Composting 101

Many people hold the mental model that food (and other garbage) just simply disappears after we throw it out. The USDA reports that 133 billion pounds of food is wasted every year. A huge amount of this waste comes from college campuses with the average college student contributing about 142 pounds of wasted food each year, making the average waste on campuses over 22 million pounds. This waste comes from uneaten food within the dining halls, over purchasing of food and its spoilage.

A great way to counter this waste is 1. Reassessing your food purchasing versus actual consumption and 2. Composting!

Composting is often seen as an intimidating project to take on, especially living on campus, but is actually a super easy and convenient way to reduce your food waste and put these products back into the environment.

Here are a few great tips to start your very own compost at home or at your college campus!

  1. 1. First Step: Getting the Right Container

    If you’re composting at home, you need the right bin to store your material in. Here’s a great link with instructions to a DIY compost bin. It’s a super easy and cheap way to start your composting bin. Another great option is to purchase one online if you don’t have access to the right materials. I find it easiest to also keep a smaller covered bin or bucket in your kitchen to easily hold scraps in before transporting it to your bigger compost.

  2. 2. What Can You Compost?

    It’s super important to make sure that you’re putting the right materials into your compost. For starters, fruit and vegetable scraps are great to add into your compost. Some other compostable foods and materials include tea bags (make sure there’s no metal staple), coffee grounds and filters, bread, egg and nut shells, grass clippings, wood chips, hay, hair or fur, newspaper, cardboard, lint, paper. Some things to never put in your compost are meat, fish scraps, bones, weeds, diseased plants, metal or glass, dairy products, plastic and pet waste. If you’re ever unsure if something can be composted or not, there are a ton of resources online with more extensive lists of compostable materials, or a quick search in Google usually results in a quick answer.

  3. 3. Composting at Home

    If you’re starting a compost bin at home, make sure to keep your bin balanced with an equal mix of “greens” (your food, grasses, etc.) and “browns” (dried leaves, hay, etc). An ideal composting location is in a dry and shady spot. Start your compost by adding alternate layers of greens and browns and after 4 initial days of decomposition, you can begin regularly using a pitchfork to turn the compost to promote aeration. It takes some time and patience for your compost to fully mature, but once it reaches a dark and rich color with a smooth texture (no recognizable scraps) you can begin using your soil in mulch, potting plants, in your garden beds or lawn!

  4. 4. Composting at School

    If you’re currently living on a college campus or apartment, the second step of composting for your garden can be a little trickier. However, there are a ton of resources to find an adequate next step for your compost. If you live in an urban environment, many cities offer curbside compost pickup like GrowNYC! If your school is in a more rural environment, many farms are in need of compost material. Finally, see if your school has a composting initiative or work with your sustainability committee to set one up! Many schools have community gardens and green spaces that use student’s food waste to create a composting pile!