Composting is healthy, eco-friendly and easy. It’s also a great way to recycle food waste and learn with your family!
Benefits of Community Composting
Community Composting locally at the neighborhood or community level can yield many benefits: it can build sustainability awareness, and increase local resilience, social inclusion and empowerment for those who may not feel like their neighborhood offers many “green” programs, improved local soils, enhanced food security, less pollution from garbage truck traffic, more local jobs, and increased composting know-how and skills within the local workforce that can reinforce the next generation, and fewer food deserts.
Especially for apartment dwellers, community-scale composting is one approach to preventing landfill disposal of compostable organic materials. It has the potential to reduce waste generation while benefiting the earth.
Composting’s greatest advantage is that anyone can do it. Outdoor composting bins are readily available or can quickly and economically be made home from scrap wood or old garbage cans. If you have limited space or live in an apartment, small composting containers will fit under the kitchen sink. Most vegetable-based food scraps can be used to compost, including fruit and vegetable waste, egg shells, leftover pasta or rice, coffee grounds and tea bags, nut shells and bread. Grass clippings, leaves, weeds, vacuum and dryer lint and cardboard rolls can also be added to compost piles. It doesn’t take much effort — the bacteria and other microbes responsible for decomposition do the hard work.
Red Wigglers (Eisenia Fetida) are called many names like Redworms, Tiger Worms, Manure Worms and Compost Worms. These worms are the most common composting worm on the market. They also are the smallest compost worm on the market, but don’t let that surprise you with how much they can eat daily.
- Composting is nature’s way of recycling. It is one of the most powerful actions to reduce trash, address climate change, and build healthy soil.
- Composting is a resourceful way to recycle the food scraps and yard trim you generate annually and manage your waste more sustainably.
- You reduce the volume of materials that might otherwise be disposed of in landfills or trash incinerators – leaves, grass clippings, yard trim, and food scraps – and prevent powerful greenhouse gases from being emitted into the atmosphere.
- Composting involves minimal effort, equipment, expense, and expertise, and can be fun.
- You save money by producing a free, high-quality soil amendment – compost, which reduces your use of fertilizer and pesticides.
- You can use your compost to build healthier soil, prevent erosion, conserve water, and improve plant growth in your garden and yard.
Composting in your backyard
The ingredients for composting include a proper balance of the following materials:
- Carbon-rich materials (“browns”) can include dry leaves, plant stalks, and twigs. The carbon-rich materials provide food for the microorganisms to consume and digest.
- Nitrogen-rich materials (“greens”) include grass clippings and food scraps. The nitrogen-rich materials heat up the pile to create ideal conditions for the material to break down.
- Water (moisture).
- Air (oxygen).
Steps for Backyard Composting
- Determine how you will collect and store your browns and greens. Collect and store your fruit and vegetable scraps in a closed container on your kitchen counter, under your sink, or in your fridge or freezer. For browns, set aside an area outside to store your steady supply of leaves, twigs, or other carbon-rich material (to mix with your food scraps).
- Set aside space for your compost pile and build or buy a bin. Choose a space in your yard for your compost pile that is easily accessible year-round and has good drainage. Avoid placing it right up against a fence and ensure there is a water source nearby. Your compost pile will break down in sun or shade. Next, choose a type of bin for your pile. Bins can be constructed from wire, wood, and cinder blocks. They can also be enclosed and include barrels and tumblers.
- Prepare your ingredients for composting. Before adding your browns and greens to the pile, try to chop and break them up into smaller pieces (e.g., corn cobs, broccoli stalks, and other tough food scraps). Doing so will help the materials in the pile break down faster.
- How to build your compost pile. Start your pile with a four- to a six-inch layer of bulky browns such as twigs and wood chips. This layer will absorb extra liquids, elevate your pile and allow air to circulate at the base of the pile. Then layer your greens and browns like lasagna. If needed, add a little water to dampen the pile.
Having the right proportions of ingredients in your compost pile will provide the composting microorganisms with the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and moisture they need to break down the material into finished compost.
When adding browns and greens to your pile, add at least two to three times the volume of browns (such as dry leaves) to the volume of greens (such as food scraps). Ensure your food scraps are covered by four to eight inches of dry leaves or other browns.
Air and water are the other key ingredients in your pile. To ensure air circulation, add enough browns and turn your compost occasionally. To maintain moisture in your pile, ensure your combined materials have the consistency of a wrung-out sponge.
- Maintain your compost pile. As the materials in your compost pile begin to decompose, the pile’s temperature will initially begin to rise, especially in the center. A backyard pile, if well maintained, can reach temperatures of 130° to 160° F. High temperatures help reduce the presence of pathogens and weed seeds. Turning and mixing your pile occasionally will help speed up the decomposition process and aerate the pile. You can use a garden fork to turn the outside of the pile inward. Monitor your pile for moisture, odor, and temperature and adjust as needed.
- If the pile is too dry, activity in the pile will slow or cease. Moisten the pile and turn it. (Refer to the note above about maintaining moisture in your pile.)
- If the pile has a foul odor, it may be too wet or need more air circulation. Add more browns/dry material to the pile and turn the pile.
- If the pile is not heating up, mix in greens and turn the pile.
- Harvest your finished compost. When your compost pile is no longer heating up after mixing, and when there are no visible food scraps, allow your pile to cure, or finish, for at least four weeks. You can relocate the oldest compost at the bottom of the pile to a separate area to cure or stop adding materials to your pile. After curing, your pile will have shrunk to about one-third of its original size. Compost in a well-maintained pile will be finished and ready for use in three to five months. Left untended, a pile may take a year to decompose. The compost will look dark, loose, and crumbly and smell like fresh soil. Most, if not all, of the materials that went into the compost pile, should be decomposed. Screen or sift your finished compost to filter out materials that didn’t break down – twigs, fruit pits, eggshells, and items like produce stickers and plastic. (You can make a homemade screener from ¼ inch hardware cloth.) Pits, eggshells, etc. that you sifted out can be added back into the active pile or to a new pile.
Composting in your apartments
Most Common Methods for Residential Renters / Apt Dwellers
- Worm Compost Bin: A worm composter bin is one of the most common forms of indoor composting.
Worms like to be kept around room temperature, so they’re the perfect indoor pet that likes eating your food scraps. Just don’t add dairy, meat, or citrus peels. You can typically find red wigglers, the composting worm, at your local bait shop.
- Trench Method: Trench composting is where you dig a hole in the ground and bury your compost.
It’s really easy, effective, and inexpensive. The only problem is finding a place to do it if you don’t have a yard.
Common Alternative Methods
- Farmers Market: Most farmers at farmer’s markets have large compost piles. Ask one of the farmers if you can bring your scraps to add to their pile. Check with neighbors as well!
- City-Wide Service: Some cities offer composting services. Additionally, businesses in some areas collect food scraps. Oftentimes someone is out there performing that service.
- Community Garden: Community gardens often have compost plots. Apartment renters can join the community garden and add their food scraps to the pile.
Using Composting Services
Composting Services can be an easy, cheap and reliable way to recycle food waste!
If you can’t compost at home or at your apartments, consider using a composting service. There may be multiple composting services available where you live that provide a cheap and easy alternative to composting yourself. Services can include groups like CompostNow, and there are websites that are available which show composting companies across Georgia.
- Step 1: Look for a composting service by clicking on the links above or by using Google.
- Step 2: Sign up for the composting service.
- Step 3: Begin your composting journey. Make sure to take a picture with the hashtag #GCVCompostChallenge!
Skip the hassle of making a compost bin at home or a compost pile in your backyard while helping to keep our state more eco-friendly!
Learn more about composting in Georgia through the Georgia EPD website!