So, compost. We’ve all heard the word before.
For some it might conjure up images of a smelly green bucket that collects food scraps in your sink. Others might imagine a big pile of dirt behind their garden. And it might make some people think of bamboo utensils and paper straws.
But what is compost? And what does it mean if something is compostable?
Composting itself is a process that takes organic solid materials (your coffee grounds, banana peels, and the like) and breaks them down into simpler compounds. To give you a better idea of how composting works, we’ll break it down on a small scale.
Let’s say that you have a bowl of cereal for breakfast and don’t eat a few of your Cheerios. Those extra cereal pieces can go in the compost. Lunch comes along and you have a big kale salad with sunflower seeds and carrots, and you’re too full for those last few bites. Throw ‘em in the compost. In the afternoon you mow your lawn, and, instead of throwing your grass clippings away, put them in the compost!
All of those food and yard wastes can go in your compost bin.
Many neighborhoods and cities have public programs intended to collect their citizen’s compost and compost on a mass scale. However, it’s also possible to compost yourself in your backyard. While there are best practices for composting on your own, the idea behind the process is relatively simple.
Organic materials known as “the greens and browns” are key to your own personal compost pile. “Greens” are usually food scraps (those Cheerios and bananas) or yard clippings, which add nitrogen to the pile. “Browns” are more paper-like materials such as egg cartons and newspapers, which add carbon to the operation.
To create your compost pile, you start by layering the greens and browns. Start with the dry browns on the bottom, and then layer your wet greens on top. Keep each layer to an inch or two, and remember that ultimately you want more browns than greens. The browns are key to allowing water and air to flow through your pile, a process called aeration.
Aeration is crucial to composting as it allows the microorganisms in the wet scraps to break down all of the organic materials. To help along the aeration process, your pile will need to be turned once about every seven to 10 days. Turning the contents helps keep the air moving and further breaks down the scraps.
Now, you may be asking, “What does this have to do with Grab Green and why am I reading this?” Well, great question.
Here at Grab Green, we do everything we can to make sure that we’re taking care of our planet and doing the best we can to conserve our beautiful, natural home. A big part of that means that we compost whatever we can in our own homes.
However, we’re also aware that knowing what to compost can be a challenge. We’ve talked about the natural, organic objects that can be composted, but there are a lot of other things that say compostable that aren’t vegetable scraps or other food waste.
What about a compostable fork or bottle? What do we do with those?
If you’ve ever seen a compostable utensil, they often look very similar to good ol’ plastic silverware. However, instead of using plastic from petrochemicals and fossil fuels, these compostable plastics are made out of renewable materials like corn and potato starches, soy protein, and lactic acid. These products are made specifically to be able to break down in a compost system after being used.
In order for a product to be labeled as compostable, 90% of the materials must disintegrate within 90 days of entering a commercial composting facility.
The good news, too, is that these products are designed to break down only in a compost environment. So, you don’t have to worry about your spoon falling apart after it sits for too long in your soup, or your compostable perfume bottle disintegrating in your bathroom. These materials will only start to decompose when surrounded by other greens and browns.
While in theory composting isn’t too complicated, it’s up to us to make sure that our waste ends up in the right place. If you are part of an industrial composting program, feel free to throw in any compostable product, packaging, and food/yard scraps.
However, if you have your own backyard pile, you have to be a little bit more careful about what you dump in your yard. Certain products need specific conditions to fully biodegrade, and oftentimes these are only found in industrial compost facilities.
Don’t let these guidelines deter you from composting, though. About 30% of what we currently throw away could actually be composted instead—composting is just another way we can take care of and give back to our planet!