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Posted on: June 20, 2020

Give Composting a Try! It’s a Fun, Easy Way to Reduce Waste

What is Composting?

Composting is the natural process by which decomposers, such as worms and microorganisms, turn food scraps and other natural material like leaves into nutrient-rich soil without the use of chemicals. It’s like nature’s way of recycling organic material. Composting is a great alternative to throwing food scraps and yard waste in the garbage because it reduces the amount of material we send to the landfill while creating an organic soil amendment for lawns and gardens

The Basics 

Composting requires four basic ingredients: 1) brown matter (carbon), such as twigs, branches and dead leaves; 2) green matter (nitrogen), including grass clippings, fruit and vegetable peels, and coffee grounds; 3) water, which helps promote the breakdown of the brown and green materials; and 4) air, which is vital for rapid, odor-free decomposition. Ideally, compost material should be about 70% browns and 30% greens.

Getting Started 

There are several ways to compost, so the first thing you need to do is select which method you want to use.

  • Compost pile

Creating a compost pile doesn’t require any special equipment. All you have to do is select a really good location. A bare soil spot that has good drainage, gets some sun and is within reach of a hose is perfect. Once you have found the ideal spot, you’ll need to create a base layer of wood chips or fine sticks and dry leaves, then alternate 6-inch layers of green material (e.g. weeds and food scraps) and dry brown material (e.g. leaves and shredded paper). Then, add a microorganism rich activator like aged compost or garden soil to jump start the decomposition process.

  • Tumbler or bin

If you want to keep your composting contained or you don’t have an appropriate spot for a compost pile, you can use a composting bin or tumbler. A tumbler can be easily rotated to mix the composting materials, while a bin usually requires you to manually mix the material with a shovel or pitchfork. SWACO, the city of Columbus and Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District offer a $50 rebate on compost bins, rain barrels and native plants and trees as part of the Community Backyards Conservation Program. You just have to take an online quiz or register for a local workshop to qualify for the rebate.

  • Worm bin (vermicomposting)

If you don’t have a yard, you can still compost by using a vermicomposting bin, as long as you’re not too squeamish about worms. That’s because vermicomposting is a process that uses various species of worms to accelerate the decomposition of organic material. To get started, simply create a bed made of damp brown material in a 2 foot x 2 foot bin. Add a pound of red wrigglers delivered in the mail or picked up from a store. After the worms, add a layer of browns and a layer of greens. Vermicomposting has several advantages. It doesn’t require a lot of space, so you can put the bin in your basement, under a sink, in a laundry room, or on a deck or patio. It tends to decompose faster and it requires less work than a composting pile or tumbler. Plus, the resulting vermicompost has more nutrients than regular compost.

Best Organic Materials for Composting

Whether you create a compost pile, use a compost bin or tumbler, or try vermicomposting, you’ll need both brown and green material. Brown and green don’t necessarily refer to the color of the materials, but rather to the elements the materials are made from – carbon or nitrogen. 

 Browns (carbon-rich materials that are dry)

  •  Dry leaves
  • Dry grass clippings
  • Straw
  • Dry garden trimmings
  • Nut shells
  • Dry flowers
  • Sawdust
  • Eggshells
  • Corn cobs
  • Shredded paper and cardboard (no receipts, glossy magazine paper or heavily dyed paper)

 Greens (nitrogen-rich materials that are wet)

  • Fruits and vegetable scraps
  • Peelings
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Tea bags
  • Fresh garden trimmings
  • Fresh grass clippings

 What to Avoid:

  • Yard waste contaminated with chemicals
  • Diseased, invasive or poisonous plants
  • Weeds with seeds
  • Meat, fish, grease and dairy
  • Cat or dog waste, kitty litter
  • Plastic, bio-plastic, glass and metal

Additional Ways to Compost Food and Yard Waste

If you don’t want to compost at home, there are other ways you can collect your food and yard waste to divert it from the landfill.

  • Purchase a subscription to an organization like The Compost Exchange, which will pick up your food waste from your home and turn it into compost to be used in the community. Subscription programs often offer drop-off options, too.
  • Many Central Ohio communities offer drop-off locations for food waste, which is free for residents to participate in. SWACO funds many of these programs. Check with your local municipality or SWACO’s website to see if this service is available in your neighborhood.
  • Most central Ohio communities participate in a curbside yard waste pick-up program funded by SWACO, which makes it easy for residents to have their twigs, grass clippings and other yard waste picked up each week. These materials are turned into compost and mulch and sold in Franklin County.  

Additional Resources:

If you’re interested in composting or minimizing food and yard waste but want more information, here are some additional resources to help you:

  • SWACO, in partnership with Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District, provides composting workshops and trainings. Click here to sign up.
  • SWACO produced a video about backyard composting that shows how to compost using a composting tumbler.
  • SWACO’s “Lunch with Lucy” video series gives tips for minimizing food waste.
  • Download our “Compost at Home” guide here.

We hope you’ll consider composting. It’s such a fun, easy and inexpensive way to reduce your reliance on the landfill – and to create nutrient-rich compost that your garden will love!

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