How to Compost at Home
Composting is one of the most effective ways to take climate action from our very own homes. Not only does it reduce methane emissions and prevent waste from rotting in landfills, but it’s also an Earth-friendly way to up your plant game, too. Yet, many assume the process is difficult, confusing, and will stink up their space. Learn the basics, however, and you’ll be surprised to see how many of those everyday items you typically toss in the bin can be broken down and repurposed in a compost pile.
To better understand what composting is and how to do it, we consulted with zero-waste chef Anne-Marie Bonneau and sustainability expert Melanie Musson. Read on as they share tips on how to start composting at home.
What Is Composting?“Composting is breaking down organic material into a nutrient-rich product that can be used to fertilize the soil,” Melanie explains. As the materials break down, they create something called humus that can be added back into the Earth, leaving nothing behind. Composting is an eco-friendly alternative to simply throwing items like food scraps in the trash bin, where they would otherwise end up in the landfill and emit methane, a greenhouse gas. Compostable materials (different from biodegradable ones) decompose fairly quickly (think 90-120 days) and create what sustainability experts refer to as ‘black gold’. While composting can seem intimidating, it really just requires a bit of mindfulness when disposing waste. “You can't stop food from breaking down into compost, so I think that's important for people to keep in mind when starting out, especially if they find the process mysterious or daunting,” Anne-Marie adds.
As long as you have room for a bin, anyone can compost from home. If available, you can even share a composting box with your neighbors or bring scraps to a community garden. No matter how you do it, just make sure you’re only adding items that can easily be broken down in an at-home compost (more on that below). If you’re unsure, bring your scraps to a commercial facility instead.
How to Compost At HomeReady to start composting? Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do it.
Step 1: Grab a 5-gallon container or bin to store your compost. You can shop around for one or simply use a large cardboard box, a few pallets, or a bucket. “There are containers that turn to mix the compost and there are stationary bins. You can even use an open compost method,” Melanie adds, which is tossing scraps directly onto the dirt. You’ll also want to grab a smaller container, such as an empty coffee tin or an old milk jug, to store food scraps until they’re ready to be added to the compost.
Step 2: Start collecting scraps and other compostable items. You’ll need two types: green material and brown material. The ‘greens’ (not necessarily related to their actual color) are wet, nitrogen-rich scraps that help spur microbial growth, breaking the materials down and creating compost. “Kitchen scraps and green yard and garden materials are ‘green’ matter,” says Melanie. Some examples are banana peels, coffee grinds, grass clippings, and dead flowers. The ‘browns’, such as leaves, dryer lint, and shredded paper bags, are dry, carbon-rich materials that encourage aeration (a.k.a. they allow water and air to move instead of sitting in a soggy mess).
A mix of both green and brown items is vital for composting, but you’ll need a bit more browns than greens (about a 3:1 ratio). What you don’t want to add? Meat and dairy products. “Avoid oily food as it will clog up worms' pores”, adds Anne-Marie.
Step 3: Begin adding your scraps to the pile. “Layer your green and brown waste with brown on top, sprinkling with water between each layer,” Melanie explains. Repeat, alternating between browns and greens. “Keep the pile moist (like a damp sponge) but not wet,” Anne-Marie adds.
Step 4: Every few weeks, turn your compost pile using a shovel or the like. Turning compost adds oxygen, speeding up the decomposition process. Just don’t turn it too much (like every day); the pile needs time to sit still and ‘cook’, warming up to the right temperature so the materials can break down properly.
Step 5: After a few months (dependent on where you live and how warm it is outside), your compost bin should start decomposing and creating that ‘black gold’. Contrary to popular belief, compost really shouldn’t smell. Done correctly, it has an earthy scent to it. If it does stink, your compost could be too wet or needs a bit more brown material. If collecting scraps is stinking up your kitchen and irritating your roommate, throw them in a freezer-safe bag and keep them in the back of the fridge or freezer.
Step 6: Once you have humus (it’ll look like dark, crumbly dirt with the scraps no longer visible), you can add it back to your garden, spread it on top of your soil, or donate it to a local garden.
Voila! You’re officially a composter. If it doesn’t turn out perfectly, don’t fret. “Making conditions ideal for composting to occur will make the process as fast as possible, but it’s hard to go wrong with compost,” Melanie advises. “If you don’t get the ratio of greens to browns right, or if your mixture doesn’t get enough air or is too wet or dry, you’ll still get compost, it might just take a little longer. It’s better to get started and learn as you go than to get so bogged down in preparing to do everything perfectly that you get overwhelmed and give up before you try it.”We can all do our part to take climate action and move towards a future free from warming. That’s why we offset 100% of our emissions and aim to keep our packaging low-waste.