Beginners Guide to Composting: What Can You Compost?

Minimizing food waste with organized fridge

You can compost any organic matter, but you have to pay attention to what you are composting to keep it healthy. When we talk about compostable materials, they are often broken down into “green” and “brown” waste. Each will supply essential elements to your composting bin to create the richest fertilizer and new soil.

Elements to a healthy compost

You want to make sure that your compost bin is well balanced with equal (more or less) parts green and brown organic materials. There are four components to a healthy compost bin: carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and moisture. A balanced compost will create rich fertilizer and soil. If it’s out of balance, it will quickly turn into a big pile of rotting and stinky food, which is what we are trying to avoid by starting the compost bin.

How to save water
Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from landfills by composting all your food waste.

Green organic waste

When we talk about “green” biological waste, we are talking about all the food that we throw away. Fruits, veggies, even eggshells are compostable and fall under the “green” organic waste label. Anything that contains moisture will typically fall into the “green” category. Try to avoid animal products and anything that has already gone “bad” as it could contaminate your compost.

Green waste will supply the nitrogen that your compost bin needs to succeed.

Brown organic waste

Anything dry, like leaves and other garden waste, as well as paper products, is considered “brown” waste. Brown waste will supply the carbon that helps to break down all the organic waste in your bin and create soil and fertilizer.

Oxygen and moisture

Your compost pile needs to be able to breathe. If you’ve created your compost bin, make sure that you add a few air holes so that your compost can get some oxygen. If your compost begins to rot and smell, chances are it is not getting enough air.

Don’t let your compost dry out. If your “green” waste is wet and providing enough water, leave it alone. If you feel that it’s getting too dry, give it a little water. Not too much, just enough to keep it active.

You will need to turn over your compost now and then, or shake it up or mix the waste so that it all blends together to start breaking down and turning into soil.

Balanced compost

If you give your compost the right balance of green and brown waste, with oxygen and water, you should be seeing fertile soil within a few weeks. The only odor that should be coming from your compost is that of fresh dirt. Anything else, and you need to work on finding the right balance.

Sunrise Sanitation provides waste management and recycling services to West Virginia and Maryland.

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