With people around the world looking to reduce their environmental impact at home and composting becoming a real trend, it’s important to understand how to compost at home and whether or not it’s a great option for you.
Home composting is a possibility for anyone who is willing to create and maintain a worm farm or home composter. There are rules to composting and it’s important to understand these, which include what can go into a composter, how much quantity can be in a composter or worm farm and how to maintain it. This includes other materials, water, oxygen, temperature and any insects, bacteria or worms you require.
What Is A Compost And How Does It Work?
It’s important to firstly understand the composting options available to you. This includes a commercial or industrial facility, a home composter or a worm farm. All can take the same materials but are different in some respects.
Essentially, composting is a process that will break down renewable or organic materials back into their natural state. The matter is broken down through the presence of worms, insects, bacteria and fungi. Compostable plastics, yard and food scraps are able to be composted.
What Is An Industrial Composting Facility?
An industrial composting or commercial composting facility is a large-scale composting option. It can take massive amounts of compostable materials at once and turn it into large amounts of fertilizer for mass landscaping projects.
An industrial or commercial composter on the other hand, is much larger and much more protected. This type of composting is carefully and closely monitored by staff. A commercial composter is extremely measured and controlled, with all aspects such as water, air, temperature and introduced micro-organisms being monitored.
Compost can then be utilized as fertilizer in gardens or fields as it has been broken down to organic matter and is full of useful nutrients. You can read more about industrial composting facilities here.
What Is A Home Composter?
Many people use home composters because they are in their own backyard or kitchen, are a simple step toward minimizing environmental footprint, reduce waste and produce high-quality home fertilizer for your garden. You can also walk outside to dispose of your waste efficiently and in an eco-friendly way.
These home composters usually contain insects and worms to assist in the process as well as shredded newspaper, grass clippings, leaves or even eggshells. Home composters are becoming more accessible and available to the everyday consumer.
What Is A Worm Farm?
A worm farm is similar to a home composter in materials that can be disposed of and that it’s in your very own backyard. However, there are some different considerations with a worm farm which are essentially around keeping your worms alive.
You want to feed the worms as they speed up the composting process and the bedding needs to be at optimal levels so not too hot or cold, too wet or dry. You also can’t put anything citrus – such as orange peels or anything with juice – into a worm farm. This is due to the acid levels which will impact the soil. Garlic, onions and other smelly spices or vegetables, purely for the acid levels and smell.
Anything with grease, meat, bone, oil, butter, stock etc can’t be placed in a worm farm. This can impact soil levels and attract vermin or insects. In a worm farm, you want the worms fed and alive.
Can Anyone Start Compost at Home?
The great thing about composting is that anyone can start their own compost at home or worm farm! The key is to understand the ‘how’ and ‘what’ that you need to do this. This can be broken down into several steps:
- Decide which home composting system you would like – indoor, outdoor or even worm farm.
- Learn about what materials you need to start your home composter or worm farm.
- Understand what can go into your worm farm or home composter.
- Learn how to maintain your worm farm or home composter i.e. temperature, quantity, steps involved, water/dryness, oxygen.
Compost is really just decomposed organic material. It can be anything from kitchen scraps, plants, twigs, eggshells, coffee grounds, worms or leaves. Compost is used in the garden or soil to improve the quality of the soil and make it a better environment for planting and growing.
What Are The Different Types Of Home Composting Systems?
Many people would be surprised to learn that there isn’t just one or two types of home composting systems, but there are actually several along with different methods. There are also options for indoor and outdoor composting for those who may not have a yard – think apartment living! The great news is that anyone has space to compost at home.
Firstly, choose whether you want to compost inside or outside as there are several options for each. The three main options for composters are continuous, batch and indoor (including worms).
- Continuous is ideal for kitchen scraps and yard waste
- batch is best for quick compost but needs more maintenance, and
- indoor are clearly ideal for being placed indoors and for your kitchen waste!
What Indoor Composting Options Are Available?
If you live in an apartment, townhouse or shared house, you may not have access to compost outside. You may also be concerned about attracting insects or vermin. Never fear, there are two main indoor options for you to choose from if you still want to compost at home: Vermicompost and Bokashi Composting.
Indoor composting systems are ideal for those who want to compost kitchen waste and fertilize houseplants or their garden in smaller quantities.
Vermicompost involves worms which need to be purchased from a store or online. Usually these are ‘red wigglers’ which use aerobic composting. This means that compost has contact with the air or oxygen. It’s a slower option and can’t break down meat or dairy, yet it has less of an odor making it perfect for indoor use.
Bokashi composting is a little more complex, needing layers of food waste amongst material infused with different bacteria you can buy online. This method can break down dairy and meat and is quicker than an aerobic system such as vermicompost.
What Outdoor Composting Options Are Available?
Composting outdoors is perhaps the most popular method, particularly for those with a yard or property. It’s also great for those wanting to compost larger quantities than you could manage inside your home.
Outdoor composting systems are either continuous composters or batch composters and there are several methods for how you compost and what maintenance is required. These are based on method, goals and quantity.
Hot and cold methods are two options for outdoor composting systems and it’s important to understand that the ‘hotter’ the compost, the quicker materials can decompose. The colder the compost results in a slower rate of breakdown.
A third option is ‘the digester’ which is an anaerobic option, meaning no contact with the air. This is done in a large container but takes a long time and can produce strong odors. It won’t break down yard waste and does produce methane, but it will break down meat and dairy.
A continuous composting system is essentially a closed bin that can handle a variety of materials. This would include many of the materials we’ve spoken about before from kitchen and yard waste to compostable plastics. This is a slower option but rodent safe and good for ‘tossing and forgetting.’
Whereas a batch composting system is for those wanting a quicker return on their compost who are willing to put in more effort. These are usually able to be ‘tumbled’ or ‘rotated’ which needs to be done daily and moisture is also checked regularly. You can also use a continuous composter to hold the next pile for your batch composter. This can take from four to eight weeks.
A batch composter is ideal for those who want their compost to decompose quicker and are willing to put in daily effort. A batch composter is generally a barrel on a stand that allows it to be rotated regularly. You place all of the materials into the composter in one go and then don’t add any more.
To use a batch composter, you’ll need to save up your compostable materials in a pile and then add in one large batch to the composter. The largest pile of materials should be brown materials such as leaves or wood chips. The rest can be green such as fruit and vegetable scraps, grass clippings, manure etc.
You can also add compost starters to a batch composter as you layer your materials. The pile is turned every day or few days to enable oxygen to get into the pile (aerobic). Other ways to batch compost include a large bin or barrel that you can turn with a shovel, pitchfork or similar.
What are the methods of composting?
There are different ways to compost at home as well as the different systems. This is based on hot or active composting – essentially, whether you want a hot pile – or cold composting. Hot, or active is for rich and quick garden fertilizer which also destroys weed seeds and disease-causing organisms through heat. Cold composting is for longer composting and essentially no effort or little effort.
What is hot composting?
Hot composting is compost that heats to a high temperature within 24-36 hours, around 141-155’F. This method of composting kills weed seeds and disease pathogens and maintains this temperature for several days and up to a week. This results in a quicker return on compost – roughly a month or several months depending on the pile.
This method requires specific materials and parameters. You must also check the compost with a thermometer to monitor the temperature regularly. Should the temperature drop, you must turn the pile again and add more water. This is done several times over the weeks or months.
To hot compost, you need to have two-thirds of the pile as carbon items (brown) such as leaves, wood chips, shredded paper; and one-third nitrogen (green) including grass clippings, food waste (fruit and vegetables) and manure.
What is cold composting?
Cold compost is a slower and less effort option for composting, but may take up to a year before it produces compost that’s useful. It’s essentially ‘add-as-you-go’ composting and the time it takes will depend on the materials in your pile and the quantity.
Smaller particles will break down quicker in this pile and nothing with weeds or seeds should be included or it can ruin the whole pile. You can use a continuous composter for this method to keep it safe from insects, rodents and wildlife as it will be around for a while.
You can also purchase a bin with a door at the bottom for easy access as the compost will filter to the bottom of the pile.
Cold + Batch: 3-Bin And Trench
A lesser-known way of composting is done in a trench by saving up the materials prior in three different bins. This is perfect if you are wanting a nutrient-rich garden bed or vegetable garden. The idea is, that you would create three compost areas where you have more brown materials than greens in each. If you fill up in order, your first bin will be ready in one to three years.
This is essentially continuous composting yet saving it up for the trench. To compost using the trench method, you dig a decent sized trench (around three feet) and layer it with the organic matter and soil. Once your trench is full and you’ve waited a couple months, you have a perfect garden bed for your plants or a vegetable garden!
Hot + Batch
Hot and batch composting is merging these two methods together but in multiple piles or containers and aerating every other day. This method is great for food and yard waste that is in smaller particles and you can use a batch composter tumbler or a large barrel/container you can turn regularly.
The digester method is similar to continuous and bokashi except without the added microbes. A digester doesn’t make finished compost but is able to break down meat, dairy and bones over time. It’s a great way to decay organic materials and waste.
A digester is usually a completely enclosed container and liquid is drained from the bottom. It’s a great way to dispose of pet manure and other waste, however, it does produce the greenhouse gas methane. They can also smell and attract rodents and wildlife.
The method is unusual as it’s not designed to produce compost but dispose of waste without allowing solids to build up.
What Can You Put In A Home Composter?
The great thing about a compost at home is that you can dispose of quite a lot of household waste into your composter! Compostable plastics can also be added to your home compost for complete breakdown back into natural components.
Some household or garden waste you can dispose of in your home composter include:
- Coffee grounds
- Tea leaves or tea bags
- Food waste such as vegetables or fruit scraps (except in a worm farm – nothing acidic!)
- Leftover bread, pasta or cereals
- Dry cat or dog food
- Twigs, leaves or grass clippings
- Shredded newspaper or printer paper (no colored dye).
You can learn more about the different composting processes in this blog.
What Are The Benefits Of Composting?
Essentially, the main benefits of composting are to reduce your environmental impact by returning natural materials back to the earth into compounds such as fertilizer/soil. The manufacturing processes of such products as compostable plastic are environmentally friendly, the end result is safe for the environment and you are taking rubbish out of landfill.
Some benefits of using compostable plastic include:
– Compostable plastic can break down in as little as 90 days or less, and at the most, six months.
– Compostable plastic completely breaks down into its natural environment when disposed of correctly – back to natural components.
– The breakdown of these plastics can provide compost and fertilizer for your garden or industrial landscaping.
– Compostable plastic is made from natural materials, meaning that gas house emissions and use of electricity, water and the like are greatly reduced during manufacturing.
– Can be disposed of in a home composter, a worm farm or an industrial composting facility.
– Providing jobs in rural areas.
What composting system should I choose?
With composting systems and materials being so readily available, the great news is that anyone can compost at home if they understand the different systems and methods available. To find the best system and method for you, you should consider several things:
- Are you composting a lot of waste? Consider an outdoor system such as continuous or batch.
- What type of waste are you wanting to compost? If it’s general household or yard waste, any option will be fine for you. If it’s more specific than consider worm farms (no acidic foods) or bokashi (meat and dairy).
- Will you compost indoors or outdoors? This is up to you! If you have smaller quantities or just want to fertilize house plants or herbs then go indoors. If you have mass amounts of kitchen waste and yard waste, consider outdoors.
- Do you want a quick return and are willing to put in the time and effort? Quick return options include a batch composter which you will add a large batch to and then turn regularly.
- Do you want to just leave the pile and ‘add as you’ go? Continuous is excellent for this and there are several options from standard continuous being left in a bin and removed layer by layer from the base, or a trench method and three bins if you want a resulting garden bed.
What Does It Cost To Compost?
The cost of compost at home usually isn’t as expensive as people would expect. It also saves you in your disposal of waste, contributions to landfill and in fertilizer purchasing. The biggest cost is usually the composting system to get you started.
Of course, any system that includes worms or additional microbes will cost you to purchase in the beginning and some ongoing costs.
The environmental costs and savings of composting can be vast if more and more people choose to compost. It’s estimated that around 24 per cent of American waste is from food and yard materials which can be easily composted.
You will also lower your carbon and environmental footprint by not contributing greenhouse gas from landfill which is priceless. You are also making your waste ‘renewable’ by reusing it as fertilizer in your own garden, giving it a second life while helping your garden to grow and thrive.
Financial cost of a composting system
When choosing to compost, of course there will be some start-up fees. A compost bin can cost between $100 and $500 depending on what type of composting system you decide on. You can also build your own for methods such as continuous composting, which can be done in a large, enclosed bin or garbage can.
Some people also choose to use containers or tins as home composters to save costs. As long as you are following the methods and rules of composting, your composting system may be easy to create or find. The cost to purchase a specific composting system is relatively low when you consider the savings on fertilizer.
Financial cost of starting materials
Of course, certain composting methods have additional start-up costs – think bokashi, worm farms and vermicompost. These are often ongoing costs but worms can also procreate and provide an ongoing supply if kept alive.
- Bokashi mix can cost anywhere from $10 to $30 in small quantities or over $100 for large amounts of the mix.
- Compost worms are anywhere from $30 to $100 depending on quantity and you can also buy worm eggs for a higher cost.
- Red wiggler worms for a vermicompost are around $30 to $60 dependent on quantity.
Most of these materials are easily available at farms, online retailers and other specialty stores.
Anyone can compost at home, dependent on their goals, time available and space. You can compost indoors or outdoors, depending on your needs and quantity. Indoor composting is perfect for kitchen waste in small amounts, whereas outdoor composting is great for more materials such as yard waste and large quantities.
There are three key composting systems to be aware of:
- Continuous – ideal for kitchen scraps and yard waste
- batch – quick compost but needs more maintenance, and
- indoor – ideal for being placed indoors and for your kitchen waste.
Your choice depends on whether you want to have a quick return – such as batch composting – or are willing to wait and ‘add as you go’ – continuous. There is of course, a cost to composting in purchasing a system and any start-up materials such as worms or bacteria.
The environmental impact however, is much higher. Contributions to landfill drop, contributions to greenhouse emissions by disposing in landfill are lower, cost of high-quality fertilizer reduces and you’re reusing your waste for the environment.