Urban Composting for Beginners

Jessalyn Aaland, Compost Pile, 2010, collage on paper,  15″ x 20.5″
Jessalyn Aaland, Compost Pile, 2010, collage on paper, 15″ x 20.5″

About 24% of the garbage that Americans throw away is food and yard waste! In other words, a quarter of the trash rotting in our landfills could be utilized instead, as compost.

For a great part of my life, I didn’t know what compost was. I grew up in a suburb where my only interaction with garbage was taking it out to the curb. Well, I am here to tell you that urban composting is alive and well! Whether you live in the suburbs or the city, it is possible to transform your food waste into a magical and natural fertilizer!

Why compost?

Compost is a natural fertilizer; it improves plant health by adding nutrients and beneficial microbes to the soil. Compost reduces the need for commercial, chemical fertilizers that are toxic to our own health and the environment! Compost is also better for the climate. When food waste is thrown into a landfill it is starved of oxygen and moisture, producing methane as a byproduct. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is over twenty times more powerful than carbon dioxide. A properly managed compost pile does not produce any methane.

The Process

  • First, you will need a container. There are many compost bins designed for small spaces that you can purchase online. A cheaper option is to use a one to five gallon plastic bucket with a lid (the kind you see used by housepainters or contractors). Ask around or buy one from a hardware store!
  • Not all food can be composted, especially in a small, urban setting. Do not compost any bones, meat, dairy products or animal fats. If you can, chop up scraps for an easier break down process. Aim for ½ nitrogen-rich, green materials and ½ carbon-rich, brown materials.

Green: Tea bags, citrus rinds, coffee grounds, coffee filters, shrub and grass clippings, fruit waste, vegetable waste, wilted flowers, young weeds.

Brown: Sawdusts, pine needles, fallen/dried leaves, dried grass, straw, shredded paper, cardboard, newspaper, old potting mix.

  • The pile should stay about as moist as a wrung out sponge. Add water if you need to. Turn or toss every few days so air can penetrate.

What to do with the compost?

  • Over 150 communities offer some sort of compost collection service. If your apartment doesn’t participate in the collection service, find out what night the pickup is and tip your bucket into any curbside bin.
  • Add your compost to your own container garden. All you need is a balcony or sunny window. Houseplants can use compost loving too!
  • You can also donate to community gardens or gardening centers. Likewise, it is easy to sell or give away your compost on craigslist.
  • If all else fails, become a guerilla composter. Sneak out at night and add your compost to a public space that looks like it needs a little attention.

1 Comment

  • Renee says:

    i had no idea about composting. I also had no idea what happens to it in a landfill!!! I thought it was ok because it would break down and be re absorbed!! Wow!!!

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