According to the Environmental Protection Agency, about eight percent of all carbon emissions come from food waste, and about half of that comes from “the consumption stage,” which means waste from households and food services. This means that we can control about four percent of carbon emissions with a simple method: composting.
Choose your food scraps
Unfortunately, you can’t just compost everything.
For a starting point, think of scrap from fruits and vegetables — the tops of strawberries and pineapples, banana peels, and potato skins — and move on from here to tea bags, coffee grounds, and eggshells. Did you know even human hair is compostable?
Things you cannot compost include most animal products like meat and dairy. Also, uneaten food you made with oil cannot be composted, but if you didn’t use oil then you’re probably okay. If you’re unsure about composting a product, look for a label that says if it is compostable. Otherwise, you can always look it up online.
Hang on to those food scraps
Once you’ve identified your compost materials, now it’s time to store them. You don’t need one of those specialized ceramic containers. This can be an opportunity to upcycle some trash like a milk carton or a big, lidded bowl you never use. Easy tip: store your food scraps in the back of the refrigerator to keep the smell out of your place and slow the decay process.
Pick your compost place
A backyard is great, but don’t worry if you don’t have one. Even if you don’t have a balcony on which you can put a composting bin you buy online, no problem. You can find a community garden and bring your scraps there or give them to a composting neighbor. If you have an apartment with no outside access, you can even try “vermicomposting,” get a five-gallon box or drum and get some worms to help break down your scraps. Quick note, worms also love ruffage like newspaper and brown paper bags, so throw scraps of those in too. Another trick is fermenting your compost by a Japanese method called Bokashi, a colony of bacteria on grain that you put in a container with your compost.
Layering your compost mix
With compost layering, you want to remember your “browns” and your “greens.”
Your browns are dry, carbon-rich like dried leaves, eggshells, newspaper shreds, etc. These are the first layer on which you’ll place your greens. These are your wet, nitrogen-rich wastes like grass clippings, vegetable and fruit peelings, coffee grounds, etc. You want to put a layer of greens on top of a layer of browns, repeating this process as your pile grows, and maybe keep a top layer of browns to buffer smells. The moisture from the greens is absorbed by the browns, so you want to keep a ratio of at least two parts brown to one green.
Aerating and waiting
Depending on the weather, you could be waiting for two months for waste to fully decompose if it’s hot to up to six months if it’s cold. To keep the process alive, letting the microorganisms do their work, you want to keep moving the pile around and aerating it, spinning it in a compost drum, or turning it with a shovel or a stick, every seven to 10 days. Remember to keep the brown and green layers going, and you’ll know if you’re doing it right by the smell. Bad compost can smell sour, but good compost smells, well, good. It smells like rich, healthy, sometimes sweet earth, and when you have it you can plant it on your windowsill or yard, or you can donate it to a local garden. Just remember to call ahead and let them know you’re on your way.