Black Gold Harvest: A Quick-Start Guide to Composting

By Grace Cassidy

The ecological benefits of composting are well established. In addition to turning food waste into a nutrient-rich product known among gardeners as “black gold,” composting reduces the amount of organic material that ends up in landfills, which generates the greenhouse gas methane.

But you don’t need a green thumb to turn your food waste into gold. If you’ve been meaning to start composting but haven’t quite gotten around to it yet, there’s no better time than now. As more households commit to recycling food scraps and other organic matter, more and more services and products have cropped up to make getting started much simpler.

Photo by Lenka Dzurendova on Unsplash

Getting Started

In fact, you can start composting with just a simple 5-gallon bucket.

“There are no fancy tools or materials that are required for composting,” says Jessica Bombar, a representative from the Solana Center for Environmental Innovation in San Diego, Calif. “You can easily build your own backyard compost bin out of reclaimed wood. There are also pre-made composting bins you can order online, commonly made out of plastic which is durable for long-term use.”

Bombar suggests starting with what the Solana Center calls the Kitchen Caddy Challenge: take a week to fill a container with food scraps, paper towels and other compostable material (the Environmental Protection Agency has a list of foods and other items) so that you can assess how much organic waste your household generates. “From there, you can pick your composting style based on the amount of material, space and time you have,” she says. The Solana Center offers a handy reference guide on different approaches.

Photo courtesy of Solana Center for Environmental Innovation

Getting Past the ”Ick” Factor

If you’ve gotten to this point in the process, it’s likely you’re undeterred by the “ick” factor that derails many well-intentioned rookie composters—not just the smell of decomposing food scraps, but also the potential involvement of worms.

While the idea of welcoming worms into your home may be a dealbreaker at first blush, worm composting actually accelerates the breakdown of organic matter before it begins to smell rotten.

“Vermicomposting is also perfect for someone with limited space because they have a small footprint and can be kept indoors such as under the sink, in the garage or out on the patio,” Bombar said. The Solana Center even sells suppliesincluding the live worms—to help get San Diego residents started.

Photo by Nareeta Martin on Unsplash

Getting Help

If you draw the line at collecting scraps, you have alternatives to starting and maintaining your own compost bin.

While municipal compost collection has yet to scale, there are a number of drop-off and pick-up services available. The Solana Center offers a compost drop-off program to San Diego residents, and there are plenty of programs throughout the country, including GrowNYC, that collect the scraps and other organic matter. And there are a growing number of privately run programs that offer curbside/apartment lobby pickup. This is great if you have limited space at home, or you don’t need compost for an indoor or outdoor garden.

“No matter where you live, it is important to find a compost program or compost at home,” said Bombar. “When composting, a typical family of four will divert about 45 pounds of food waste per month, which will prevent this material from going to the landfill. This is equivalent to keeping 32 pounds of CO2 emissions from entering the atmosphere and transforming the food waste into a healthy soil amendment for plants.”

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