According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), yard trimmings and food residuals together constitute 26 percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream. This organic waste could be composted and reused. Below are a few facts to start composting:
What is compost?
Natural composting is biologic decomposition. Mature compost is the product of our organized efforts. According to the EPA mature compost “is a stable material with a content called humus that is dark brown or black and has a soil-like, earthy smell”.
How does composting occur?
There are 5 variables in composting.
1. Mix “browns” and “greens”: Mature compost requires a proper mixing of your “greens” and “browns”. Organic matter such as grass clippings, food scraps, manure, etc compose the green category. These items contain large amount of nitrogen. The brown category includes organic matter such as dry leaves, wood chips, branches, etc. These items contain large amounts of Carbon. Make it a work of art and include items from both categories. A proper mix of the “browns” and “greens” provides a balance of nutrients in the compost as well as a stabilized material.
2. Grind it up: Grinding compost increases the surface area that organisms can feed on. It also creates a more even material. Give your compost a leg up and your patience a second chance. Help in the decomposition process by crushing, grinding, chipping, etc.
3. Just Add Water: Composting is almost as simple as your favorite Campbell’s soup- just add water. Your organic material may be decaying, but your compost is still alive- at least the microorganisms that break down the compost are. They need water to survive. Water also helps transport nutrients within the pile and makes nutrients accessible to microbes. You don’t have to go overboard though, rain water may be sufficient. Keep your eye on the pile to see if it’s looking dry.
4. Let it Breathe: Oxygen is essential to the decomposition process. You can air your pile by turning it, placing it on a series of pipes, or mixing in wood chips or shredded newspaper (bulking agents). This also requires balance. Too much oxygen can dry out the pile.
5. Temperature: Balance in the previous four factors should result in the proper temperature for composting so this one will fall into place. The microorganisms in the composting material require a certain temperature range for optimal activity. Relatively high temperature also promote rapid rotting by destroying pathogens and weed seeds.
It’s easy to manage composting with an understanding of these 5 variables. Simply grind up your browns and greens, keep it hydrated, turn it around once or twice and you’ll have a fine batch of rot.
What can compost be used for?
According to the EPA, compost can be used for the following purposes:
- Farmers use compost for enhancing crops and for sod farms.
- Landscapers use compost as a soil amendment and for decorative purposes at properties, golf courses, and athletic fields.
- Landfill operators use compost to cover landfills and carry out reclamation projects.
- Nurseries use compost for enhancing plant and forest seedling crops in reforestation projects and to prevent certain plant diseases such as root rot.
- Public agencies use compost for landscaping highway median strips, parks, recreational areas, and other public property and remediating contaminated or eroded sites.
- Homeowners use mature compost to enrich gardens, improve the soil around trees and shrubs, use as soil additive for house plants and planter boxes and as a protective mulch for trees and shrubs.
What are the benefits of composting?
According to the EPA potential benefits include:
- Suppress plant diseases and pests.
- Reduce or eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers.
- Promote higher yields of agricultural crops.
- Facilitate reforestation, wetlands restoration, and habitat revitalization efforts by amending contaminated, compacted, and marginal soils.
- Cost-effectively remediate soils contaminated by hazardous waste.
- Provide cost savings of at least 50 percent over conventional soil, water, and air pollution remediation technologies, where applicable.