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Composting: Nature’s Digestion

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Photo by mconnors

Composting is second nature in my family. We have always had a compost and a garden, so I’ve gotten pretty used to it over the years. If I’m at my mom’s house and eat a banana, I know I better throw the peel in the compost. If I forget, she will dig through the garbage, pull it out, and put it in the compost all the while muttering angrily under her breath “kids these days”.

I’ve been living on my own for almost five years, but it wasn’t until two years ago that I moved into a house for the first time. Hooray for leaving rentals behind! One of the first things I did was start a compost pile. Since then it has come to my attention that composting is largely misunderstood. I think this misunderstanding comes from lack of experience and the belief that composting is “hippy nonsense”.

But here is the truth: Composting is very simple and natural. It can be done almost anywhere and is especially beneficial for gardeners.

One of the biggest misconceptions I’ve heard is that it’s pointless to compost. There seems to be a widely held belief that food will compost in the dump anyway so there’s no reason to compost on your own. I see why people would think this, but the truth is, dumps are specifically designed to prevent food decomposition. There is a large drainage system set up at dumps to lessen the smell and to collect the methane. The methane generated from decomposition is siphoned off to generate electricity. This is a great use for it, but it drastically slows decomposition. In study of waste being buried for more than 15 years, they found that chicken bones still had the meat on them (source).

On average 30% of our trash is compostable. This is material that can be saved from landfills and digested by nature the way it was intended. 

Another concern I’ve heard quite a bit is that it stinks. It does smell, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying it stinks. Generally people have two compost containers. One is kept inside to collect day to day compost and the other is kept outside. The outside bin is much larger and contains the composting material. If you dump the compost in your home regularly and rinse out the bucket, it will not stink. As long as the outside compost bin has a lid, you shouldn’t be able to smell it if you are more than a foot away. The strongest smell is when you take the lid off to churn it or dump new compost in, and even then it will smell of damp earth.

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My outdoor compost bin.

If you are concerned about the smell, I would recommend using a small container with a lid for the compost inside. That way you are forced to dump it often and it won’t have time to decompose inside. When you compost using soil it generally smells of damp earth.

Many people also believe you can’t compost without a backyard. This misconception is super common and is something I am also guilty of. As I said, I waited until I lived in a house to begin composting again. It’s true that you have fewer options for composting if you live in an apartment, but it’s still possible and pretty easy once you get started. One option is to use worms in your compost. This will reduce the amount of time required for composting and allow you to use a smaller container.

Most cities also have community composting areas you can use to drop off your compost. You can even have it picked up once a week. You can find these in your area generally by looking on government website for your city or you can search here. If you are into gadgets or technology there is a machine that can compost for you. It’s NatureMill’s composter and you can find out more information about it here.

If you are interested in starting your own compost bin, this website will give you a good beginners guide to creating a compost bin. For me, composting is a very simple way to reduce my family’s carbon footprint and give back to the earth.

 

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