A Look at Ways To Compost At Home: Whether you live on acres of luscious land or admire green spots from afar from your high-rise, composting is one easy part of the solution to reducing food waste that doesn’t require a complete lifestyle overhaul.
By Lauren Plug, sustainability copywriter and SEO Strategist at Copy by LP.
Did you know that approximately 30-40% of all food produced across the United States is sent to a landfill?
- That equals 125+ billion pounds of trash (each year).
- It costs $218 billion each year.
- It emits 170 million metric tons of CO2e emissions (carbon dioxide equivalent) which is equal to the emissions from 42 coal-fired power plants.
Where is it all coming from and can we stop it?
We can definitely lower that number but we need more beginners learning how to compost at home to do sol. Because it’s coming from us all.
- That bag of spinach you purchase each week that rots.
- Not checking your supplies before shopping.
- Not eating leftovers in time.
Many Americans have grown up detached from where their food comes from. Most couldn’t name a farm near them (myself included, excluding CSAs). We live in a time of premade meals, single-use tableware, and uneaten leftovers. We are the picture of a society short on time but abundant in resources.
Society is so focused on ‘throwing things away’ instead of putting food scraps and edible food waste to good use. This is especially concerning as 10% of Americans currently live in food-insecure households.
This is why composting is so important.
- It prevents wasted money, time, and energy.
- It keeps harmful methane from clogging up the atmosphere.
- It teaches us to connect with our food and where it comes from.
- It reduces a significant amount of landfill trash.
- It takes something old, and kind of ugly, and turns it into a beautiful, nutrient-rich material that makes the environment stronger.
If you’ve never tried composting before it can seem intimidating and a little gross to be honest. But it’s the 21st century and there are a variety of ways you can compost at home, as a beginner, no matter your lifestyle.
Why Is Composting So Important
Before we go any further, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page. Composting is the act of turning organic matter (food scraps, leaves, twigs, paper) into a nutrient-rich material very similar to soil, called compost.
There are a variety of different methods that achieve the final results of compost which we’ll cover in this post, but all involve microbes, organisms, and decomposition.
Compost can be mixed with the household soil in your garden or plants or it can be used on farms and in agriculture to help improve soil health.
Not Only Is Food Loss Wasteful; It’s Harmful.
When food goes to the landfill from any stage of production, it’s surrounded by other garbage and chemicals. It can’t break down properly, the way it would in the natural environment, like in a compost pile. As it begins to rot it produces methane (a seriously powerful greenhouse gas).
Globally, the emissions from food waste are equivalent to the emissions of 32.6 million cars.
In addition to methane emissions, wasted food means other wasted resources.
- Plastic bags that are landfilled with food waste.
- Emissions from the trucks transporting ‘the waste’ to the landfills.
- Energy used to refrigerate and cool at all stages.
- Seeds, energy, water, and farmland used to grow, transport, store, and prepare food.
- 25% of U.S. freshwater (AKA drinking water) and 300 million barrels used to create wasted food each year.
Local and large-scale composting has a multitude of benefits at individual, economic, and environmental levels.
- Compost added to soil prevents soil erosion.
- It increases the soil’s ability to absorb water and filter pollutants.
- It reduces the need for synthetic fertilizers.
- It increases the soil’s ability to sequester carbon.
- It reduces the cost of running landfills.
- It reduces the amount of methane in the air from rotting landfill food.
So how can you get started? The following 11 methods are beginner-friendly ways to join the circular economy and turn your food scraps into compost.
11 Beginner Ways to Compost Anywhere You Are
It’s easy to think of composting as a complicated, messy, smelly process that only happens on farms. It’s not clear where that image came from but it’s definitely not true. There is a composting solution available for any kind of lifestyle at any difficulty level.
The majority of these composting methods refer to backyard compositing, a smaller, less intense form of composting in comparison to industrial/commercial composting.
Just like a recipe needs specific ingredients (to turn out well), a compost pile has its own set of ingredients. Carbon + Nitrogen + Water + Oxygen = nutrient-rich compost.
Carbon comes from ‘brown materials’. This includes:
- Dried leaves
- Shredded newspaper
- Wood shavings
- Cardboard egg cartons (and more).
These ingredients ensure the pile — and the microorganisms doing the hard work — have plenty of airflow (oxygen) and get enough food to keep decomposing.
Nitrogen comes from ‘green materials’. This includes:
- Food scraps
- Grass clippings
- Eggshells (and more).
These carry a higher water content and ensure the pile — and the microorganisms — stay hydrated and continue to be strong enough to decompose.
1. Backyard Cold Pile Compost
Cold compost is easy to set up and requires minimal maintenance — perfect for any beginners. A cold compost pile can be made right inside a garden bed, in the ground, or in a bin and you can have as many piles as you want. The timeline is affected by your local climate but generally takes around 4-6 months to produce compost.
2. Backyard Hot Pile Compost
A hot compost pile can also be placed anywhere in your yard. Hot composting requires more attention because it relies on specific temperatures, moisture levels, and a balance between its main ingredients; it’s recommended to DIY or buy a ‘structure’ for your hot pile. Hot piles need to be frequently monitored but generally take ~1-3 months to produce compost.
3. Compost Tumbler Method
A tumbler is one of the best options for first-time composters. It’s essentially a barrel on a stand that rotates or spins, so you don’t have to manually aerate it. It has a door(s) to keep the heat in and opens when you need to add greens, browns, and water. With the tumbler, you could see compost in as little as 3-4 weeks while giving up minimal yard space.
4. Inground/Underground Compost System
An in-ground or underground compost system requires some setup at the beginning but is easy to use and maintain with minimal effort. It is a lidded structure partially buried in the ground (which acts as a natural insulator). Holes along the bottom and up the sides act as a super-highway for worms and their friends.
You can DIY your own system or purchase one of two types of premade systems; one will send out a bat signal to nearby earthworms and the other requires you to supply the worms.
Vermicomposting relies on worms, specifically Red Wigglers — and their poo. This method is perfect for people with limited space as it can be done on a patio, inside, or even under the sink.
The maintenance of a worm system, which you can either purchase or DIY, is pretty easy but because you’re in a mutually beneficial relationship with worms you’ll need to make sure to ‘feed’ them at least once per week and ensure you’re giving them an appropriate workload.
Worms are pretty introverted so while you can (and should) name them, for the most part, leave them alone, in the dark, undisturbed to do their business. Eventually their ‘bedding’ will need to be changed but it’s still less work than taking a dog out 2X+ per day.
Warning: Emotional attachment may occur.
6. Electric Composting
Electric composting is the latest in sustainable trends. The are still some strong opinions for and against this method and it isn’t the end-all-be-all solution to food waste, but if it will get you composting, these options are for you.
The Lomi is a cute, toaster-looking machine that acts as both a compost bin and composter right from your countertop. Throughout the day you load your food scraps into your Lomi. When you’re ready, put the lid on, turn it on, and in four hours you have usable compost.
Downsides: Can’t process fruit pits or bones; needs plenty of surface area; needs 4 hours of energy; subscription recommended.
With Mill, you get a (sleek) trash-can-looking item that actually grinds and dehydrates your food scraps. Included in the subscription is a prepaid box to send your dehydrated grounds back to Mill where they turn it into chicken food and distribute it.
Downsides: Transportation required, sending food waste in the mail; energy needed to run it; no usable compost; subscription required.
7. Municipal Composting
It may be news to all of us that 7% of the largest cities in the U.S. offer municipally-run curbside programs so it’s worth checking if there’s one near you! These programs work in the same way recycling and trash pick up do but the ‘waste’ is sent to a licensed compost facility for composting.
8. Support A Local Farm
A compost pile is nothing new to a farm and farmers may operate some kind of program that allows you to drop off your waste on their farms or at farmer’s markets. You can also check with any farmer (or neighbor) with chickens as food scraps make excellent chicken feed. Also look for nonprofit or local organizations that help facilitate this arrangement as well.
9. Community Garden
If there’s a community garden near you, there’s a chance they might accept food scraps for a compost pile. If they don’t it could be a great suggestion to suggest they start and get the community involved.
10. CSA Programs & Urban Farms
Community Agriculture Programs (CSA) and urban farms are amazing ways to support local farmers and local produce. On top of accessing fresh, local food, many of these organizations offer a compost program in addition to educational or voluntary opportunities to ‘work’ the farm.
11. Private Composting Service
Based on your location and lifestyle a private service (or nonprofit) might be your best option. Start with a little research to see if these programs are working with industrial or backyard composting facilities and if that’s important to you (hint: it is). If the program offers it you may get some compost back to use for your garden or houseplants!
These types of programs usually fall into one of three categories:
- You drop off your food scraps at a composting site.
- The program picks up your food scraps from your house in a designated bin and leaves a fresh bin in return.
- You drop off your food scraps at various locations (a community bin, a garden center, a farmer’s market, a local eco-store, etc.).
Conclusion: Composting At Home Is Available For Everyone — Beginners Included
Since the 1970’s food waste has increased by 50% in the United States. Whether you look at it from a financial, economic, or environmental perspective, food loss benefits no one.
As the world’s population grows and the effects of climate change begin to intensify, more people need to be fed with fewer resources available — reducing landfill contributions (24% of municipal waste is food), reducing methane emissions, and putting natural, nutrient-rich materials back into the environment seems like a good way to begin. Plus, it’s a super easy way to make your home more sustainable.
Beyond all the benefits discussed in this post, one of the best parts about composting at home, especially as a beginner, is that you can’t mess it up. Everything is already decomposing, you’re just creating a happy, comfy home for microorganisms. Your new microscopic friends helping you do something great for yourself, the planet, and your community.
About the Author
Lauren Plug is a freelance sustainability copywriter, SEO Strategist, and owner of Copy by LP. A sustainability enthusiast herself, she helps small, sustainable brands grow their reach while helping people reduce their impact.