By Sarah Wang
These days, going eco-friendly is the new trend. But why stop at recycling and reducing when you can reuse your own organic waste right in your backyard? That’s where compost comes in.
Composting is a natural process in which organic waste such as stems and vegetable scraps are recycled into a rich, high-nutrient soil mixture. The soil is so potent in aiding plant growth that farmers have actually nicknamed it “Black Gold.” Because it releases water and acts as a natural mulch, compost not only saves water but also reduces your trash bill. But most importantly, composting allows you to cut down on the amount of food you send to the landfills and therefore minimizes your carbon footprint.
You might be wondering: “do I actually throw out that much food?” Most people don’t consider food waste a pressing issue in environmental conservation, but the United States actually leads the world in food waste. In fact, The Guardian estimates that roughly 50% of all produce in America is thrown away, contributing to the 1.6 billion tons (worth $1 trillion) of produce wasted globally. This means that “one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption — approximately 1.3 billion tons — gets lost or wasted” (FAO). To make matters worse, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that of the 38 million tons of food waste generated in 2014, only 5.1% was diverted from landfills for composting, resulting in organic waste becoming the single largest occupant in U.S. landfills. All in all, agencies around the world agree on one thing: excessive food waste has to stop.
Now, how exactly does one go about setting up a compost station? There are a few things to consider before you begin:
Because of the warm, sunny climate in Southern California, it’s best to select a spot with ample shade to avoid excessive evaporation. Your compost location should also be close to a water source, have contact with soil, and be near your garden to minimize carrying distance. However, make sure the pile is away from wooden fences — those decomposers will happily eat away at those too!
2. Bin or Pile?
If you don’t mind the smell or your compost will be far away, a pile would be a suitable choice. Make sure to cover the pile (wire, wood, tarp, etc.) to keep away any scavengers or pets. However, some people prefer the neatness and convenience of closed bins, which are often sold by individual cities ($56 bins in Pasadena, $40 bins and $65 worm bins in Monrovia, $35 bins and $65 worm bins in Arcadia).
3. Organic Contents
Compost can be made up of almost anything you use in the kitchen like fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea leaves, shells (egg, seafood, nut), and paper napkins. It can also have some of your gardening scraps like lawn clippings, twigs and branches, flowers, and weeds. You can also toss newspapers and shredded paper in as well! Just make sure to avoid adding dairy or animal products (including bones), oils, fats, diseased plants, and pet waste in your pile. The most important aspect of your organic contents is maintaining a balance between the nitrogen-based “green” waste like vegetables and the carbon-based “brown” waste like garden trimmings.
4. Turnover Time
Within a few weeks, you should see your compost pile turn into healthy, nutritious soil. Every 1-2 weeks, turn over your pile with a shovel or garden fork to give it the oxygen and water it needs. If you’re not seeing much progress, try breaking up large materials to speed up the process. Soon enough, you’ll have all-natural, super-efficient fertilizer in your hands!
Composting can be a fun and eco-friendly project, but it’s important to do some research prior to getting started. Check out your local workshops and other resources like the L.A. Country Arboretum, The Garden Spot, and CA Friendly Landscaping for additional tips and tricks.