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A Beginner’s Guide to Composting

In recent years, making the shift toward a greener lifestyle has been a transformation that was far easier to approach than I’d imagined. As eco-conscious lifestyles and a desire to understand how the products we use impact our own health and the health of the planet become the norm, brands have responded by designing amazing products and lines that are toxin-free, low-waste, and friendly toward our earth and bodies. From clean cookware to clean fashion and even companies cropping up like Take Good Care— a consulting service that will come over to your house and transform your homelife from toxin-filled to toxin-free–  doing our part to become better stewards of our earth has been more accessible than ever before.

But despite all of the approachable ways out there to start living a waste-conscious and cleaner lifestyle, one of the areas that can still seem out of reach and difficult to kick off is composting. Composting is totally possible, though, even if you live in a 5th floor walk up in a big city.

Composting not only reduces the amount of food you throw away (subsequently reducing the amount of waste that goes to landfills), it creates nutrient-rich soil to sprinkle over gardens and house plants, cuts back on greenhouse gas emissions, positively affects air quality, increases biodiversity, and– a big bonus– it can be a major money saver!

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Composting for Apartment Dwellers
If you live in a city or an apartment without yard space, you’re going to need a container to successfully compost. There are tons of bin options available at a wide range of prices, but these are some of our favorites, from super affordable to higher-end bins:

Scrap Happy Scrap Collector & Freezer Compost Bin: This bin features a small hook so that it can be hung from a drawer or low kitchen cabinet, where food scraps can simply be scooped into the bin. if you’re not into the idea of keeping a compost bin on your countertop, you can also keep it in the door of your freezer! Because it’s made of silicone, the clean-up is simple and you can rinse it in the sink or pop it in the dishwasher.

The Enloy Compost Bin with Charcoal Filters:  This stainless steel bin is designed to absorb odors easily with activated charcoal which is fastened to the top of the lid. It’s sleek, affordable, and comes with replacement carbon filters when the bin is ready for a refresh.

* A Quick Note about Carbon Filters: Made of activated carbon or charcoal, carbon filters act as a natural deodorizer for your compost bin, and are usually placed under the lid of your bin in order to keep your food scraps from smelling. Bins that come with carbon filters tend to run slightly higher in price, but you should consider buying one even if you’ve invested in a cheaper bin without a built-in filter (you’ll thank us later!). Aim to replace the filter every 4-6 months, or if you start to notice the filter has a funky scent or is growing mold. An easy way to keep mold from growing on the filter lid is by making sure your food scraps are never touching the top– that means emptying your bin when it’s getting close to full each week!

Composter by Bamboozle: This bin is made entirely of biodegradable and durable bamboo fiber and looks so cute sitting on a kitchen countertop! This bin also has a carbon filter fixed to the top of its lid, though you’ll have to buy replacements online or at your local hardware store.

Alasaw Countertop Compost Bin: We love this compost bin not only because it resembles a beautiful wooden bread box, but because each one is handcrafted and comes in different sizes depending upon how much food waste you’ll compost. The inside of the box is made of removable stainless steel, which makes clean-up really easy.

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Use your indoor composting bin to begin storing compost-friendly food scraps you’d otherwise toss. You can also save old flowers and plants to add to the collection if you’d like. We recommend picking up some compostable plastic bags to line the inside of your bin with. Be sure that the bags you purchase are for at-home composting (not commercial or industrial). Using a lined bin is ideal for those not planning to keep the soil at home, because you can tie the bags off once they’re filled, store them in your freezer, and then take them to your local farmer’s market to add to their compost bins. ShareWaste is a great compost resource and lets you know where you can drop scraps off if you’re not planning on waiting for composted soil, and CompostNow is another great service going the extra mile in composting. All you have to do is leave your compost bin at the doorstep of your home or entrance to your office, and they’ll come by and collect the scraps where they’ll be taken to a larger compost pile at a local community garden.

Home Composting vs. Commercial Composting
In addition to traditional kitchen or backyard composting which involves composting organic waste from only one household or facility, there are also industrial or commercial composting facilities that handle composting massive quantities of commercial and municipal waste all at once. There are a few different techniques industrial composting uses to break down all of the material they receive, but it’s your job as a consumer (and composter) to distinguish between the labels that confirm whether or not the item you purchased can be industrially composted or at home. To check whether your product or package is compostable, look for the “BPI Label” on your item. This label ensures that your product will safely break down at an industrial composting facility, or if you can compost it at home or at the farmer’s market. Note: We prefer to get home composting bags since those can breakdown in both.

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Backyard Composting
If you live on some land or have a small backyard, you can start your compost pile in a back corner of your property. It’s not required to use a container or bin to start a compost pile; containers are available only to keep things tidy or if you don’t have any yard space. Start your pile by adding grass trimmings, green leaves, old flowers, weeds, and any other dying plant material or garden waste to the pile. If your compost pile is outside, keep a stainless steel bin in your kitchen to collect and store your food scraps, and transfer them to the pile once your container is full.

The trick to a decent compost pile, the kind which results in fresh, clean soil and doesn’t smell on your countertop along the way, is to create an even, 50/50 mixture of “green waste” (mostly food scraps or garden scraps) and “brown waste” (leaves, wood shavings, newspapers). Your compost pile needs oxygen and moisture in order to decompose, so sprinkle your pile with water every week or so if it looks a little dry. If you’ve nailed this balance down, your pile shouldn’t smell like old trash, but rather like rich, fresh soil.

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Here’s a quick primer on what’s kosher to compost and what you should avoid tossing into your kitchen bin or pile:

COMPOST!                                                                   DO NOT COMPOST!
Fruit & veggies scraps                                                     Plastic
Coffee grounds & filters                                                  Dairy
Egg shells                                                                        Meat & Meat Bones
Yard & garden trimmings                                                Diseased or insect-ridden plants
Lint                                                                                  Cat Litter
Hair & Pet Fur                                                                 Pet Waste
Twigs                                                                               Yard trimmings treated with pesticides
Tea bags
Newspaper & shredded paper
Cardboard
Sawdust & wood chippings

And now you wait! Over the next few weeks to a month, you’ll start to see new soil develop from the decomposed food & plant scraps you added to your pile. Be sure to turn your mixture over every week or two with a shovel to thoroughly mix up all the contents and encourage the breakdown process. Continue adding to the top and by the end of the month, you should have dark, rich compost soil to spread around your garden.

Use your new soil. You’ll know your compost pile is complete when it looks and smells like the kind of fresh soil you would purchase at a gardening center. You can spread the soil on your lawn or house plants to encourage growth or add it to your garden bed or veggie patch for a kick of nutrient-heavy soil. If you’re in a city without much space, consider giving your fresh soil to a local community garden or use it to pot new house plants. Keep in mind that your compost pile is not a total soil replacement, but rather acts as a natural fertilizer to nourish your plants and lower your carbon footprint along the way!

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