If you’re thinking about getting into composting but you aren’t sure where to start or what the advantages might be, we’re here to help.
There are lots of reasons that you might find composting a valuable addition to your household habits. It also has many environmental benefits, but there are a few drawbacks, especially if you are short on time and space.
We’ll go through the composting pros and cons (seventeen important tips) so you can work out how to start composting and make the most of your new routine.
First, we’ll cover the advantages of composting and provide some tips and tricks to make it as easy as possible for you to get started and keep going.
Remember that you might find composting a bit of a chore at first, but once you’re in the habit of it, you’ll soon find it second-nature.
Composting Deals With Food Waste
The first and most obvious advantage of composting is that it helps you deal with food waste. By composting, you are saving food from going into landfills. This has benefits for both you and for the environment.
From the perspective of a household, not putting food waste in your general waste bin can be advantageous.
It gives you more space in the bin for other waste, but it also means that the bin will smell a lot better.
You won’t have food rotting near the bottom of the bin, or find yourself having to empty it before it’s full just to stop the kitchen from stinking.
You may also find that the bin ends up less messy because less liquid or mushy contents are being added.
If you have dogs that like to get into your bin, reducing the food waste in there is a great way to discourage them from doing so.
Recycling your food waste via composting is also better for the planet.
Food waste in landfill sites produces methane. There is no oxygen, so anaerobic bacteria (the kind that do not live in oxygen) break it down, instead of aerobic bacteria.
The anaerobic bacteria produce methane.
Food waste in your compost is usually broken down by aerobic bacteria, which don’t produce methane.
Composting will also allow you to reduce your overall landfill waste, cutting down on plastic bags and fuel costs.
Even if your local government offers a collection scheme for food waste, this requires transport, which uses fuel.
Tip One: Start composting by adding a small bin to your kitchen to fill with vegetable scraps as you cook. This is a simple, low-cost way to get going. A lid will help contain any smell.
Composting Gives You Compost
Unsurprisingly, composting provides you with rich compost, which you can use in your garden, on your houseplants, or give to friends.
If you buy commercial compost, you are contributing to plastic waste (in the compost bags), and fuel costs in the transport of the compost at all its various stages.
Composting at home gives you instant access to compost, saving you money and fuel, and helping the environment.
Putting compost on your garden will improve your soil and make your plants happy.
If you can use it to grow fruit and vegetables at home, you’ll also be cutting back on trips to the shops and reducing the carbon footprint of your food! You’ll end up with far fewer food packets in the waste bin.
Tip Two: Make sure your outdoor compost bin has a base so that you can collect your compost when it is ready to be used, and it doesn’t get lost into the ground beneath the compost bin.
Tip Three: Homemade compost is ready to be used when it looks like earth. It should be dark brown, crumbly, and smell of soil.
Composting Is Educational
If you have kids, or you yourself are interested in learning more about the way food decomposes and what organisms break it down, composting is a highly educational process.
Worms and bacteria are usually predominantly responsible for breaking down compost.
Most kids enjoy learning about how food scraps can be turned into soil, and then reused to boost the richness of the garden. It’s a great opportunity to teach your kids and perhaps learn a little yourself.
Tip Four: To help your kids learn about composting, show them some life cycle diagrams and talk to them about how the different creatures play a role in breaking the compost down.
Ask them about how this happens in nature, and what would happen if food waste didn’t decompose.
Anyone Can Compost
Well, almost anyone. You may not have the space for traditional composting methods to work, but there are methods that don’t take much space, like vermicomposting.
One of the big advantages of composting is that pretty much anybody can do it, and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time.
Composting works better if you put some time into it, doing things like turning and aerating the compost, and checking the balance of brown material and green material that you have in there.
However, on the whole, composting doesn’t need a huge amount of attention.
As long as you add about 50:50 dry (brown) ingredients to wet (green) ingredients, you will find that your compost bin almost does its own thing.
That means that even if you don’t have a lot of spare time, you can compost. It’s not a science, and it doesn’t have to take up lots of time.
Tip Five: Make composting an easy part of your routine. Make sure your scrap bin can hold a reasonable amount of scraps and don’t force yourself to empty it every single day.
You don’t have to make composting a bigger chore than you can handle.
Composting Feels Good
This one might surprise you, but many people find that they enjoy composting once they get going.
The environmental boost is a good one; you can know you’re helping out a planet that desperately needs it. You might also find it very satisfying to turn your scraps into something useful.
Because it doesn’t take a lot of time, it’s easy to work into your regular routine; you can just keep a small bucket in the kitchen for scraps, and then transfer it to an outdoor bin as frequently as suits you.
Some people like to empty it daily, depending on the ingredients, while others leave it for a few days or until full.
Tip Six: Print out some information sheets to remind yourself why composting is an important part of being eco-friendly, and applaud yourself for keeping food waste out of landfill sites.
Composting may save you money if your household waste pickup is charged based on weight or quantity.
Many households are surprised by how much food waste they generate in a week, and how much composting reduces the size of their general waste bin.
Businesses may also benefit financially from composting, and in some circumstances, may even be able to generate cash by selling compost they don’t need.
It is important to check any relevant regulations before doing this.
If you normally purchase compost to use in your garden, you will also obviously save money by creating it at home, although you may not generate enough to cover all your needs.
Compost can take a long time to break down, too – up to two years in some circumstances. This will depend on the ingredients and how much attention you pay to it.
Tip Seven: Tot up your yearly savings on compost and feel pleased that your food scraps have done something useful for you.
You might like to use this money for a treat or to buy something special for your garden.
Of course, as with anything, there are some downsides to composting that you may need to consider.
Some of these can be mitigated and reduced, and some may not apply to your circumstances, but these are all things you may want to think about before you start composting.
Beside each negative, we’ve offered ideas on how you might be able to mitigate this problem to help you on your composting journey.
Compost Can Smell Bad
Healthy compost shouldn’t smell bad; it should smell mostly of earth.
However, when compost goes wrong, it can produce some pretty unpleasant smells. Sometimes it will smell like vinegar, and sometimes like drains or sewage.
This isn’t ideal if you spend a lot of time in your garden or if you have neighbors who are likely to complain.
Nobody wants their garden to smell bad, but composting isn’t always straightforward. Unfortunately, sorting it out once it’s gone wrong can be a pretty smelly, unpleasant process!
You may also find that your scrap bucket in the kitchen smells bad occasionally. This can be mitigated by emptying it and washing out the bucket, but the outside heap may need a little more work.
You can use a garden fork to mix the compost and keep it aerated.
Tip Nine: Adding more browns is helpful if the compost is getting too wet. Your compost should be about the consistency of a damp sponge; if you squeeze a handful and moisture leaks out, it’s too wet.
Throw in torn-up card, paper, nutshells, egg boxes, straw, and other dry ingredients to help soak up the moisture.
Composting Does Take Some Time
Like any chore, composting takes time.
It might only be a few minutes per day, but everyone knows how those “few minute” jobs can add up to absorb hours. If you’re already busy, you may find composting a frustrating chore to add to your life.
You will have to wash your scrap bucket from time to time, getting rid of any stuck-on food.
You’ll have to transfer the scraps to the bin as regularly as you feel is right (as mentioned, some people like to do this daily so they don’t have food waste in the kitchen for long).
Tip Ten: Make your setup as convenient as possible. Keep a scrap bucket near your kitchen counter, where you cut the vegetables, so scraps are easy to transfer.
Ideally, you should store the bucket in a cool place. This will help reduce the smell of the food so you won’t need to empty it as often.
Tip Eleven: You can purchase compostable bags to line the bin with. This is obviously an expense, but will stop you from having to wash the bucket regularly if you dislike doing that.
You Can’t Compost Everything Organic
This con comes with a caveat, because technically you can compost anything organic, but there are certain organic things that you shouldn’t put in your home compost bin.
Briefly, these are:
- Cooked scraps
- Pet waste
You might be wondering why; all of these things break down, after all.
The reason for not putting in pet waste is that the waste from carnivorous animals can carry pathogens and toxins that are dangerous when the compost is used on food crops.
Unless you intend the compost for ornamental beds only, don’t put cat or dog waste in.
For the rest of the list, the reason they shouldn’t be composted is that they are attractive foods that may appeal to rats, mice, raccoons, or other wildlife.
You don’t want animals digging around in your compost bin, so you will have to avoid putting these things in.
You may be able to find an alternative solution such as bokashi composting, which can handle cooked food, or hot composting.
If you can’t, you may find it better to put these things in your general waste; you will still have massively reduced your food waste overall.
Tip Twelve: If you have a very small amount of the above things, you can add them to the compost heap.
If you are worried about attracting pests, bury them in the center of the heap to disguise the smell. Do not do this with pet waste, however.
You Shouldn’t Let Your Dog Near It
This is only a con if you have a dog or dogs visit your garden, but it is still worth considering.
Dogs shouldn’t be allowed to forage in compost that contains food scraps, so you will need to construct a compost bin that your dog can’t get to.
Dogs can (rarely) ingest a fungus that is deadly to them from the compost, so do not ever let a dog forage in compost that contains food scraps.
Tip Thirteen: You can buy compost bins that should be secure enough to keep dogs out. You may also want to discourage your dog from going near the compost by training it or putting up a fence.
Needs Some Space
Composting does take up some space. You may not need a huge area, depending on the size of your food waste, but many compost heaps are around three feet by three feet.
If you haven’t got much room outside, this is a big area to sacrifice to recycling your food waste.
Tip Fourteen: There are other composting methods that take less space. You could look into vermicomposting, which involves using worms to break down food waste.
This can be done in very small amounts of space, even indoors in apartments.
If you decide to buy a compost bin, you will have an initial cost. Some compost bins can be picked up very cheaply, especially second-hand, while others cost considerable amounts of money, especially if you want a hot composter or a tumbling composter.
Although the cost can be low, having an upfront expense can make composting seem unappealing, as you have to make a financial commitment without knowing if it will work well for you and your family.
Tip Fifteen: You can build your own compost heap if you want to, out of scrap materials such as pallets.
Try to use natural materials so you won’t end up with chemicals leaching into your compost; materials such as car tires may not be a good idea.
Tip Sixteen: You can also make an open compost heap that is not contained. This may be a little unsightly, but if you have a quiet corner in your garden, it’s possible. Remember to block off access for pets, however.
Potential Nutrient Imbalance
Some people don’t like to use homemade compost on their gardens because it has less balanced nutrients in than commercial compost. This might mean that plants end up deficient in certain things that they need.
However, the flip side of that is that homemade compost can contain useful nutrients that commercial compost does not have in it.
Tip Seventeen: Mix your compost with commercial compost to boost its nutrients and make the compost go further.
Composting is a great thing to do for the environment, and you can make a compost heap inexpensively, bringing composting into your life and making it a habit fairly easily.
If you have children, get them engaged by asking them to help empty scraps outside, and talking to them about the benefits of composting.