If you are considering going zero waste [or even just reducing your waste a little] you’ll want to start with composting. It is the most basic, first step in reducing waste since we all eat food and [in America] so much of our food ends up in landfills where it releases methane gas which is even worse for the environment than carbon dioxide.
Instead, we could be putting all those food scraps back into the ground to feed soil and gardens and farms and…just plain old Mother Earth.
I’ve composted in two settings: wooded lot that I owned in an unincorporated suburb of Chicago, and a house that I’m renting with lots of close neighbors in a small rural town. I also researched composting in the city of Chicago because I was planning to live there.
Turns out the old saying is true – even for composting. If you’ve got the will, you can find a way.
In the ground
When I began composting, my house was on a half-acre lot surrounded by forest preserve. There were no regulations about composting, so we bought a used compost bin and put it on the edge of our property.
This compost bin doesn’t have a bottom, so it mixes right in with the soil. [Another alternative for this type of composting would be to simply construct a frame for your compost pile out of scrap wood or pallets. You can find tutorials online.]
Everyday, our kitchen scraps [excluding meat, dairy, and bones] would go into a bowl in our freezer. When the bowl was full we would dump it in the compost bin.
When the weather was warm, the compost would break down without even having to turn it, and every spring we would take plenty of rich compost from the bottom of the bin and use it in our garden beds.
In the course of the four years that we lived in that home, we filled two of these large 90+ gallon compost bins – but we eat a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables, so we have a lot of scraps.
[I’ll be posting later about my favorite way to get the most out of scraps before composting them.]
This, it would seem, is the easiest option.
In a container
Now that we’ve moved to a traditional neighborhood with lots of neighbors in close proximity [and not much privacy or woods], putting a massive, unsightly [not to mention smelly and fly-infested] compost bin in the backyard didn’t seem like the greatest idea. Instead, I decided to buy a fancy rotating composter.
Oooh. So pretty.
This composter is nice because the rotating makes mixing easy. BUT, it is smaller than our previous bin and we filled it in two months during the winter, which is when composting slows waaaaaay dowwwn. So anyway, we introduced compost bin #2, which is just a Rubbermaid container. [I’m hoping we won’t need another now that the weather is warming up.]
These composting methods require a little more attention, needing to be mixed every so often in order to keep the right ratio of water, air, green, and brown matter, but it’s not complicated.
There are other ways, as well, tho I’ve never tried them and I’m not well versed in them.
With curbside pickup service
When we were considering moving to downtown Chicago, I knew I most likely wouldn’t have any yard for composting, so I began looking for alternatives. There are in-home composting options available [which I’ll mention below], but we wouldn’t have a way to use our compost even if we could produce it, and that’s when I discovered compost pickup services. Of course, not all cities and few rural areas will have a service like this, but if you live in a high rise in a big city, you can probably find one. Then you collect your compost and leave it out for weekly pick up – just like the garbage.
For collecting compost, I recommend this counter-top compost bin that we recently upgraded [the bowl in the freezer was a hassle to thaw].
This collection bin has replaceable charcoal filter on the top to allow air flow and trap bad odors.
Vermicomposting is also good for apartments or homes without yards because worms do the work of breaking down the scraps. I have not tried it…yet! I hope to someday have an in-home vermicomposter.
If you compost with worms, tell me all about it!!
I just heard about bokashi for the first time recently and I am intrigued! Apparently, it breaks down scraps using a certain bacteria which causes fermentation to break down the food [and other] matter. I’ll have to look more into this method.
If you have experience with bokashi, please let me know!!
What to compost
You can compost a lot more than just food scraps, which is fabulous for cutting down waste. Dryer lint, brown bags, human hair, nail clippings, q-tips [obviously not the plastic kind], and 100% cotton textiles can be composted. [There’s a lot more too! Look around online for more unusual things people compost.]
Anyway, composting isn’t as daunting as it may seem and like most things, it’s best to just jump in and go for it.
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