Composting is something that is coming back into style lately. This mainly has to do with the environmental impacts of tossing food into the bin, so allowing our scraps to have another chance at life is as eco friendly as it gets. So how exactly do you compost, what can you compost, and why should you do so?
Why should you compost?
The most important reason to compost is to reduce the number of greenhouse gasses leak into the atmosphere. 40% of the waste that we throw into landfills is from organic matter, such as food scraps. When this organic matter decomposes, it releases methane into the air.
While some of it may be captured, much of it still escapes into the atmosphere. Since Methane is many times worse than carbon, keeping it out of our atmosphere is a must.
Another way that composting is useful is that it helps to replenish the nutrients in your soil. So if you have a backyard garden or a flower bed, starting a compost pile might be perfect for you!
Biodegradable vs Compostable
So many people are confused by these two words and sometimes erroneously think they mean the same thing . What is the difference between biodegradable and compostable?
Last year researchers at the University of Plymouth, UK, published a paper where they were questioning whether compostable and biodegradable bags were equally good for the environment. Needless to say, that raised a lot of confusing in most people approaching the results of the paper, as we tend to believe these 2 adjectives are synonims, when in fact they are not. Not only that, but as this research showed, bags that are labelled as compostable decompose very differently to those marked as biodegradable, and this has very important implications on how safe and eco-friendly they are.
Biodegradable is in fact a very vague term, which indicates the ability of a material to decompose by the action of bacteria of other living organisms. The truth is, pretty much everything is biodegradable. Even plastic bags. The question is : how long does it take for something to biodegrade? And more importantly: what kind of environment does that specific product need to be to successfully break down and decompose fast (if possible at all)?
So that's why so many products labelled as biodegradable forget to mention that they actually need a very special decomposing environment to degrade fast. That's usually an industrial composting facility, which is not always available to everyone.
So the real word to watch out and seek is actually COMPOSTABLE. That means that a product can biodegrade in a compost, even your back garden or flat one. That also means that the product labelled compostable is made of natural or plant based untreated materials that can decompose in a natural environment rich of oxygen, just like your compost at home!
What can you compost?
Before you can learn how to compost, you have to be wary of what you can, or can’t, compost.
But learning what you can compost can be pretty fun.
100 things you can - and should - compost
1. Eggshells (but not whole eggs
2. Coffee grounds
4. Fruit and vegetable peel and scraps
7. Natural fibered textiles
8. Wood chips
10. Nail clippings
12. Wine Corks
13. Lint from natural fabric (cotton, linen, wool..)
15. Shredded Paper
16. Shredded Cardboard
17. Pizza boxes
18. Dust (including vacuum dust)
19. Used matches
20. Nut shells (pistachios, walnuts, peanuts etc)
21. Tea bags (only if not made of plastic - check the labels!)
22. Wooden and Bamboo Toothbrush (without bristles)
23. Tea leaves
25. Stale bread
26. Cooked pasta (no sauce)
27. Christmas tree
28. Paper back books without the lining
29. Compostable wooden brushes
30. Alcoholic drinks, such as wine and beer
31. Urine (yes you read it right!)
32. Dry flowers
33. Biodegradable Sponges
36. Pet bedding from herbivores (rabbits, hamsters etc)
37. Saw dust
38. Old, dry pasta
41. Greeting Cards(without any plastic or glitter)
42. Fruit pits (avocado, mango, plum...)
43. Banana peels
44. Corn cobs
45. Natural twine (like the one we use for our gift sets!)
46. Toilet rolls
48. Cotton pads (disposable, but always best to use reusable)
49. Spoiled coconut/ almond milk
50. Bamboo cutlery
51. Coconut shells (including coconut bowls)
55. Untreated wooden appliances (such as wooden soap dishes, wooden boxes etc)
56. Menstrual blood
57. Old ripped jeans (previously cut in small strips)
58. Old pieces of natural fabric such as cotton shirts, linen trousers, etc (cut in strips)
59. Dog or cat fur
61. Dead and dry houseplants
62. Ashes from the fireplace or the barbecue/grill
63. Dead and dry leaves
64. Pencil shavings
65. Cardboard boxes for shampoo bars / conditioner bars / solid lotions etc
67. 100% cotton tampons and sanitary pads
68. Old unusable cotton bags
69. Old seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame .. seeds)
70. Egg boxes made of cardboard (in little pieces)
71. Cereal boxes (in strips)
72. Pizza crust
73. Old stale bread
74. Onion and potato skin
75. Garlic peel
76. Spoiled tofu
77. Unused boiled rice
78. Wood chips
79. Burnt food
80. Leftover oatmeal
81. Bamboo skewers
82. Brown paper labels
83. Beard hair
84. Trimmings from a razor
85. Soil from flowers and houseplants
86. Christmas natural wreath
87. Eco-peanuts made of cornstarch (like the one we use at EarthBits!)
88. Dry pet food
89. Stale tortillas and crisps
90. Stale wraps
91. Old dry herbs
92. Bamboo straws
93. Old ripped wood clothes (ripped in small pieces)
94. Pine cones
95. Old ruined reusable kitchen towels and kitchen cloths (cut in strips)
96. Old rope
98. Floral compositions
99. Dried oranges and DIY decorations for the holidays
100. Compostable sponges
And a variety of other natural materials. If possible, throwing anything that can be composted into the compost bin is a great way to reduce the amount of product going to the landfill.
What not to add to your compost
But it is important to understand what you should be wary about composting. Not everything can go into the compost, and other items are a bit iffy.
For instance, animal products such as meat, dairy, and eggs, can ruin your compost bin if you are not very careful. This is usually due to foul odors and pest problems. Any fats, including vegetable oils, can cause similar effects, and should probably be avoided.
Coal or charcoal ash can harm your plants as well. This is due to the fact that they are often treated with a variety of chemicals. The same goes for lawn trimmings that have been treated with pesticides and herbicides, as they can kill the bacteria in the compost, causing it to not break down properly.
Another thing you should be wary about is putting in clothing that was dyed with chemical dyes. Studies have shown that hundreds of dyes can still be detected on the clothing after it is finished being made. These chemicals can then get into your compost, often with unknown long term effects on the health of you, or your plants.
Anything synthetic, or mixed with synthetics, and thus will not break down should also not be added to your compost. This is because materials like polyester, acrylic, etc, will not break down, thus contaminating your compost.
But that being said, you can reduce a lot of usable materials in the landfill if you just add a compost bin. So how exactly does one compost?
How do you compost?
The first thing you need is a place to hold your scraps while they are degrading back into soil. To do this, you need to be able to stack the compost about 3 feet high, but also add in a fair amount of air. So having a large box made out of pallets, or a gate made of chicken wire are great ways to accomplish this.
To put the composting itself in the easiest terms is that you mix in the “green” and “brown” materials. Brown materials are items such as straw, paper scraps, leaves, textiles, and everything that considered dry. This is important to add as it provides nitrogen, which is vital to making a good compost.
Green materials, also called “wet” materials, are items such as crushed eggshells, banana peels, coffee grounds, and the like. These provide the nutrients as well as Carbon necessary to grow the new plants and allow them to thrive. Adding worms to your compost pile helps to break it down even faster, although it is not necessary.
Watering your compost
You want to make sure that you add a little bit of water to your compost each day. If you don’t water it enough, it can dry out and kill the micro-organisms that break down the plant matter. If it is too wet, the micro-organisms will die, and the pile will rot instead of decompose.
The pile should also be turned around once a week. This allows for the compost to get the oxygen it needs to continue decomposing. You can do this by turning it with a pitchfork or a shovel. The best time to turn it is when the compost feels to be about 150 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you do not turn the compost regularly, you will have only part of the compost bin that degrades. This is not a good thing, as it reduces the quality of your compost. So make sure that you are turning your compost often!
Preparing the Garden
Now composting is not going to be fast. In fact, it can take 6 months to a year for everything to finally break down. You can tell when it is done when it stops giving off heat and becomes more dry and crumbly. So be prepared for a wait before you can add this to your flower bed.
Now, after all of that time and effort, you can add this new soil to your flower bed. What you want to do is add 4 to 6 inches of compost to your flower beds or vegetable gardens to make sure that the new plants get all of the nutrients you worked hard to recover!
It may take a long time, but it is worth it in the end when you are able to help the environment, as well as benefit your garden. Otherwise, you can give it to friends or family if you have too much, or else don’t garden much yourself. Everyone wins.
Check out our website if you want to see more compostable products. We have a variety of natural products that can all be composted at the end of their lives. That way, it is far easier to make a more eco-friendly switch.