What You Need to Know about Composting

In recent years, composting has become an increasingly popular method of diverting organic materials from landfills and recycling them into nutrients for gardens. If you are looking to start composting at your home, then you will need to understand how it works, how to start, and how to successfully maintain your pile. You can compost with ease by adhering to the following tips:

Know where and how to start.

In order to make the most out of your compost pile, you will need to know how to start one and where to put it. The optimal location for a compost pile is outside on the ground, preferably in a flat spot that contains ample drainage. This will enable organisms such as worms to enter the pile and begin breaking down the materials contained within them.

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Once you select a location, you will need to determine how you will begin building your compost pile. To expedite the process of biodegradation, you should aim for a pile that is 3 feet in depth, height, and width. You can build your own basic compost container out of materials such as wood pallets, trash receptacles, and cinderblocks. Otherwise, you should consider purchasing one of the numerous styles of ready-made bins available on the market. They are typically available in one of two styles: stationary and tumbler. Simply do some research to see which type of bin will best suit your composting needs.

Add the right materials.

Once you have a compost bin set up, you will need to begin filling it. As such, you must understand the various do’s and don’ts of what to add to your compost pile. You can put all manner of kitchen scraps and yard trimmings into your pile. “Greens” such as peels from produce, plant trimmings, and tea bags all make great additions to a compost bin because they degrade quickly and add a good amount of nitrogen to the pile. You will also need to add carbon-filled “browns” to your compost pile. This category includes everything from eggshells and animal fur to dried leaves and paper. You can also add waste from farmyard animals to your compost pile to incorporate even more nutrients.

When building your compost pile, you should also remain mindful of those items and materials that you should never add. You should keep anything from the meat and dairy categories out of the compost bin and put it in the trash can. Although you can incorporate some plants and trimmings, you should not add any type of weeds to your pile. Moreover, you should never add pet waste, as this can invite pests into your compost bin.

Shred what you plan to compost.

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It’s not enough to simply pack all of your compost into a large pile. In order to help the materials break down more quickly, you will need to make sure that your bin has proper aeration. To this end, you will need to shred or cut most of the materials that you plan to compost. This is a particularly important step to take when you are adding brown materials such as paper, cardboard, and leaves to your pile. These items are inherently more difficult to break down, so cutting them into smaller pieces will hasten the composting process. When in doubt, remember that smaller is better. Make sure that all items are 2 inches or shorter before putting them into your compost pile.

Maintain the right balance.

When looking to create the best-quality compost, you will need to create a perfect balance of green and brown materials. If you add too much of one type of material, then your entire pile may fail to degrade. In order to provide the best environment for composting, you should create an almost equal ratio of materials throughout the pile.

When you initially build your pile, you should add greens and browns in thin layers to ensure a proper balance. As your compost pile continues to grow, you should incorporate these two types of material together. This will help maintain the balance of moisture and allow for more airflow.

Monitor the moisture.

Moisture plays a large role in the decomposition of your compost. As such, you will need to closely monitor the consistency of your mixture to determine whether it is too wet or too dry. A proper balance of green and brown materials will help your compost remain moist, but you may also need to add water to it on a regular basis. In general, you should aim for a moisture composition of between 50 and 60 percent.

Turn it frequently.

As your compost breaks down, you will need to regularly turn it to keep it aerated, moist, and well mixed. Some use a compost tumbler to make this process easier, but you can also use garden tools such as shovels or pitchforks. You should turn your compost every one to two weeks. However, you can better judge when it is the right time to turn your compost by monitoring its internal temperature. As the microorganisms within work to decompose the materials, the compost will reach temperatures of between 140 and 170 degrees Fahrenheit. At this time, you should turn the materials to help the entire pile decompose more quickly

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7 of the Best Reasons to Recycle

In today’s environmentally-conscious world, most people have recycled at least a few times in their lives. Though many individuals take great effort to recycle the various bottles and paper that they use on a daily basis, others are not quite so involved in the movement. Those who are looking to become more avid recyclers need only look at the various benefits that the practice can bring them, their communities, and the environment.

From resource protection to job creation, here are seven of the best reasons why we should all recycle:

  1. Recycling helps save resources.

copperEvery time manufacturers create new products and materials, they must draw upon the Earth’s natural resources. During the typical product lifecycle, items begin in the form of raw substances that must undergo manufacturing and processing before reaching consumers.

More often than not, after they have served their purpose, these products end up in disposal sites. As the production cycle begins once again, manufacturers must continue to draw from such natural resources as trees, precious metals, and fossil fuels.

The “closed-loop” system of recycling minimizes the need to use our planet’s finite resources. Instead of disposal, this method ensures that products and their materials can be re-used during the creation of new items. Organizations in an increasing number of industries are following this trend and adopting programs that allow them to use recycled materials in their products.

  1. Recycling reduces pollution.

Recycling on both residential and industrial levels can help reduce the amount of pollution in the environment. When manufacturers create products out of new resources, they generate much more water and air pollution than they do when they use recycled materials.

In fact, industrial factories that utilize raw substances during production typically consume large amounts of fossil fuels that release dangerous greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. If they choose to use recycled materials, they can greatly minimize these environmental threats.

Consumers can help industrial entities minimize the pollution they create by recycling items in their own homes. With more recycled materials available to use during production, manufacturers will create fewer emissions.

Another way individuals can contribute to pollution reduction is to buy products that are composed of recycled materials. For example, a vehicle that is made from a recycled substance such as aluminum will require less gasoline than a vehicle composed of heavy steel.

  1. Recycling diverts waste from landfills.

landfillFor decades, landfills have served as a means of waste disposal for communities across the globe. As the population continues to increase, landfills are becoming more engorged with both waste and countless items that could have gone to recycling facilities. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the country saw nearly 140 million tons of trash go into landfills in 2014 alone. Due to the continued use of landfills, the space inside them is dwindling quickly.

Not only do overflowing landfills look unattractive, but they also inundate local communities with bad odors and harmful waste runoff. Instead of throwing non-biodegradable materials into landfills, individuals can recycle as a means of safeguarding themselves and the environment from the potential dangers of landfills.

  1. Recycling conserves energy.

When consumers choose to recycle the materials and products that they use, they help reduce the demand for new products that take precious energy to make. The process of product creation requires energy at every stage, whether workers are extracting raw materials from the Earth or companies are transporting items for sale.

If manufacturers choose to use recycled materials, then they will have the opportunity to make products out of items that are already prepared for industry use. It will thus take far less energy to turn these materials into sellable products, which benefits both local economies and the environment.

  1. Recycling provides financial rewards.

bottlesRecycling can also lead to a number of financial benefits to individuals and communities. When people recycle in their daily lives, they have the opportunity to earn extra money by selling recycled goods to companies that need them.

Many communities also have specialized programs that pay residents for each item they recycle. In addition, the simple act of using recycled materials and products at home will save money that would otherwise be spent on new goods.

The financial benefits of recycling extend beyond the home. As more individuals turn to recycling, the cost of the entire waste management process goes down. Recycling costs significantly less than traditional trash disposal and incineration techniques. Thus, it provides savings to cities that fully utilizing recycling facilities. Companies can also save money by participating in corporate recycling initiatives.

  1. Recycling creates jobs.

One of the more unseen benefits of recycling is that it is a source of job opportunities. Recycling does not take just the effort of individuals, businesses, and other participants. The entire industry is much bigger than most of us imagine.

In fact, the recycling sector employs a growing number of individuals who are responsible for managing the flow of recycled goods and ensuring that it is all sorted properly. There are currently more individuals working within the recycling industry than there are in the automobile or waste management sectors.

  1. Recycling protects the environment.

Protecting the environment is perhaps the best reason everyone should recycle. The rise of the recycling movement has helped generate awareness about the environment and our impact on it. As a result, we have taken the necessary steps to protect forests from being cut down for paper and lumber, prevent hazardous waste from entering water supplies, and reduce the engagement in mining activities that harm ecosystems.

There are far more environmental benefits to recycling than most people realize, but each one makes a large impact on the quality of the Earth.

An In-Depth Look at the Different Types of Waste

Whether at home, out dining or shopping, or at work, people around the world generate waste every day. Both hazardous and non-hazardous items constantly enter the waste stream, posing unique challenges to those whose responsibility it is to dispose of them safely. In order to understand how to properly handle and dispose of the waste that we produce, it’s important to first recognize the various kinds that exist.

Municipal waste

dumpsterSometimes referred to as solid waste, municipal waste consists of waste from homes, schools, stores, offices, and other residential and commercial buildings. Any type of non-liquid waste falls into this category. There are many different components of municipal waste, each with its own decomposition time span. For example, paper materials typically take up to 30 days to decompose, whereas plastic materials such as bottles can take 450 years to break down. Glass bottles have the longest decomposition period of all municipal waste materials, requiring around one million years to fully decompose. In general, cities dispose of this type of waste by sending it to landfills.

Food waste

Food waste accounts for the vast majority of all municipal waste. In the United States alone, around 40 percent of food ends up in the trash. In a 2012 report, the Natural Resources Defense Council found that this accounts for $165 billion in food waste every single year. This food not only takes up large amounts of space in U.S. landfills, but it also acts as a major contributor to the country’s methane emissions. Methane is a harmful greenhouse gas that’s 20 times as potent as carbon dioxide.

Food waste is a type of organic waste, which also encompasses things like lawn trimmings and clippings from the garden—anything that was once alive. Food waste includes leftovers from meals, fruit and vegetable scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds, and the remains of anything else we eat at home or in a restaurant.

Hazardous waste

Any substance that can be dangerous to the health of people or the environment receives the designation of hazardous waste. These materials can come in many forms, each of which poses a different kind of threat. Hazardous waste can be generated by industrial and manufacturing processes, but it can also be found in the home. So-called “household hazardous waste” includes common products like paints, car oil, drain cleaners, and batteries.

While some hazardous waste can poison humans and animals, other types run the risk of exploding or reacting badly with other compounds. All hazardous waste requires a special form of handling and disposal to minimize its threat.

Medical waste

medical wasteHealthcare facilities produce a wide range of special waste that can both pollute the environment and harm humans and animals. One form of medical waste, for example, is out-of-date medications and other controlled substances. In the United States, more regulatory agencies are beginning to focus on the proper disposal of these potentially hazardous materials.

Another common type of medical waste comes from hospitals, in the form of used needles, bandages, fabrics soiled with bodily fluids, and medical cultures. A large portion of hospital waste may contain infectious bacteria or viruses, which makes proper disposal a requirement.

Construction and demolition waste

Sometimes included as part of general municipal waste, construction and demolition (C&D) waste is generated by all kinds of building development and renovation projects. The most common waste materials found on construction sites include carpeting, wood, and concrete. In the United States, many developers recycle their C&D waste and receive LEED Certification credits in return. The waste typically undergoes sorting and the reusable materials are removed prior to disposal in a landfill.

Nuclear waste

nuclear wastePerhaps the most potentially harmful type of waste is the used nuclear fuel left over from nuclear power plants and reactors. While inside the reactor, the uranium in the fuel breaks down into radioactive isotopes of certain metals. This nuclear waste (also called “radwaste”) remains in a dangerous state of radioactivity for years—sometimes thousands of years.

However, radwaste is unique from all other types of waste in that its hazardousness decreases over time. Eventually, all nuclear waste becomes non-radioactive. It is important to note that the length of time that it takes to lose its radioactivity depends on the type of waste. High-level waste, which is 95 percent radioactive materials, will take longer to become non-radioactive than low-level waste, which is only 1 percent radioactive.

There are many ways that humans can dispose of nuclear waste. During the first several years, the waste remains underwater, so that the radiation can decrease to safer levels. After this, power plants can sometimes recycle radwaste for further use, but it often goes into concrete or underground storage in a secure location.

Recyclable waste

Though many items end up in the waste stream, many of them can be recycled so that they can be reused in the future. This not only minimizes the consumption of raw materials, but it also prevents usable items from taking up space in landfills. People can typically recycle paper, glass, aluminum cans, plastics, and metal goods in their local communities. According to a study by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, 43% of Americans have access to both a curbside recycling program and a local drop-off facility; 30% have curbside collection only; and 21% have drop-off programs only.

Composting is another form of recycling that allows individuals to divert biodegradable materials from the landfill. Fruit and vegetable scraps, along with yard trimmings, break down over time, creating rich compost that can be used to fertilize a garden.

The Zero Waste Movement: What You Can Do

recycle binsRecycling is an excellent way to reduce the waste we send to landfills, but unfortunately, we consume much more waste than can be recycled, and some materials cannot be recycled efficiently with our current technology. On its own, recycling is not a complete solution to decreasing waste. Given the fact that the global population continues to increase and people are living longer than ever, more waste is being produced and the challenges of managing this waste grow greater every day.

However, the zero waste movement offers a potential solution to our global waste management problem, by helping people consume less overall and generate less trash in the first place. Read on to learn more about it.

The Current State of Waste Management

Modern life requires a large amount of natural resources and generates an incredible amount of solid waste that can be difficult and costly to dispose of. According to 2013 estimates from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans produce about 254 million tons of garbage every year—this number works out to an average of 4.40 pounds of trash per person per day.

In the US, most municipal waste collected from homes, businesses, and public facilities ends up in a landfill, but many are running out of room—some experts estimate that most landfills are within 5 to 10 years of closing, unless they are expanded. Because space in local landfills may be limited, some cities even export their trash long distances. In 2011, New York City spent the equivalent of $1 million per day transporting waste to landfills in neighboring states. Disposal in landfills can also be problematic because pollutants can slowly seep into the groundwater, and methane (a potent greenhouse gas) may be released into the atmosphere.

Another option for getting rid of waste is to incinerate it—in some European countries where land is scarce, a majority of the waste is incinerated. But even though incinerating trash dramatically reduces demand on landfills, it can release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. And while modern technologies can remove much of the harmful toxins produced by incinerating waste, the ash that remains can be highly toxic and may require disposal at a special facility.

What You Can Do to Reduce Waste

Fortunately, it’s not very difficult to dramatically reduce the amount of waste you produce at home and work. Here are four simple principles from the zero waste movement that can help you get started:

basic homeReduce – You don’t have to live like a monk, but think carefully before buying something. Like as not, it will eventually end up in a landfill. Do you really want or need it? Could you postpone buying it? If it’s broken, could you fix it, rather than buy a new one?

When you shop, look for items that have minimal packaging. For example, you might be able to buy foods in bulk; this reduces the packaging waste you’ll generate and it may be cheaper, too.

In addition, remember that you may be able to get what you want without buying it. For example, if you’re planning a ski trip, consider renting your equipment rather than purchasing it. Rather than buy a DVD, subscribe to a service like Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime to watch your favorite movies and TV shows.

Reuse – Avoid one-time-use products—like plastic bags at the grocery store—as often as you can. Buy some reusable cloth bags and stash them in your car, so you’ll always have them on hand when you shop. Save paper plates and plastic forks, knives, and spoons for rare occasions; try to use regular dishes and cutlery on a daily basis. When cleaning, opt for cloth rags instead of paper towels or disposable disinfectant wipes.

Investing in a reusable water bottle and drinking tap water is also a great idea, as a staggering number of disposable plastic water bottles end up in landfills every day.

If you’re looking for a new outfit, piece of jewelry, or furniture, consider buying from a consignment, antique, or secondhand store.

Refuse – If you don’t need something, politely refuse. This can be as simple as saying “no” to a printed receipt at the store, or refusing a plastic straw from the waiter when you’re eating out.  

Recycle – Check with your local recycling facility or city curbside collection program to see which items are accepted. Typically, paper, aluminum cans, plastic beverage containers, and glass bottles are accepted, although many programs will take a far greater range of items.

Composting is also an excellent way to go zero waste. Returning items like food scraps back to the land as fertilizer is not only good for your garden—it also keeps these items from being picked up by the trash collector, going through the waste management process, and ultimately ending up in a landfill.

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.