It’s sunny with a high of 75. Your fruit ninja senses are tingling. You chop up a fresh, farmers market watermelon into perfectly pink triangles. Your family dives in for slice after slice, spitting the seeds into the grass. You feel hydrated, energized and enriched with vitamins. But before you throw away that hollowed out rind and other picnicking snacks, consider composting your food waste instead.

According to the EPA, the second largest category of municipal solid waste sent to landfills in the United States is food waste. As food scraps pile up in landfills, methane is emitted into the atmosphere, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global climate change. By composting at home, you can divert unnecessary waste from landfills, protecting the Earth’s atmosphere and giving your soil its own infusion of vitamins.

How Backyard Composting Benefits Your Garden

Compost supplements your garden soil with nutrients to promote plant growth. Acting as a natural conditioner to the soil, the process retains moisture and rids your garden of chemical fertilizers.

Most importantly, composting at home reduces the amount of food waste in our landfills. It’s pretty clear-cut, composting benefits the environment all around, and best of all – it’s free!

“Turning vegetable waste into ‘black gold’ or compost, is nature’s way of recycling nutrients rather than wasting them. Use of compost in farming helps to sequester carbon and improve our soil resource while producing nutritious, abundant crops for generations to come.”

Harriet Behar | Senior Organic Specialist, Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service

How to Start a Compost Bin

Time to get down to the composting basics. Many composters choose to build a compost bin to keep pests and animals away and to protect the pile from heavy rain. Bins can also simplify the turning process, but they are not essential to making compost. In fact, composting at home is a lot easier than most people think as the real hard work is taken care of by nature’s tiniest creatures.

“Composting is a natural process of the decomposition of organic material – i.e., leaves on the forest floor are decomposed by microbes and other little critters to form a rich soil additive that provides nutrients to plants and trees. This process takes a long time. Composting speeds up the decomposition by creating the ideal environment for the decomposers (microbes). It’s not a difficult process and everyone can learn how to do it.”

Benny Erez | Compost Guru, ECO City Farms

how to compost at home

Follow these five simple steps to compost at home like a pro.

Step #1:

Plot out a composting site that measures at least 3 feet long by 3 feet wide. After determining the space for your compost pile, begin with a combination of carbon-rich “brown” materials and nitrogen-rich “green” materials.

Carbon-Rich “Brown” Materials:
• Shredded newspaper.
• Fall leaves.
• Straw.
• Dead flowers.

Nitrogen-Rich “Green” Materials:
• Grass clippings.
• Barnyard animal manure.
• Plant-based kitchen waste.

Step #2:

To start the compost bin, layer the brown and green materials like a cake. Begin with a thick layer of dry brown material. Top it with green material. Top that with a thin layer of potting soil. Throw on another layer of brown.

Step #3:

Continue layering green and brown materials with soil over time. Moisten the pile, but be careful not to overwater. Linda Chubbuck and Stan Slaughter of Compost Education explain that the top reason a compost pile fails is due to a lack of moisture.

“If you are piling on vegetable scraps, dead vines from your garden and a few leaves, your pile will likely dehydrate rather than decompose. Remember the mummies? They were dehydrated-which preserved the bodies-for centuries! So, add moist and juicy grass clippings.”

Linda Chubbuck & Stan Slaughter | Compost Education

Step #4:

With a garden fork or shovel, turn the pile every few weeks to rotate the materials. Keep it moist. Don’t be alarmed if steam rises from the pile while turning. It’s normal for materials to heat up as they decompose.

Step #5:

Look for earthworms wiggling around the “black gold” at the center of the pile. Give yourself a pat on the back – you composted like a champ!

Compost Alternatives for Apartments

For those living in apartments or with limited backyard space, a kitchen compost pail is a convenient option. Most commonly placed under the sink, the pail can be any size you want. Buckets, garbage bins and metal containers can all double as compost pails.

What Materials to Compost at Home

From kitchen to yard waste, a variety of scraps and prunings can be tossed into the compost pile to return their nutrients to the earth. Here’s the breakdown of what to compost:

Kitchen Compost Materials:

• Table scraps.
• Fruit and vegetable scraps.
• Corn cobs.
• Crushed eggshells.
• Coffee grounds.

Outdoor Compost Materials:

• Leaves.
• Grass clippings.
• Garden plants.
• Straw or hay.
• Flowers and stems.
• Pine needles.
• Shrub prunings.

What Else Can You Compost?

• Wood ash.
• Newspaper and shredded paper.
• Cardboard.
• Wood chips.
• Seaweed and kelp.
• Sawdust pellets.
• Dryer lint.

What Materials Shouldn’t Be Composted?

• Meats, bones or fish scraps.
• Oil, fat or grease.
• Dairy products.
• Diseased plants.

Stay away from the items listed above to avoid pests and rotting. If your produce is not certified organic or homegrown, be mindful of the potential for pesticide residue on items like orange rinds or banana peels. Also, do not throw in domestic pet waste, especially if the compost will be used in garden soil. Keep in mind – you are what you eat.

Learn From Food Waste Composting in Your Community

A rapidly growing trend, composting benefits communities across the country. Kicking food waste to the curb, businesses like the Rust Belt Riders in Cleveland, OH and organizations like The Milwaukee County Zoo recognize that the solution to the nation’s food waste fiasco is in the dirt. And we couldn’t agree more.

Budget Dumpster’s Green Living section offers more tips on living sustainably and making a positive impact on your environment. Have a few of your own ideas for composting at home? Share them in the comments below!