Vermicomposting (Using Worms)
Worm composting, also known as vermicomposting, is a method of composting that utilizes worms to break down organic materials. To compost with worms, you will need a worm bin or container, bedding material such as shredded newspaper or cardboard, and a supply of food scraps.
- Prepare the bedding: Begin by placing the bedding material in the worm bin and moistening it with water.
- Add the worms: Add the worms to the bin and then start adding your food scraps.
- Worms prefer a balanced diet, so try to provide a mix of green and brown materials, such as fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and shredded paper.
- Make sure to avoid adding meat, dairy, oily foods, and pet waste to the worm bin, as these can attract pests or create an unpleasant odor.
- Layer: Cover the food scraps with additional bedding material to maintain moisture levels and prevent fruit flies.
- Wait: The worms will consume the organic matter and break it down into nutrient-rich worm castings, which you can then use as a natural fertilizer for your plants.
- Check regularly: Regularly check the moisture levels in the bin and add water as needed to keep it damp but not soggy.
It's important to note that worm composting requires a suitable environment for the worms, with adequate temperature and moisture levels. With proper care, worms can efficiently compost your organic waste, producing valuable compost for your garden.
Bokashi Composting (Using Fermentation)
Bokashi composting is a method of composting that involves fermenting organic waste using a special mix of microorganisms called Effective Microorganisms (EM). Here's how you can do bokashi composting:
- Get a Bokashi composting bin: This can be a particular container designed for bokashi composting or a regular container with an airtight lid and a drainage system.
- Prepare your organic waste: Chop your food scraps into small pieces to accelerate the fermentation process. You can include a wide range of organic waste, including fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea leaves, bread, rice, and even small amounts of meat and dairy products.
- Add the waste to the bin: Layer the waste in the bin, sprinkling a small amount of the bokashi composting mix (EM) between each layer. The mix contains beneficial microorganisms that help with the fermentation process.
- Press down the waste: Use a plate or a weight to press the waste down firmly to remove any air pockets.
- Seal the bin: Close the bin tightly to create an anaerobic environment, preventing the entry of oxygen. This is important for the fermentation process.
- Drain the excess liquid: During the fermentation process, a liquid known as "bokashi juice" will be released. Open the drainage system of the bin to collect this liquid, which can be diluted and used as a plant fertilizer.
- Ferment the waste: Store the sealed bin in a cool, dark place, ideally at room temperature. The fermentation process typically takes around two weeks, but it can vary depending on the temperature and the type of waste.
- Bury or compost the fermented waste: Once the fermentation is complete, the waste will no longer resemble fresh food scraps and will have a pickled smell. You can bury the fermented waste in a garden bed or add it to a traditional compost pile. You can also use it as a soil amendment in potted plants.
Electric composters are a convenient and efficient way to compost organic waste. Here's how you can compost with an electric composter:
Remember to refer to the specific instructions provided by the manufacturer of your electric composter for detailed guidance on how to compost effectively with your particular model.
Tips for Successful Composting
No matter which method you are using to compost, we suggest following these tips.
- Balance the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio
- Maintain proper moisture levels
- Turn or aerate the compost pile regularly
- Monitor the temperature
- Avoid adding certain materials (e.g., meat, dairy, oily foods)
Commonly Asked Questions
How is composting different from throwing away?
Composting is different from throwing away because it involves the decomposition of organic waste materials, such as food scraps and yard waste, into nutrient-rich compost.
When we throw away organic waste, it ends up in landfills where it decomposes anaerobically, producing methane gas, a potent greenhouse gas. In contrast, composting allows the organic waste to break down aerobically, with the help of microorganisms, into a valuable soil amendment that can be used to enhance soil fertility and plant growth.
By composting, we can reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills, mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, and promote sustainable gardening and agriculture practices.
Why isn't composting done more often?
Composting is not done more often for several reasons. Some of these include the following.
- Lack of Awareness: Many people are not aware of the benefits of composting or how to do it properly. They may not be familiar with the process or the resources available to help them get started.
- Space Constraints: Some people may live in apartments or urban areas where they don't have access to a backyard or garden space to compost. However, there are alternatives such as vermicomposting (composting with worms) or using composting bins specifically designed for small spaces.
- Time and Effort: Composting does require some time and effort, especially in the initial setup and maintenance. Some individuals may perceive it as too much work or may not have the time to dedicate to composting.
- Odor and Pest Concerns: Improperly managed compost piles can produce unpleasant odors and attract pests. This can discourage people from composting, especially if they live in close proximity to neighbors or have limited space.
- Lack of Access to Resources: Some areas may not have convenient access to composting facilities or programs that accept organic waste. This can make it more challenging for individuals to compost if they don't have an alternative disposal method for their organic waste.
To encourage more composting, it is essential to raise awareness about its benefits, provide education and resources, and address any concerns or barriers that people may have.
Does composting involve a lot of work?
Composting does require some initial setup and maintenance, but it doesn't necessarily involve a lot of work. The amount of work involved in composting depends on the size and type of composting system you choose, as well as your level of involvement.
Once the composting process is established, it mostly requires simple maintenance tasks such as occasional turning, adding water if necessary, and monitoring the moisture and temperature levels.
Overall, while there is some effort involved, composting can easily become a part of your routine with minimal time and effort. Countertop electric composters require very little maintenance and work.