Breaking it Down: Composting Solutions

You are a diligent recycler. Empty aluminum cans that have been scraped and rinsed clean, hollow, old plastic milk jugs and glass jars go straight into the recycling bin without your even having to think twice about it. It’s second nature by now.

And yet…

  • What do you do with both knobby ends of a zucchini?
  • What becomes of the seedy core of a green bell pepper?
  • Where do the long, thin strips of orange from a peeled carrot end up?

Straight into the trash bin.

According to the EPA, discarded food scraps, in combination with yard trimmings, make up 27 percent of the municipal solid waste (household garbage) that ends up in landfills in the United States.



Newspapers can be added to compost. Creative Commons 3.0 Flickr:davecrosby

Composting is the obvious solution. Composting occurs when materials that were once alive decompose. The process requires oxygen, water, “green” materials, and “brown” materials. The “green” stuff contributes nitrogen and includes fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and grass clippings, among other things. “Brown” materials include carbon-rich substances like cardboard, newspaper and fallen leaves.

By alternating layers of green and brown waste and keeping the material moist, the blend nourishes microorganisms. Microorganisms essentially snack on the organic matter and dispel nutrient-rich humus. The term “humus” refers to soil that cannot be broken down or decomposed any further. Adding humus to soil can help it retain moisture and maintain a balanced pH level with better aeration. This healthy soil can then yield healthy, hearty plants.

Basically, composting is fantastic because it keeps waste out of landfills and contributes to healthy, thriving gardens. But, of course, the typical backyard compost pile is a non-option for apartment dwellers. It can also be quite tricky to maintain an outdoor pile in the winter, as it requires a shelter or even an external heat source to keep friendly bacteria alive and composting away in freezing temperatures.

So what is an eco-conscious urbanite to do in the winter months? Bring it indoors! It is possible to compost inside, with only a small space to work with. You can purchase a small indoor composter for prices ranging from less than $20 to well over $300. You can also make your own, using a small garbage can or bucket with holes punched in it, as long as it has some sort of cover. You could even try your hand at something called “vermicomposting” by adding earthworms to your bin. Worms add extra enzymes and nutrients to the finished product.

With or without worms, as long as you’re composting the right sort of materials in the right proportions, there should be no unpleasant odor to contend with. A ratio of one-fourths green material to three-fourths brown material is generally advised.

Things that are surprisingly compostable include:

  • Used teabags
  • Hair
  • Dryer lint

What’s that smell?

Things that should not be composted include dairy products, lard and meat scraps because they create an unpleasant odor and attract unwelcome houseguests like vermin and bugs.

With a little bit of maintenance, your indoor compost bin will yield usable compost within 2 to 5 weeks.

You can pamper your houseplants with it all winter and in the summer save money on fertilizer for your balcony herb garden.




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