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Be Good to the Environment with Your Very Own Compost Pile

With the current state of the environment, recycling has become more important than ever. Composting is a form of recycling that allows you to put food and other household waste to good use and help the environment by keeping these items out of landfills.

What is composting?

Composting is defined as material added to soil in order to encourage plant growth. Compost materials can range from leftover food to yard waste, and when mixed with soil, these materials decompose to create a nutrient-rich, organic substance known humus.

What are the benefits of composting?

compost-419259_1280The environmental benefits of composting are enormous. Every year, Americans send 33 million tons of food waste to landfills, where it breaks down and emits methane, a greenhouse gas that is 20 times as potent as carbon dioxide and a significant contributor to climate change. Composting can go a long way toward reducing this waste—some studies indicate that composting can reduce landfill waste by up to 30 percent.

Composting is also beneficial because it reduces the need to buy expensive commercial fertilizers for your garden, encourages the soil to retain moisture, and helps it suppress diseases and pest infestations. In other words, compost helps your garden grow, whether you have a few potted flowers or a large backyard vegetable garden.

What do I need to get started?

Ideally, your compost bin should be 3 feet by 3 feet to allow sufficient room when turning the pile over. Bins are usually available for purchase at local hardware and garden stores, or online outlets like Amazon. Trash cans can also be used for your compost pile in certain cases.

To fill your compost bin, include “brown” material such as leaves, twigs, and branches; “green” waste such as vegetable waste, grass clippings, and coffee grounds; and water to keep the pile moist. The EPA recommends that you have an equal amount of green and brown compost material and that each layer should be alternated. Prior to putting anything in your compost pile, do your best to chop up or shred these materials as much as possible.

Where should I put my compost pile?

The location of your compost pile is important, as putting it in the wrong spot can cause some problems down the road. Situate your compost pile in a shady area near a water source, and ensure that when you add dry material to the compost, you take the time moisten it. If you live in a dry climate, you may need to add water to your compost pile more often. Covering your compost pile keeps it moist and will prevent it from drying out.

What exactly can I put in my compost pile?

compost-709020_1280Technically, you can compost anything that is biodegradable or that was recently alive, whether plant or animal-based. However, most sources recommend that you don’t put meat, fish, dairy products, oily or greasy foods, or fats into your compost pile—these foods may cause your pile to smell and attract pests, such as rodents and flies. On the other hand, you may be able to avoid these unwanted pests by securely covering the bin, putting the bin in a hole in the ground, or by thoroughly mixing new scraps with compost already in the bin.

Whether or not you choose to compost meats and dairy, you can always compost fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, eggshells, nuts, bread, coffee grounds and filters, loose- leaf tea, and tea bags. You can also compost shredded paper, house plants, hay, sawdust, grass and yard trimmings, and fireplace ashes. Be sure that yard trimmings don’t have any chemical pesticides on them, as this could kill off the beneficial microbes in your pile.

What are some common compost problems?

While composting is fairly straightforward, a few problems can arise. One common issue is insects. Bugs are commonly attracted to compost bins—specifically, pill bugs and sow bugs—but neither of these will harm your compost. Ants are almost always an issue, but they are also harmless. However, to drive away these bugs, try to increase the temperature of the pile to 120°F. You can increase the heat by turning and watering the pile regularly.

Another common compost problem, especially in dry climates, is a lack of moisture. This issue is easy to remedy, as all you really need to do is turn over the layers in the pile and water them regularly. The ideal level of moisture is similar to that of a damp sponge, and a light sprinkler is generally more effective at achieving this than a hose. During heat waves or long periods without rainfall, you may have to water your compost pile a little more often.

Another common issue with compost piles is an unpleasant smell. Not all compost piles have a bad odor, but if yours does, fixing the problem is simple. Smelly compost occurs when there is too much nitrogen-rich material in the pile. Another reason for an unpleasant smell may be that you didn’t properly break down the ingredients before adding them to the pile. Alternatively, you may have an overabundance of meat, fish, or dairy food waste in the pile. If this is the case, turn the pile in order to aerate it and release some of the gases that are causing the odor. Going forward, be sure to shred or chop up anything that you intend to compost and mix it in well.

Starting a compost pile does not have to be difficult, and you may find it very rewarding. You’ll reduce your carbon footprint and perhaps even your garbage bill, and your garden will thank you, too.

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The Best Ways to Reduce Landfill Waste

Recycling has become more widespread than ever in the past few decades, but there is always room for improvement. Landfills continue to fill up, but the good news is that small changes in our everyday habits can make a huge difference and help reduce the amount of waste we produce.

Actively Recycle

recycleWe know that materials like paper, glass, and aluminum cans are recyclable, yet many of us can do more to help reduce landfill waste. Many municipalities across the United States have recycling initiatives in place, but some people aren’t using these curbside recycling programs to their full extent, simply because they aren’t aware of the range of items that are accepted. Many municipalities post recycling program guidelines and lists of recyclable items on their websites. Check it out—it may surprise you. Your recycling program may accept a common item that you thought you had to throw away.

Be sure to keep reusable shopping bags in your car or on your person. This way, you can avoid the millions of unnecessary plastic and paper bags that are thrown into landfills every year. If you do choose to use plastic bags, reuse them at home or recycle them. When shopping, aim to purchase items in minimal or recyclable packaging. Most products will have recycling information listed on the bottom of the package, making it easily identifiable.

Reduce Food Waste

The EPA estimates that 95% of wasted food ends up in landfills. You may be inclined to discard remaining food after a meal, but it’s important to think about where this food will eventually end up. To avoid wasting food, try not to serve yourself more than you can reasonably eat; instead, go back for seconds (or thirds) if you find yourself still hungry. Another great way to avoid wasting food is to freeze produce and meats before they expire.

You can also use food scraps to start a compost pile, which is a mixture of biodegradable, organic material that can be used as plant fertilizer. Composting is a great way to use food that you were otherwise going to throw away. However, you should only compost fruits and vegetables, coffee grounds and filters, and tea leaves and tea bags in your backyard pile, along with grass and yard clippings. You can also toss in plain bread, rice, oats, beans, eggshells, and nuts. Do not put meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, sauces, or oily, greasy foods into a backyard compost pile, because these items will not decompose quickly and may attract pests.

Invest in a Water Filtration System

water filter pumpWe all know that water is the healthiest drink to consume, but those plastic water bottles are not so great for the environment. Instead of buying bottled water, invest in a water filtration system. Regardless of your budget, there are many different options to filter water so you can avoid buying multiple plastic bottles. There are faucet-mounted water filtration units, which can be placed on any faucet in your home.

People who live a more active lifestyle can consider purchasing a reusable water bottle that includes a filtering device so that standard tap water can be filtered on the go. If you have the means and the desire, you can also purchase a whole-home filtration system that ensures all the water you use for cooking, bathing, and other household tasks is purified from the start.

Encourage Others to Recycle

Whether you live with roommates or have a family of your own that includes children, one of the best ways to encourage recycling is to make it easy to do. Start by getting bins or boxes to put all your recyclable materials into. With these receptacles in a convenient place, it will be easier for everyone to separate recyclable items, and they will be more likely to participate. For younger children, try to explain the benefits of recycling and demonstrate how recycling helps your community, as well as the entire planet. When kids understand why it’s important to recycle, they are often more eager to participate.

Not only is it important to make an effort to recycle household items, it’s also a good idea to be mindful of recycling possibilities when getting rid of clothes, furniture, toys, dishes, and other possessions. When cleaning out your closet or planning a move, try to donate as many of your items as you possibly can to avoid throwing them out altogether—or sell them online or at a second-hand shop to make some extra cash. Recycling goes far beyond just paper, plastics, and glass bottles. Practically anything can be given a new home or reused in some way.

While there are many ways to encourage recycling, these simple suggestions can help you get started, or encourage you to continue with your current efforts. Reducing landfill waste is more important than ever before, as populations are increasing, thereby producing more waste, and space for landfills is finite. If we can each make an effort to start at home and do our part, we can all help solve the problem.