Have you ever wondered : Can’t food waste be recycled and how can I possibly do that?
We all have… (maybe not all) but the solid answer is Yes, they are not completely “waste”.
You might have heard of the term composting but don’t know exactly what it is and how it possibly applies to you.
This read is yours to enjoy and to learn the simple and complex definition of what composting is, know how you can carry it out,
what benefits you can get from composting and much more knowledge to make your world a better place (in this little way at least)
What is Composting?
Simply put, Composting is the natural process of recycling organic matter,
like leaves and food scraps, into a valuable fertilizer that can enrich soil and plants.
Composting is an aerobic method of decomposing organic solid wastes, so it can be used to recycle organic material.
Let’s break that down: it is the act of collecting and storing plant and waste food material,
so it can decay and be added to soil to improve its quality.
The process involves decomposing organic material into a humus-like material, known as compost,
which is a good fertilizer for plants.
Composting organisms require carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and water in certain ratios to work effectively.
These materials allow microorganisms to work at a rate that will heat up the compost pile.
Benefits of Composting
Composting is one of the powerful ways to reduce our trash at home and generally the community and build healthy soil.
It doesn’t require so much effort, expense, and you don’t need to read the entire Wikipedia to know how to carry it out.
Composting helps prevent erosion, conserve water and has many more amazing benefits.
Sounds like something worth doing right? So, let’s take a look at these slowly.
Reduces Waste Pile Up
We generate a lot of waste at home.
Food waste and garden waste make up 28% of what we dispose of.
Composting at home allows us to reduce the volume of materials that might be disposed of in landfill
and divert them to some useful component for our farm and environment at the comfort of our backyard.
Studies have shown that the use of compost in highly erosive areas can decrease erosion and allow quicker establishment of vegetation .
We see that compost application reduced soil loss by 86% compared to bare soils,
and sediments reaching nearby surface waters decreased by 99% when compared to silt fences,
and 38% when compared to hydroseeding applications (Demars, 1998).
Composting helps prevent erosion by:
- Increasing water infiltration into the soil surface,
- Reducing runoff and soil particle transport in runoff,
- Increasing plant growth and soil cover,
- Buffering soil pH which can increase vegetation establishment and growth.
- Reducing soil particle dislodging.
- Increasing water holding capacity of soil which reduces runoff.
- Alleviates soil compaction by increasing soil structure.
- New vegetation can be established directly into compost.
Improves Soil Health
Every plant loves a healthy soil.
Composting is a very vital tool for improving both large and small scale agricultural systems.
Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are nutrients required by garden crops and compost contains these nutrients.
Composting offers an organic alternative to synthetic fertilizers.
Compost has the capacity to retain and transfer water efficiently through the soil.
Compost prevents water from flowing off the land and this is possible through increased infiltration.
Through increased absorption, compost helps retain water in the soil.
Healthier Plant Growth
In so many ways, compost helps promote healthier plant growth
It helps to balance soil density, soil PH, and serves as a sponge for water.
For soils that are too dense, compost loosens up the soil whereas, in compost that is too loose, it helps clump the soil.
Compost also serves in balancing the PH of the soil. Most compost have a PH of between 6 and 8.
There is a specific PH range required by each plant species.
By providing certain nutrients to the soil, compost also boosts the growth of plants as these nutrients are made available for them.
Composts also discourage certain weed types disallowing the growth of certain weeds that can prevent crops from growing well and healthy.
What You Can Compost
We may wonder if there are just a number of things we can use to make our compost
and decide to discard others thinking they are not compost material.
You would be surprised though how almost too many things we do not think are important in composting
are actually very good material to use for compost.
There is a list of many things that we can compost, I’d split them in two categories
1. Greens for Your Compost
Greens are the nitrogen-rich components of your compost pile.
These materials are an essential component of the composting process and provide several benefits to your compost pile.
They tend to be moist, break down rapidly, and contribute to a quick rise in temperature within your compost.
Most of the waste from the kitchen fall into this category
Here are some examples for greens to add to your compost:
- Fruit and vegetable peels
- Citrus rinds
- Melon rinds
- Coffee grounds
- Tea leaves and paper tea bags
- Old vegetables that aren’t suitable for eating anymore
- Houseplant trimmings
- Weeds that haven’t gone to seed
- Grass clippings
- Fresh leaves
- Deadheads from flowers
- Dead plants (as long as they aren’t diseased)
- Cooked rice
- Cooked pasta
- Stale bread
- Corn husks
- Corn cobs
- Yam peel
- Banana peel
- Plantain peel
- Sod that you’ve removed to make new garden beds
- Thinning from the vegetable garden
- Spent bulbs that you used for forcing indoors
- Old dried herbs and spices that have lost their flavor
You may be wondering what coffee brown is doing on a “green” list. It’s good to note that the term green is not limited to green-colored items. Any plant matter, regardless of its color, can be considered a green if it’s rich in nitrogen.
2. Browns for Your Compost
Browns are rich in carbon.
They are known to enhance aeration within the compost pile and provide structural integrity.
it’s advisable to finely chop or shred them before adding them to the compost because “browns” decompose at a slower rate
- Shredded newspaper
- Shredded office or school papers
- Shredded, non-glossy junk mail
- Torn up plain corrugated cardboard boxes (not with glossy coatings)
- Bedding from hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits
- Fall leaves
- Chopped up twigs and small branches
- Nutshells (avoid walnut shells as they can inhibit plant growth)
- Used napkins
- Toilet paper, paper towel, or wrapping paper tubes
- Fallen bird’s nests
- Pine needles or straw
- Used paper coffee filters
- Pressed paper egg cartons, torn into small pieces
- Sawdust (only from untreated wood)
- Brown paper shopping bags, shredded or torn
- Brown paper lunch bags, shredded or torn
- Leftover peat or coir from seed starting
- Coir liners for hanging baskets
- Wood chips
- Bedding from chickens
What Not To Compost
However, there are some materials that you should avoid composting, such as:
1. Meat and Dairy Products: These can attract pests and create unpleasant odors.
2. Oily or Greasy Foods: Cooking oil, fatty foods, and greasy food scraps should be avoided.
3. Diseased Plants: Plants infected with diseases or pests may not break down properly and can spread diseases in your compost.
4. Weeds with Mature Seeds: Weeds with seeds can continue to grow in your compost pile.
5. Pet Waste: Pet feces can contain harmful pathogens, so it’s best to avoid composting them.
6. Coal Ashes: Unlike wood ashes, coal ashes can contain harmful chemicals.
7. Synthetic Materials: Plastics, metals, synthetic fabrics, and non-biodegradable materials should not be composted.
Types Of Composting
This method known as hot composting needs oxygen, and oxygen is usually incorporated by turning the organic waste from time to time.
Other aerobic composting methods are:
Windrow Composting: used for large scale composting.
In-vessel: organic waste is placed in a container to decompose but still turned from time to time to allow oxygen in.
Aerated Static Pile Composting: wood shaves and papers are laid in layers to allow oxygen that is usually not turned like the others.
This method is known as cold composting.
It does not require oxygen to compost the organic waste, they are broken down through fermentation,
It is much slower than the typical method, but also requires less monitoring.
This is known as traditional composting, waste is composed by fungi and microorganisms, oxygen is still required.
Difference Between Compost And Manure
You may be wondering what the difference is between manure and compost
since both are used to improve plant growth and both are decomposed organic matter that enriches the soil.
To understand the difference, we would define manure and compost
Manure is the organic matter used as organic fertilizer in agriculture and mostly contains animal feces.
There can be other components in manure as well, such as compost and green manure.
Manure typically contributes to the fertility of the soil and the total nutrient content of the soil.
It can add organic matter and nutrients to the soil.
The most common nutrient manure can add to the soil is nitrogen, which is used by soil bacteria, fungi, and other organisms in the soil.
Fresh manure is a byproduct of pet, sports, and farm animals.
Animal dung from many different plant-eating animals may be used, all having different pros and cons.
Compost can be described as the decomposed remnants of organic materials, and it is a type of manure.
Generally, compost has a plant origin but can often contain animal dung and bedding material.
Therefore, compost is a mixture of different ingredients useful in improving soil fertility.
Typically, compost is formed from the decomposing plant and food waste, including recycling organic matter.
This decomposition results in a mixture rich in plant nutrients and some beneficial organisms.
These organisms include worms and fungal mycelium.
Typically, compost can improve soil fertility in gardens, agricultural landscapes, horticulture, urban agriculture, etc.
The key difference between manure and compost is that manure is feces (sometimes urine) sourced as a byproduct from raising animals,
while compost is organic matter that’s undergone a natural decomposition process.
Both provide nutrient content for plants, but they may be used for different reasons.
What Is Compost Used For?
Just as we mentioned in the benefits of composts, composts are essential for the following purposes:
- Enrich the soil
- Serve as fertilizer
- Improve soil PH
- Enhance plant growth
- Moisture retention
- Erosion control
- Suppresses weed
- Improve soil structure
- Reduces landfill waste.
The uses and importance of composts cannot be overemphasized as they have proven to be very useful in the management of soil and plant health over time.
Equipment Needed In Making Compost
Since you have followed through this far, let’s get prepared to make our first compost.
Making compost is as easy as you can think of.
These are the equipment you would need to make that compost you have just learned about.
To get started, you would need your compost bin or pile.
Are you thinking of that bin you can convert already or a designated area for this?
That’s progress already.
It could be a compost bin, a compost tumbler or a simple pile in your backyard.
Next, you would need your green and brown materials, water, air, shredder (for larger materials).
Optionally, you would need a compost thermometer,
a cover or a lid,
and optional a compost starter e.g. nitrogen, oxygen, microorganism.
(Compost starters are not necessary if you have the right mixture of greens and browns).
Remember that your green and brown materials should be layered, keep the pile aerated,
and monitor the moisture levels to ensure successful composting.
Over time, you’ll have nutrient-rich compost to use in your garden or on your plants
Once you have piled up the organic waste
It’s time to get started decomposing it
Choose where you want it decomposed it could be an area in your garden
Some might dig a little pit, or you can use a compost bag, some usually come with an opening under where you can begin to take the compost soil for use. See a sample.
It can also constructed with wood, plastic or metal
Composting can be a continuous activity or something you do from time to time as soon as you gather the waste
It takes about two weeks to two years for waste to be fully decomposed depending on what the waste is made up of.
What Happens During Composting
Composting occurs by various bacteria, fungi and insects which naturally inhabit soil
they break down the material in aerobic conditions, which means it is a process which occurs with little oxygen present.
If you observe composting in a bottle, you would be able to observe the following that occurs during composting.
Increase in temperature:
As decomposition of organic materials occurs,
the biological process carried out by the microorganisms present begins to generate heat.
This can result in noticeable increase in temperature within the bottle to around 140°F (60°C),
indicating that composting has started.
As a result of the heat generated during decomposition,
condensation forming on the inner surfaces of the bottle might be seen.
This occurs because water vapor, released from the decomposing organic materials,
condenses when it comes into contact with the cooler surface of the container.
Change in appearance:
Over time, you may notice a change in appearance as the content of the bottle’s material starts to degrade.
Typically, composting will result in reduction in the volume of materials.
As the organic stuff decomposes, the bottle’s overall contents may become smaller as a result of the volume reduction.
The microbial activity and organic acids produced during decomposition results in the content having a lovely and earthy smell.
If you look closely, you might observe tiny organisms such as insects, mites, or even earthworms inside the bottle.
By further dissolving organic materials, these animals play a significant part in the composting process.
The colour of the compost will darken as it ages.
It may start out as a blend of green and brown materials, but over time, it will change into a rich, dark brown or even black substance.
Depending on the moisture content and ventilation in the container, there is usually fluctuations in humidity levels.
As composting requires the right amount of moisture, you might notice changes in moisture levels over time.