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An Ethos guide to composting at home in 3 steps!
April 07, 2021
Hi there fellow earth lover! Are you interested in learning how you can reduce your food waste at home? Well, you have come to the right place because we are going to walk you through composting at home in 3 steps. Ready? Let's go!
What in the world does composting mean? Composting is the controlled decomposition of organic materials. In simple terms, it is turning your kitchen food scraps into soil, which in return reduces a huge amount of waste in our landfills. Also not to mention, compost can be used as a fertilizer for your garden, to help control weeds, and decreases the need for costly watering since it does a beautiful job at retaining water.
Why is composting our food scraps so important?
Composting keeps valuable organic material out of our landfill. Did you know that Americans waste about a pound of food each day? Between 23.5% and 37.2% of all municipal solid waste coming into the landfills of Santa Cruz County was compostable vegetative food or yard waste. (Cascadia Consulting Group, Inc. and Mid-Atlantic Solid Waste Consultants) And in California? California disposed of approximately 39 million tons of waste in landfills in 2018, of which approximately one third is compostable organic materials. (CalRecycle).
The thing is- food waste cannot decompose in the landfill. When we bury food waste in the landfill, it has zero access to air, and starts to produce methane, releasing this greenhouse gas into the atmosphere which is around 85x more powerful at trapping heat than carbon dioxide! Our food waste is one of the largest waste categories generated and causes an extreme amount of damage to our air and land. The good news? Reducing our organic waste is a simple solution that can be put in place from our homes by composting! Currently, Santa Cruz County does not offer residential composting, however the most sustainable way to reduce our food waste is to do it as locally as possible (within our own neighborhoods!). Read up on Santa Cruz County and its efforts to compost here!
Here's how to compost at home in three steps:
Step 1: Choose your composting system
You'll want to find the best compost bin style for your specific living space and lifestyle. Check out Santa Cruz County’s guide for composting bin types. The County of Santa Cruz offers free composting workshops, upon completion of the workshop, GreenWaste customers can get a free backyard composting bin! County of Santa Cruz Compost Workshop. Do you live in the City of Santa Cruz? You could be eligible for their Home Composting $40 Rebate Program!
Compost bin ideas for smaller spaces: Start a simple worm bin and check out where to buy worms in Santa Cruz here! Add a compost tumbler to your porch. Try the Bokashi Composting system (you can even add meat and dairy!!!) Check out this article on apartment composting suggestions from Going Zero Waste or this article from The Kitchn.
Want to get involved with community composting? Download the app ShareWaste that connects people who wish to recycle their kitchen scraps with their neighbors who are already composting, worm-farming, or keep chickens.
The Ethos team shares their composting styles:
Meredith lives in a single-family home with her husband, two kids, two dogs, two cats, and 6 chickens.
"It’s a full house. We built our own two-section compost bin, allowing us to have 1 side we are actively filling with our kitchen scraps and the other side to be in full decomposition mode. Every few weeks (or whenever I remember) I grab a shovel and turn over both sides to keep air circulating. In the active bin, if there are too many flies or it seems wet, I grab some of the straw from our chickens and throw it in there as our “browns”. This has become one of my favorite chores...it’s so rewarding to dig in there and see our old scraps becoming soil!
About a year ago we reached out to some friends of ours who we knew wanted to compost but for whatever reasons were just finding it difficult to do on their own. We offered our compost bins up to them, so now every few weeks they bring over a 5 gallon bucket and toss it into our active compost pile. We’ve found that our little set-up is able to handle the kitchen scraps for 3 families! So that’s something I would encourage you to consider once you’re well on your way with composting….share your bins if you can!
As a last note...when having chickens, we’re able to feed a lot of our scraps to them that otherwise couldn’t go in the compost bin like cheeses and meats. We have separate bins we keep in the kitchen, one for compost and the other for chickens. We just sort out the scraps as we go. We love that the chickens give us eggs AND eat our scraps!!!"
Melissa lives in a duplex with a large, outdoor compost bin that was already sitting on the property! Here are her thoughts on her first few months composting:
“Before moving to Santa Cruz, I attended a composting workshop hosted by the Los Angeles Department of Sanitation. It wasn’t until this workshop did I realize the extensive list of compostable items!! I knew pizza boxes were difficult to recycle because of its greasy residue, so I was happy to find out that I have somewhere to dispose of them and that it will be put to good use!
I fill up my leftover yogurt containers with food scraps, hide them under the sink and throw them out in the bin about once or twice a week. I’m still working on when to add more dead foliage, when and how much water to pour in, and how to best tear up cardboard boxes and papers as the ratio of each changes slightly between hot and cold seasons. But one thing is for certain, all my pizza eating will one day support an herb garden and provide great toppings for homemade pizzas.”
Sara lives in a one-bedroom house with access to a shared yard. She was looking for a compost bin that could fit in a small area, and would be protected from the nearby critters. She bought a small compost tumbler online that is fully enclosed, and easy to turn the compost.
"I am obsessed with my little tumbler. I recently moved from a studio apartment, where I had it out on my small deck, and it was a perfect fit. Now, I can leave it in the corner of my shared yard and have no worries. A manual tumbler is the perfect option for those living in small spaces, and it was affordable. What is also really great about it, is that it has two sides to it. So while one side starts getting filled with my compost, I can start putting more food scraps in the empty side.
In the beginning, I started to get fruit flies and a nasty smell from it. It was basically calling out for help. My neighbor came to the rescue by giving me some worms from his compost and they did the trick. No more flies, or smells and a newfound love for worms. To get the balance of my compost with both “greens” and “browns” I throw in some grass clippings after mowing the lawn and leaves from the tree above. It is rewarding to see all my food waste get a new life, and also get to help create new life after being added to a garden. This Spring, I am building a garden bed and am soooo stoked to use my compost!"
Step 2: Start gathering your food waste to build the layers of your compost pile
You can save your food scraps in a kitchen compost bin such as a reusable compost bin, or reuse any container at home to freeze your compost until you're ready to bring it out to your compost pile/bin. You’ll then want to start to know about the “layers” of your compost pile and what materials are needed to maintain balance. A simple equation to remember is Browns + Greens = Healthy Compost.
Carbon-rich materials (browns)
Dried leaves, Newspaper, Pine needles, Untreated wood sawdust, Untreated paper
Nitrogen-rich materials (greens)
What TO put into your compost: Kitchen food waste (bread, grains, eggshells, coffee grounds & paper filter, grains, fruits, veggies), Flowers, Fresh grass
What NOT to put into the compost: Stickers from produce, Meat and bones, Dairy, Oily products, Plastic, Glass, Metal, Styrofoam, Onions
Step 3: Add your scraps and manage the pile
Now is the time to start layering your greens and browns! You want the dry browns on the bottom with the wet greens on top. And then, layer away!“And it really is layering - browns then greens, browns then greens. The number of layers depends on your space and your amount of food scraps, but try to keep the layers to an inch or two. You can also put a little bit of browns on the very top to keep away flies and odors. Ultimately you always want more browns than greens - again, gotta have the dry to sop up the wet.” (NPR.)
A well-managed compost pile shouldn’t be stinky. That sounds crazy, right? But it’s all about balance. You need a 50/50 wet to dry ratio more or less. You don’t want your pile to be too wet, nor too dry. Some say it should be “like a wrung-out sponge”. Too dry? it will stop breaking down, add some more greens & water. Too wet & stinky? Add more browns and give it some air by turning it or “shoveling it around”
Finding your composting groove could take some time. You might run into issues as you first get acquainted to your new relationship with your pile. We recommend checking out "7 Solutions to Common Compost Problems" (UC Master Gardeners of Monterey Bay).
We hope this was helpful to you, and can’t wait to see and hear about your compost journeys. You got this!! Tag us on Instagram @ethossantacruz with photos of your compost set-up so we can share it with the Ethos community!
Need some more information on composting? Check out the links below:
With love, The Ethos Team