When we hear the word “composting,” we tend to feel overwhelmed. It seems like a daunting task, yet if we break the process down (pun intended), it’s not as scary as we think. Not to mention the benefits it boasts on our gardens and the earth as a whole are tremendous. Here’s how to start composting, including what it is, how it works, the benefits and how even businesses are adopting this method in their everyday practices.

What is Composting?

At a basic level, composting is the process of breaking down organic materials into a nutrient-filled fertilizer. The materials most often used in compost are food and yard waste, such as fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea leaves and paper tea bags, eggshells … the list goes on. To see a list of specific items you can and can’t compost, see here.

Composting Beginner's Guide

Composting begins with items we typically see as trash, but these materials can actually be used as nourishing soil.

The Benefits

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, food and yard waste make up about 28 percent of the items we throw away. This waste is then brought to landfills where it takes up space and rots, releasing a toxic greenhouse gas called methane. “If you’re talking about toxicity, food waste and organics are some of the most toxic items in the landfill,” says Leah Sherry of Nashville’s Turnip Green Creative Reuse. “The landfill doesn’t have oxygen, so things like a banana peel can take up to two years to decompose even though it’s an organic material.” Yet when we take this otherwise harmful waste and put it to use in a compost bin, we are not only decreasing our carbon footprint, but we are also improving soil and reducing our need for chemical fertilizers.

In addition to its environmental impacts, composting also affects us as humans. Nearly 40 million Americans face food insecurity, yet 40 percent of food grown, processed and transported in the U.S. goes to waste (source). This staggering ratio has inspired people and businesses to make a change. Kroger, for example, launched its Zero Hunger Zero Waste plan, working to eliminate both food waste and hunger.

“Through our Zero Hunger Zero Waste plan, we work with our food banks to donate product that is at the point where it would normally be thrown away but is still perfectly good for consumption,” explains Melissa Eads, Corporate Affairs Manager with the Kroger Nashville division. “When fresh product is not suitable for donation, our stores turn to food waste recycling and composting. We have been composting in all our stores for over two years. Thanks to our donation and composting programs, we have been able to divert over 100% more food waste from landfills over the last two years.”

How to Get Started at Home

Composting at home typically takes about three to four weeks, but it could also take as long as three months. And before you start to panic, you don’t need a fancy composter or expensive equipment to get started.

An at-home composting kit simply requires your waste materials and garden fencing or a plastic bin, depending on your preference. “You could compost in a pile in your backyard, but if you contain it in something plastic, it’ll move quicker,” Ali Hadd of Turnip Green Creative Reuse says. “People can also turn Tupperware into composting bins if they want.” From there, simply add two-thirds your brown ingredients (e.g. tree branches, dry grass clippings, pine shavings, etc.) and one-third green ingredients (e.g. fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, eggshells, etc.).

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Tending to your compost pile is also fairly easy. You want to make sure to spray it with water every few days. It is also essential to turn your pile with a pitchfork every few days (if not every day). This helps ingredients become familiar with one another and ultimately break down faster. SB TIP: See here for a detailed explanation on how to build your own compost pile.

Now is as good a time as any to pick up a new hobby, and composting isn’t as difficult as it seems. We hope this guide has given you the tips and tricks you need to create your own compost bin!

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