Nearly 40% of all food produced for human consumption here in the United States – 400 pounds per person every year – gets lost or wasted. It’s time we stop wasting food and start composting.
During my week of the Zero Waste Challenge, I would have been hard pressed to carry around all of the food waste I generated. Avocado pits, mango peels, kale stems…just about everything I ate generated some form of waste.
With so much waste generated from food, it’s not surprising that up to one-fourth of all landfill waste could have been thrown into the compost. Making the decision to start composting helped me divert all of my food scraps away from landfills and into composting bins.
The best part about composting? It’s so easy for everyone to start doing it today.
What is Composting?
On a basic level, composting is the combination of a few key ingredients which work together in order to break down food waste into extremely, nutrient-rich soil – AKA. black gold.
The dark earthy goodness that is created can then be used to plant seedlings, nourish house plants, fertilize gardens, etc.. Basically, all that leftover or rotting food that you throw in the garbage disposal or trash can becomes the life source for new, healthy plants.
The 5 key ingredients needed to start composting:
- Nitrogen – This is all of your food waste, kitchen scraps and coffee grounds. Too much nitrogen and the microbes will be overwhelmed. The result? Your compost pile will start to smell terrible – not good!
- Carbon – Also known as the ‘browns’. This includes things like wood chips, paper shreds, news paper, and leaves. Too much carbon will slow the breakdown process of food into compost.
- Water – Moisture keeps the microorganisms going. However, too much water and they will drown, too little and the breakdown may slow to a halt.
- Air – Just like you and I, the microbes need oxygen. If your compost pile is to dense, they will suffocate, if it is too aerated the compost pile will dry out.
- Microbes – These babies are your best friends. They are responsible for turning gross food into nutrient-rich soil. Keep them happy with a balanced level of nitrogen, carbon, moisture, and oxygen.
Start Composting on Your Own
Hot Composting – Turn up the heat for the fastest transition from food to usable soil. Hot composting is probably the most common and quickest way to start composting. These piles will get up to around 120 – 160 degrees Fahrenheit and will break down your food in as little as 4 weeks.
To get started, you layer equal parts nitrogen (food) and carbon into a composting bin, add a little water, and then lit it sit. Then, every week or so you will need to turn the pile over. You can find a complete guide to hot composting here.
Cold Composting – If you have the time and space and are looking for the method that requires the least amount of effort, cold composting is for you.
In contrast to hot composting, which requires you turn your compost over every week or so to create heat, cold composting only requires that you add layers to the pile and leave it sit. Where hot composting can finish up in a matter of weeks, cold composting takes up to a year or more.
Worm (not warm) Composting – You don’t have to compost on your own, enlist the help of some hungry friends. Worm composting is a great option for those with limited space. Basically, worms will eat your old food and then turn it into compost as it moves through their body… YUM!
Here’s an easy guide to help you start worm composting today!
If you’re like me and have very little room to start your own compost system, then be glad that awesome companies like Food2Soil work hard to make sure everyone can start composting.
Food2Soil has partnered with a number of facilities around San Diego county to create “Community Composting Hubs”. These hubs take compostable materials (food scraps) from both businesses and individuals/families and turns it into nutrient rich soil.
For a small fee, Food2Soil supplies businesses and families with compost carts and buckets, then arranges monthly pick-ups and drop offs.
Community composting operations like this one are an incredible resource for people and businesses in urban environments that don’t have the space or time to compost themselves, but would still love to divert their food waste from their local landfills.
Each of us are creating an inconceivable amount of food waste every year. When we start composting, we reduce landfill waste, create new, nutrient-rich soil, promote bio diversity, improve air quality and much more.