Composting Basics

How to best get rid of food waste is a popular topic. You can find a lot of different opinions on how food waste should be managed. But at least almost everyone agrees on one thing, that composting is the best solution. Obviously, composting is not a feasible solution for everyone but quite clearly it is the best way of getting rid of food waste.

Composting is relatively easy, it is after a natural process. But as always, you will get better results if you know the basics. You don’t need much tools or equipment to get started. A compost bin keeps the compost in place and a shovel or pitch fork allows you to mix things up in the compost pile.

It is worth pointing there is a huge difference between letting organic waste decompose in composts compared to in landfills. Food waste in landfills produces methane, which is a greenhouse gas, when it decomposes. This is because in landfills a anaerobic decomposition (without oxygen) takes place. A compost on the other undergoes aerobic decomposition (with oxygen) which produces carbon dioxide instead.

In a compost pile, both chemical and physical decomposition are underway. The chemical decomposition is done by microbes releasing enzymes which break down the organic matter. While the physical decomposition takes place early in the early stages and is done by organisms which eat or in other ways break the material into smaller pieces.

A compost pile looks quiet but in actual fact, quite a lot activity is going inside. But very little of this activity can be seen since most of the organisms at work in a compost pile are microscopic. Composting is divided into hot and cold composting. Warm composting is a much faster process than cold composting. Warm composting can produce humus in less than three months. Cold composting on the other hand, normally needs at least six months before you have useable compost. The main advantage of of cold composting is that it requires less maintenance.

One efficient form of composting is vermicomposting. Typically, trays with worms are used. Since worms, bacteria and fungi are working together, the decomposition is fast and the compost is of high quality. You can buy special worms at a very reasonable price and apart from giving them new food, they don’t need much ongoing maintenance.

Note that not all food waste can be composted. Dairy products, meat, fish and bones should never be put into a compost pile. The same goes for pet waste and deceased plants. Plastics labeled as “compostable” or “biodegradable” should not be composted. Another thing to be aware is that fats and oils should not be put into the compost pile. The same goes for foods containing fats or oils.

On the other hand, you can put more than just food waste into your compost pile. Garden waste, except for deceased plants, and paper, such as newspapers and cardboard, can quickly make your compost pile grow. Coffee grounds and filters as well as tee bags can also be composted. So can egg shells and nut shells, they just take longer to decompose.

One thing to aware of is that you try to maintain about a 50/50 mix of green (for example food waste, fresh grass clippings and vegetables) and brown material (for example leaves, cardboard and paper) in your pile. Sometimes you need to increase the amount of brown material, possibly up to 65%. This is because you want to maintain a suitable carbon/nitrogen ratio. Too much carbon will slow down the decomposition. Too much nitrogen on the other hand will make your compost pile smell.


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