If it’s a vegetable, it’ll biodegrade in the trash, right? Wrong. Due to the anaerobic environment of the modern city dump, it takes an average of 20 years for a single head of lettuce to decompose. That means the salad you throw away now won’t return to the earth until 2038. Babies who are born today will have graduated college by then. There is a better way, even for apartment dwellers: Composting. It’s easier than you think, it won’t take any extra time out of your life, and the scraps you save from the trash will actually make a huge impact on the planet.
Composting 101: The Basics
First of all, what is compost and why should we care about it? Compost is fertilizer. It’s just decayed, broken down organic matter. Compost, itself, is often called “black gold” because of the nutrient-rich soil it turns into when its component parts have thoroughly broken down. This is often mixed with the dirt in gardens to maintain plant health. When someone composts, they are just helping to accelerate the natural decomposition of these organic elements. The alternative to composting is just chucking your stuff in the trash, where — instead of becoming food for the earth — your plant scraps turn into garbage, just like everything else in the landfill. There, instead of producing gorgeous fertilizer, they’ll off-gas methane. And methane, as we know, is one of the gases responsible for climate change.
Do’s and Don’t Of Compost
Your compost pile should balance browns (carbon) and greens (nitrogen), to keep the bad smells at bay. This balance will also help the vegetation break down faster. It’s best to place the colors down in layers, so when you add one (say, brown), aim to add the other (green), on top. You want to aim for compost that is damp but not wet.
What Can You Compost? Check The Chart!:
Types of Composting
Now that we know some of the nitty gritty, so to speak, let’s look at ways apartment dwellers can add composting into their lives:
Municipal Composting: Check to see if you live in one of the many cities that participate in food-waste programs. You’ll be provided with a small bin to keep outside, and a bin to empty it into, outside. Just like trash and recycling, your outdoor bin will be emptied weekly, by the city.
Worm Bins: It might sound a little weird to keep worms in your apartment, but this tried-and-true method of breaking down organic matter is remarkably efficient. You can make a worm bin out of almost anything — a plastic tub, an old fish tank (lined with plastic), or a container designed for the specific purpose. Take enough damp newspaper strips, cut to about one inch wide, to loosely cover the bottom of the composter, cover with two to four cups of soil, and add your worms! You’ll want to store your bin somewhere cool and dark (like under your sink or in a closet), and let the worms do the work for you.
Bokashi Buckets: Available for as little as $50 online, Bokashi buckets take almost all the work (and definitely the worms) out of composting. The Bokashi system consists, basically, of just a pail with an airtight lid. The microorganisms available in the Bokashi starter kits will even eat meat and dairy, so not only are they one of the easiest ways to compost, you can also break down more items.
So You’ve Composted. Now What Do You Do?
Once you’ve mastered the art of composting, it’ll be time to put your “black gold” to good use! You can:
- Use it for your house plants. Either re-pot them with the composted soil, or mix the compost right in to the pot where they’re rooted
- Donate that richness to a local school or community garden
- Gift it! Put some of that composty goodness into a flower pot, add a packet of seeds and maybe a pair of cute gardening gloves, a trowel, or a garden ornament. Boom! Your holiday gift inspiration is fertile soil, too! (at east figuratively)
No matter what kind of space you’re living or working in, composting is possible. It’s also one of the easiest things you can do for the planet, with the smallest amount of time and energy invested. When you think about all the good you can do with your discarded fruits and veggies, why wait? Get cracking on composting!