I’m moving into a 1000 square foot, 130-year-old house with nothing but the absolute basics. “Creating a zero waste house” is an ongoing series which will address different parts of the house and the best tips/DIYs/products for going zero waste.
While it seems like there’s nothing wrong with tossing food waste into the trash – it’ll decompose, right? – there’s a case to be made for everyone composting. Especially when you find out how easy composting can actually be.
Because the issue with sending organic matter to the landfill is that, in fact, because everything’s so tightly packed nothing actually decomposes. Because there’s no room for oxygen to circulate, that organic matter just releases methane right up into the atmosphere.
Composting it is.
Luckily our house has tons of garden space (and I’m planning to tear up most of the yard next spring for more garden space), so I don’t imagine ever creating so much compost that I wouldn’t have anything to use it for.
If you don’t have a house or space for outdoor composting – I feel you, as a former apartment dweller – check out this article for some ideas of where to get started. Also, research locally as many places have begun offering a compost pickup service for relatively cheap!
Indoor daily composting
Getting ready for easy composting is a breeze in the kitchen.
The daily composting is getting the green part of our compost ready – this includes any and all food waste (aside from no-nos like animal products or citrus) but pretty much everything else goes in. Scrap peels that won’t be used for broth, an end of bread that went moldy, cotton thread pulled off a shirt, etc.
I have a metal mixing bowl we rarely use covered by an extra lid from an Indian spice tray I bought second hand. It sits pretty discretely on our counter and doesn’t produce much of a smell, even if we wait 4-5 days between emptying it. Our compostable items simply go in the bowl and then get tossed into a larger bin whenever it’s full.
I’d obviously love to spring for one of those adorable ceramic compost pails, but I just don’t need one so our indoor compost situation will remain unadorable.
The outdoor composting setup was an ongoing debate for a while. Initially, I thought I found an easy composting route that required no purchase: I could get my husband to put together a compost bed with scrap wood or pallets – simple and cheap! Unfortunately, the more I thought about it, the less happy I was with the idea of an open composting system in a neighborhood where the houses are pretty close together. I didn’t want to be that neighbor that invites in all sorts of strange animals tramping through my food waste!
Instead, we opted to purchase a dual-chamber tumbler that now sits discretely in our backyard. It’s large – but not overly so – and its 37-gallon capacity seems like more than enough for the waste my husband and I make.
When it arrived, I was a little nervous about how small the package seemed, but when I opened it it, I saw it was actually pretty large! The instructions are not super helpful, but it’s a simple matter of attaching the panels to the outside walls and then placing the divider panel inside before closing it up. Then you set up the stand and you’re ready to go!
I’d guess it took me no more than 30 minutes to put it all together.
So far, it seems very sturdy and easy to spin, which I’m sure could change as it fills up. But so far I’m very happy with the tumbler, particularly since we were on a tight budget and we got one of the cheapest options. (This similar style was our second option but we didn’t see the slightly larger capacity as worth the extra money – YMMV.)
What do you put in your compost?
I was a little hesitant to dive into a tumbler composter simply because I assumed it would somehow go by different rules than the traditional pile I’m used to. Thankfully, that’s not the case at all!
The one major difference I see is that almost everyone stated you needed to help the tumbler get started when you first use it (the place is, after all, a sterile, plastic container). To get around this, you can add some already-created compost, healthy soil, or even some special started available to purchase.
Make it easy on yourself: just toss some soil in.
After that, it’s a fairly straightforward process to add the right amount of nitrogen-y green stuff and carbon-y brown stuff. The easiest way to think of it is two parts green to one part brown. So if I add my bowl of green stuff (ie. food scraps) then I should add half a bowl’s worth of brown stuff (ie. paper, cardboard, etc).
For a full list of what can be composted, this is a very helpful site which also goes deeper into the ratios involved in composting, if you’re interested in getting technical.
Overall, making easy composting a part of your daily life is a great way of gracefully getting rid of those organic items that might not have the chance to break down in a landfill. (Really, because of a lack of oxygen in landfills, organic material does not break down!) It can definitely be a gross experience as well – bugs, mold, and all other kinds of ickiness – but relatively painless.
Do you think easy composting is possible? If not, what’s holding you back? If you do, what are some of the challenges you’ve faced?