Composting is a stupendous way to make a significant environmental impact. Here in New York City, roughly 30% of all material carted off to the dump is compostable vegetable material. When an organic compound, like food waste, decomposes in an oxygen-free environment (say, buried under tons of garbage and soil), it undergoes enteric fermentation, the byproduct of which is methane. Methane is an extraordinarily powerful greenhouse gas – about 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period.
For that reason, as well as the reduction in GHG emissions related to carting off extra waste, composting at home can have a significant environmental benefit. People are wary of composting in the city – in a small apartment there are fears of odor or of attracting pests – but a properly-managed compost bin can avoid all of these problems. Here are a few tips for healthy compost management.
1. Always think Greens and Browns. Greens are fresh, moist, nitrogen-rich materials like fruit and vegetable scraps, and coffee grounds and tea bags. Browns are dead, dry, carbon-rich materials like dry leaves, potting soil, egg shells, bread, grains, nutshells, paper towels and napkins, and shredded newspaper. Having equal parts greens and browns is essential to a healthy compost pile – without enough browns, the pile will develop a bad odor. Without enough greens, the pile will stagnate.
2. Layer! A healthy compost pile is like a lasagna – always have a layer of greens buried by a layer of browns. This ensures that decomposition will proceed at a timely rate, avoiding all odor or pests.
3. Choose the Right Bin. There are any number of different bins for different purposes – for backyard composting, for composting in the kitchen, or even on a fire escape or landing. Some green product compost bins, like the RSVP Compost Pail, only hold foodstuff in your kitchen to later be transferred to a composting system. Some have odor filters. The most advanced compost bins, like the NatureMill Plus edition, are electric composters that keep the food scraps heated to significantly speed up the composting process.
4. Don’t Put in Non-Compostables! Meat and fish scraps, cheese and dairy products, fats and grease, and animal feces don’t compost well and will almost certainly attract awful smells and bad pest infestations. Avoid these! Also remember that recyclable materials – glass, metal, or plastics, are not compostable.
5. Troubleshoot! The way your compost bin smells or acts can indicate various problems.
- Rotten-egg odor means your bin is too wet – make sure to turn the pile and add browns.
- An ammonia odor means there is too much green, nitrogen-rich material. Slow decomposition means there is a lack of air, moisture, or an improper balance of green and brown.
- A low pile temperature (decomposition naturally produces heat!) indicates that the pile is too small, there is insufficient moisture, poor aeration, a lack of nitrogen, or that there is weather is cold – a problem remedied by insulating with straw or increasing pile size.
- A high pile temperature means the pile is too large, or isn’t being aerated enough.
- Pests arrive when there are wrong materials in the pile, greens are not fully covered by browns, or the bin isn’t rodent-resistant.
Green Depot carries multiple bins and buckets, and other green products to help you start composting at home. For larger, more ambitious outdoor bins remember to take a look at the sustainably-harvested lumber we carry.