Conservation Station: Composting - Environmentally Friendly, Without Losing Friends!
By Stacy Martin on August 03, 2012
Last week I blogged about the havoc created by the storm on June 29 and how these severe storms wreak havoc on more than just our conveniences of living, but on the environment. One area, in particular, I focused on was disposing of spoiled food when there is no electricity for days on end. Most people throw it in the trash where it ends up in the landfill with tons of other food. WHY is this BAD? When food (as well as yard waste) is disposed of in the trash and hauled to the landfill it sits with tons of other dumped food (and yard waste) where it begins to produce methane gas and acidic leachate (the most damaging of the greenhouse gases) and further harms the environment as it continues to decompose (www.about.com, “The Benefits of Composting” by Colleen Vanderlinden). If methane is not controlled at a landfill the gases begin to seep into the ground and can spread to nearby buildings where it has the potential to explode (www.idreamofeden.wordpress.com “Composting for Dummies”). But what if there was another way to dispose of food that can also save you money and the environment? Let’s reduce the methane levels in our community and start composting!
Composting might sound intimidating, offensive to thy neighbor, or like just too much work. But in reality, if you know the basics it’s very easy, cost effective, and can be done within the City without being offensive or in violation of City regulations. As with everything, the internet is a valuable resource for learning everything there is to know about composting – how to get started, what type of compost bin to use, and how to do it without creating offensive odor or attracting unwanted animals. You can do a search on “Composting without odor” and several websites pop up with very basic instructions. I will try to lay out some basic rules, as well as address some City concerns that might arise.
First, what type of compost bin should you use? The answer to this depends on what type of property you have, where you plan on putting the compost bin, how much compost you would like to make, and how much work you want to do to make your bin. Composting can be done in apartments (although indoor composting requires special red worms and close monitoring of moisture and temperature levels), in apartment complexes (as long as permission is granted from the landlord and you agree to maintain it for the entire complex), housing in close proximity, and homes with lots of acreage. Essentially, almost anyone can compost! Compost bins can be made of scrap wood and chicken wire; made from a garbage can by drilling holes for aeration; made from a wooden barrel (again drilling holes); or purchased at garden centers or home improvement stores. Before deciding what type of bin you are going to use, decide where it is going to be placed – a basement, a balcony, a kitchen, a patio, or in the yard. Just make sure that wherever you decide to place a compost bin it is in a space that allows for adequate drainage and has at least partial sun. If you live in the City, I highly suggest checking out www.ehow.com “How to Make Compost in the City” by Heidi Almond. This is a great article with several links to compost bins or how to compost in confined spaces.
Second, know your basic rules for composting! (1) If the waste comes from the ground, it can be returned to the ground; (2) keep your compost pile moist but not wet with at least partial sun; (3) add to the compost pile weekly, not daily; (4) use approximately 20 worms (earth worms will do) to break-down the compost more quickly; (5) turn frequently with a hand rake, shovel or rototiller; (6) use a good ratio of “brown” organic matter such as hay, straw dried brown leaves, sawdust, twigs, and shredded newspapers to “green” organic matter such as green grass clippings, animal manure, and food scraps; and (7) know what can and cannot be composted! To elaborate on a couple of these rules I will say a little more. Ceramic “cookie-jar-like” containers with holes for ventilation can be bought at local stores and used to collect food scraps, animal fur, hair clippings, dryer and vacuum lint, etc. on your counter until you add to the compost pile. It is important not to add daily to the compost pile but to turn the exiting pile daily and add weekly when the previous material has started to break down (this will help eliminate odor building up). The adding of worms is key for two reasons – it helps to keep odor down by speeding up the break-down cycle as they digest the material, as well as they are a good monitor for moisture levels - if you notice worms escaping it means the pile is too moist.
The following lists are from the website www.idreamofeden.wordpress.com:
WHAT TO COMPOST: animal manure, cardboard rolls, clean paper, coffee grounds & filters, cotton rags, dryer & vacuum lint, eggshells, fireplace ashes, fruits & vegetables, grass clippings, hair & fur, hay & straw, houseplants, leaves, nut shells, sawdust, shredded newspapers, tea bags, wood chips, wool rags, yard trimmings (any other questionable items – do an internet search to answer)
Black walnut tree leaves or twigs – harmful substances may be released to plants when used
Coal or charcoal ash – may contain substances harmful to plants, garden
Dairy products (butter, milk, sour cream, yogurt, etc) – creates odor problems and attracts flies/rodents
Diseased or insect-ridden plants – diseases or insects may survive and be transferred back to plants
Fats, grease, lard, or oils – creates odor problems and attracts flies/rodents
Meat, fish bones, meat scraps – creates odor problems and attracts flies/rodents
Pet wastes (dog or cat feces, soiled cat litter) – may contain parasites, bacteria, germs, pathogens, and viruses harmful to humans
Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides – may kill the beneficial composting organisms