The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines Municipal Solid Waste, more commonly known as trash or garbage, as everyday items we use and then throw away in our homes, schools, hospitals, and businesses: product packaging, grass clippings, furniture, clothing, bottles, food scraps, newspapers, appliances, paint, and batteries. According to the EPA, in 2011, Americans generated about 250 million tons of trash, and recycled and composted almost 87 million tons of this material (slightly over 1/3 of the total trash generated was recycled or composted). On average, we recycled and composted 1.53 pounds of our individual waste generation of 4.4 pounds per person per day.
Solid waste management, the process of collecting, transporting, managing and disposing of our trash, has been a challenging matter since humans became civilized (about ten thousand years ago, with the creation of agriculture). Today, we live in an era of mass production and consumerism, exacerbated by an exploding population. Our garbage is rapidly accumulating in landfills and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, generating harmful gases and contaminating our air and water sources. While we can’t stop producing garbage, we can be responsible consumers by reducing the amount of trash we generate and by recycling and composting our daily waste.
Recycling our plastic, paper, metal and glass is a great way to reduce and reuse a large part of our waste. Composting our organic waste is also an excellent way to lessen the amount of garbage reaching the landfills. Furthermore, composting lowers the emission of harmful greenhouse gases and creates a high quality chemical-free fertilizer for your plants and your organic vegetable garden!
As defined by oxforddictionaries.com, compost is “a mixture of decayed organic material with loam and/or other ingredients, used as a growing medium.” In other words, compost is a soil amendment created by decomposing organic matter, a natural process that generates rich chemical-free fertilizer!
Composting, much like gardening, requires some sort of outdoor space, such as a backyard or a community garden. However, some cities in the United States (such as San Francisco, CA, Portland, OR, and Boulder, CO) have curbside composting programs that allow residents to indirectly compost their waste. These great curbside composting plans are becoming quite popular, so keep your fingers crossed, your city could be next!
The best part about composting is that it is simple and easy. All it takes is a balanced mix of greens, browns, moisture, and oxygen flow, an occasional stir, and nature will take care of the rest!
Love the recycling worms and bugs!
Earthworms–one of the most visible soil organisms found in a healthy compost–will eat the organic waste, such as dead leaves and vegetable peels, and produce nutrient-rich soil. Also, the vertical burrows that the worms create in the compost will help air enter in the soil accelerating the decaying process and improving the texture of the new soil.
Mites, springtails, beetles, bacteria and fungi also contribute to the breakdown of organic waste and the production of rich and nutritious soil.
A living compost is a thriving compost!
- Fresh yard clippings such as grass, hedge prunings, spent seasonal flowers, and weeds.
- Fruit and vegetable peels, spoiled fruits and vegetables, and eggshells.
- Aquarium water, horse or chicken manure.
- Dry leaves, branches, pine needles, and twigs. Dried plants and dead houseplants with their soil.
- Used tea bags and used coffee grounds with the filter.
- Unprinted cardboard and paper, used paper napkins, empty toilet paper rolls, cotton and wool rags, wood ashes.
- It is crucial to keep your compost pile moist. Moisture allows microbes to thrive and this will speed up the decomposition process! Water your compost like you would water a plant; keep it moist.
- Cover your compost with a tarp to help create and maintain a humid and healthy ecosystem.
- Food or left overs containing oil or animal products (no dairy, meat, grease, sauces or creams).
- Cakes, pasta or rice.
- Diseased plants or weeds.
- Pet waste, scraps or sawdust from treated wood, or coated, colored or printed paper.
Ready, Set, Compost!
You can build your own compost bin, purchase one from the store or simply make a pile on the ground.
- Ingredients: Start adding your greens and browns to the pile. Chop or cut the big pieces into smaller pieces to help them break down faster. A well balanced mixture of green and browns will accelerate the composting process: if your pile starts smelling bad, add browns, if you notice that the materials are not breaking down, add more greens.
- Moisture: The microorganisms and worms that will be helping to break down your organic waste thrive in moist environments which is why it is crucial to keep your compost pile moist at all times (water your compost like you would a plant). If your are not using a compost bin and you live in a dry area, you can cover your compost pile with a tarp in order to keep it moist.
- Oxygen flow: The microorganisms working in your compost need to breath, so the presence of oxygen is very important. If you are using a compost bin with a lid, make sure your compost gets enough air circulation. Aerate the pile by mixing materials with a shovel periodically (some compost bins come with a mixing handle).
- Compost is ready when it looks earthy and no longer resembles the materials you used to make it. Your compost could be ready in 3 months, but depending on the climate and time of the year, the materials used, the moisture level, and how frequently you turn your pile, it could be ready sooner or later.
When your compost is finally ready, you can start mixing this earthy, nutritious and high quality fertilizer with your plant and vegetable garden soil. Congratulations, you have turned garbage into a useful and environmentally friendly natural product!