DIY Compost, It's Easy

Did you know that many common kitchen scraps that end up in our garbage cans are actually compostable? It’s true! Potato peels, egg shells, apple cores, and coffee grounds are all great examples of scraps that can go to good use if treated a little differently.

Composting is the process of decomposing or recycling organic matter back into fertile soil. While composting occurs naturally in nature, by making our own at home we’re simply accelerating and aggregating the process—doing our part for the environment and getting some great soil in the process. As cities and countries become more environmentally friendly, there are more opportunities for composting partnerships between businesses, farms, governments, organizations, and us. But even if your city doesn’t have a project can you can be a part of, or you don’t have a garden or backyard to house a proper compost, don’t worry! Here’s a simple way to get you started on your own.

Do you compost at home or work? What do you already know about composting? 

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DIY Apartment Compost

Creating a compost in your apartment is easier, and cleaner, than you might think. All you really need to get started is a compost receptacle with a lid, soil, and some shredded newspaper. Many methods encourage the addition of worms (called vermicomposting), which helps increase the pace of decomposition but, if that’s not your style, simply soil, a receptacle, and newspaper are a fine place to start.

Before we get started building our DIY compost, let’s talk about what we can and cannot compost. Vegetable peels, cores, pits and leaves, flower/plant trimmings, rinsed eggshells, coffee grounds, and tea/tea bags are good to go. Animal based products such as meat scraps or bones, shellfish shells, dairy products, cheese rinds, eggs, and pet waste are no-gos as they can attract pests and cause some pretty unattractive smells as they begin to decompose—something you’ll most definitely want to avoid in an enclosed apartment. 

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What you need:

1 container with a lid, preferably plastic, as we’re going to puncture holes into it 
1 bag of dirt
1 newspaper, finely shredded
1 hammer
1 nail (or similarly sharp and small puncturing device)
1 small hand shovel
1 plastic tray that fits completely underneath the compost container

Instructions:

Take the lid of your compost container and make 5-6 holes in it. Do the same to the base of the container. This will serve to help aerate your compost. Sit the compost bin on the plastic tray to catch any future leaks from your compost. Using the shredded newspaper, create an even layer completely covering the bottom of the container. Then, scoop dirt into the container to create a thick layer that completely covers the shredded newspaper. Create another layer of shredded newspaper, covering the dirt. Now you can add the allowable food scraps mentioned above. To help the process along, chop up food scraps into smaller pieces before adding to your bin. Each time you add food waste, add equal parts shredded newspaper and dirt. Stir the compost at least once a week with gloved hands or a small hand shovel. 

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As more and more food waste is added, and the weeks turn into months, your compost should be taking on a soil-like consistency, with a fresh, loamy smell. If your compost is smelly, too wet, or has bugs, you most likely have an imbalance of food waste, newspaper and soil. The remedy? If it’s too wet, add more newspaper. If it has bugs, dump it and start fresh—making sure to follow the guidelines of what and cannot be composted. Remember not to overfill your bin with too much food waste—rather dump your bin out or get another (or larger) bin if you find you don’t have enough room for your food waste.

Now what?

Compost is excellent for your garden and indoor or outdoor potted plants—so sprinkle it freely! Many cities have farmers markets and garden societies with programs in which they’ll pick up donated compost and compostable material, so take a look at your municipal services to see who might be interested if you find yourself with too much compost.

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If doing the dirty work of stirring a bin of dirt every week doesn’t put a smile on your face, but you’re still passionate about reducing your carbon footprint, there are lots of countertop compost bins that are available for purchase where you can collect your compostable kitchen scraps without worrying about the dirt-newspaper-stir-repeat routine. Many cities will offer to pick up this waste and recycle it properly, or even give it back to you fully mulched up and ready for use in a garden. There are lots of options for those of us interested in putting our kitchen scraps to good use, and it really doesn’t have to be a down and dirty process.