Disclaimer: All information is this article is either anecdotal and/or is from the EPA article titled “Composting At Home,” linked at the bottom of the post.
I started composting in 2019, and I honestly don’t know what took me so long. In 2018, I “committed” to reducing my food waste after reading that over 38 MILLION TONS of food was wasted in 2017. I started meal planning to eliminate the possibility of extra food rotting in the fridge and I cut down on the amount of processed or take away food I was consuming. But that wasn’t enough for me. How was I to rectify throwing away the tops of my strawberries when I considered myself so anti-waste? I certainly wasn’t going to eat them, if that’s what you’re thinking! So I started looking for a local organization that hosted regular compost drop-offs, and I found one in seconds (yay, Google!). My local organization is called CompostNOW and it’s New Orleans specific, but there are many similar programs out there.
I drop off my compost on Monday mornings and every time I do it I feel kinda giddy, honestly. It’s both disturbing and interesting to see the amount of waste I STILL produce, even though I’m actively trying to reduce. Some things make sense, flower cuttings, dead leaves, and banana peels - stuff you just definitely should not eat. But I began noticing how much waste was generated just by chopping off the stem on the end of a green bean, or the outer layer of a Brussels sprout. I wish there was something I could do to incorporate those things into my dishes, but I just don’t know how, and so I compost them.
Let’s get in to the nitty gritty of composting. You have a few options if you’re looking to start:
Make your own outdoor compost - if you elect to do this, make sure you check local laws and health codes, and don’t do this without a landlord’s permission if you’re renting.
Make your own indoor compost - you can buy a compost bin that goes in the kitchen that will pretty successfully eliminate any odor that compost traditionally produces (it is rot after all!) and isn’t very noticeable. I know the least about this method.
Find a compost drop-off and freeze your scraps until you can deliver them - this is what I do. Scraps are frozen for easier transportation and reduced smell. My drop-off location actually requires you to freeze your scraps.
There are probably other options too, like just allowing things to rot out in the open in a garden, but of course be careful with this if you have pets, kids, or wildlife who use your yard.
As for what you can compost… It kind of depends on your compost method. But in general composts have 3 components - browns, greens (equal in amount to browns), and water. An example of a brown is dead leaf litter, a green could be an old broccoli crown, and water is - well - I think you know about that. Browns are important in the composting process as they provide carbon, and greens are important because they provide nitrogen. Both of these components help the waste to break down into organic material that has a wide variety of uses, especially in the world of agriculture and gardening!
More specifically than just browns and greens, here’s the EPA’s approved list of what can be composted:
Fruits and vegetables
Cardboard (if thin and without addition)
Hay and straw
Cotton and wool rags
Dryer and vacuum lint (cool, right?!)
Hair or fur
Fireplace ashes (NOT charcoal or coal)
On the flip side, here’s what the EPA does NOT approve of:
Meat, fish, bones
Plants infested with insects or treated with pesticides (and any black walnut tree leaves or branches)
Fat, grease, lard, oil (this means anything cooked in this CANNOT be composted either)
If you want to know why these items can’t be composted, please check out the EPA article, it’s very interesting! Furthermore, if you use a compost drop-off, make sure your check their individual guidelines, don’t just assume.
I love composting and I feel a lot better about my ecological footprint after starting. It helps me think about what I’m doing when I’m preparing food at home or selecting products at the grocery store. I recommend anyone interested in composting to start by guessing how much scrap they produce in one week, then freezing scraps for 7 days and weighing it so you can compare the actual mass to your guess. I bet you’ll be surprised! Although I’m super happy that I can use a drop-off, I’m really excited to hopefully be moving to a place where I can have an outdoor, active compost and garden soon. That’s the goal for now!