A Step-By-Step Guide To Composting, Wherever You Are

“Composting can help to impact the future health of our planet.”

I’ve wanted to try composting for some time, but the concept has always intimidated me. Letting food decompose on your counter? Does it smell? How do you know if you’re doing it right? The task seemed complicated and a bit terrifying.

While the process is easy, it does take a bit of learning—like with any new hobby or skill. The effort is especially worth it when composting can help to impact the future health of our planet.

Why Food Waste Matters

Why compost? Well, most of us toss organic matter into the bin, right? (Think carrot skins, banana peels, or eggshells.) 

We often consider natural compounds to be helpful in breaking down waste by adding biodegradable matter to the process. 

Unfortunately, the opposite is true.

For food to decompose properly, it needs oxygen.

Landfills become tightly packed with our bins, forcing food to break down without oxygen. This generates a greenhouse gas (called anthropogenic methane), and it’s harmful to the environment because it rapidly warms the earth. 

According to National Geographic, methane is “28 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the Earth, on a 100-year timescale, and more than 80 times more powerful over 20 years.” 

It’s estimated that 8 percent of the Australia’s methane emissions come from landfills—and the number keeps growing. Yikes.

Mindful food waste disposal is possible, and it can even be fun! By making the switch to composting, we can take the future of the planet into our own hands.

How To Start Composting

Composting is a method of food disposal where the organic matter gets the oxygen it needs to break down effectively. When exposed to the right amount of air and water, the result is a nutrient-dense fertilizer that can return to the earth.

While composting may seem daunting, and it can take time at first, it’s a fairly simple habit change that makes a big difference. Here are a few tips and tricks for getting started:

1. EVALUATE YOUR SPACE & NEEDS

The compost system you choose depends on your space and the amount of time you have to keep your compost healthy. Once my husband and I have the basics down, we hope to move to a larger outdoor pile as an outdoor compost system which is excellent for soil and can help your garden grow.

For now, though, we use a small bin that doesn’t take up a lot of space. And it’s perfect for anyone living in urban settings. When done correctly, there’s no need to worry about smell or pests—just make sure to get a bin with an airtight lid. 

2. USE THE COLOR-CODED METHOD TO START YOUR PILE

Start with “brown” material, such as twigs or dried leaves. If you don’t have access to nature, you can use paper, napkins, and dry coffee filters. When separating food and waste, remember the “color-coded formula.” 

A balanced compost is two to three parts “browns” (carbon-rich material) for every one-part “greens” (nitrogen-rich organic matter—e.g., veggie skins, fruits, coffee grounds, and even tea bags). 

After you build your brown layer, you can add greens (or wet food scraps). Alternate between green and brown layers as you fill the bin. As the contents decompose, it will become less full, and the alternating can continue. 

Just remember, brown material is necessary.  This dry material helps maintain healthy moisture levels inside the container. When the compost is too wet, it’s not able to break down and that’s when the dreaded smell and an unhealthy rot starts. Also, be mindful about greasy food—e.g., meat, bones, dairy, and anything covered in oil. These need to go in a regular bin.

3. MAINTAIN YOUR PILE

The key to sustaining a compost pile or bin is to keep it healthy. Compost is a living, breathing thing and it needs love like anything else. Consider yours a part of the family! Tend to it often, give it nutrients, and a healthy environment so that it will prosper. Here are a few other key practices to remember:

  • Always mix any added material with the lower layers.

  • The contents should remain as wet as a wrung-out sponge.

  • Add dry material or water to maintain a healthy moisture level.

  • Mix or turn your compost at least once a week to help eliminate odor.

  • Freeze your compost when it’s full until it can be discarded appropriately.

4. EMPTY YOUR COMPOST

Now that you have a full bin, you need a place to put your compost! You can use the compost in your garden or for your plants (or ask your neighbors if they need it!)

5. FINALLY, REMEMBER THAT IT’S A LEARNING PROCESS

No matter which method you choose or where you live, composting is an impactful, food-waste solution and an interactive hobby! The process may feel daunting at first, but once you see your food waste turn from trash into a healthy fertilizer, it all feels worth it.