If you are committed to decreasing your household waste, the best place to start is at your trash can. Take a little time and examine what exactly is in there. Do this several times and you should have a very good idea of what your trash is composed of. In the majority of households, a large portion of your trash is composed of food waste. There will probably be things like potato peels, apple cores, banana peels, leftovers that were never used and produce that was past its prime in the refrigerator because you forgot it was there. That same percentage transfers over to the landfill it is destined for. Our landfills are reaching their maximum capacity at an alarming rate and a significant percentage of space is taken by food waste. The most common solution to this issue is composting your food scraps. The good news is that composting is easy.
If you were one of the many families who planted vegetable seeds and started a vegetable garden this past year, you probably are aware of composting. Anyone with a garden enjoys the produce they grow, but what about the plant material left over? What do you do with the large tomato plant after you have harvested the tomatoes? What you don’t want to do is add that material to the landfill. So how do you start composting?
- Decide where to locate your compost pile. It should be easily accessible for adding kitchen scraps. If it is located in the very back of your yard, you will be tempted to just throw those potato peels in the trash. If you have a garden, it will be very convenient if the compost pile is nearby, both when you are adding garden waste and when you have compost ready to use.
- Decide if you want a bin. Compost piles can be just that, a pile on the ground. There does not need to be a structure. Enclosing your pile does keep it neater as well as maintains the depth of the pile, which helps it “cook.” If you do want to enclose your pile, it can be as simple as standing three salvaged wood pallets upright, forming an open-sided box to a multi-bin structure with removable sides.
- Keep your proportions right. There are two types of organic waste that will go into your compost pile. Brown or dry material is high in carbon. Green or wet material is high in nitrogen. You want two or three parts brown to one part green. Brown material includes dry leaves in the fall, shredded newspaper, paper napkins, dry grass or straw. Green material includes freshly cut lawn clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps from the kitchen and the inedible parts of your vegetable garden plants.
- Add water as necessary to keep the pile slightly damp. When first starting to compost, add a little soil, which will contain the microbes necessary to start breaking down the organic matter.
- The smaller the material added is, the quicker it will turn into compost. If you add large stems or watermelon rind into the compost pile whole, it will be converted into compost, but it will take significantly longer than if you take the time to chop it up first.
- Oxygen is the only other ingredient needed to make compost. As the material in your pile starts to decompose, it will settle. By turning your pile, you allow air to get in again and composting will speed up. When compost is working at its most efficient, the compost will feel warm. Some people turn their pile as often as every week to make compost as quickly as possible.
- Do not put dairy products, fats or meat products into your pile. A home compost pile is usually not large enough or hot enough to compost bones and these items, along with dairy products, fats or meat products, can attract unwanted animals to your pile.
- Keep a container with a lid on your counter or under the sink. This will make it so much easier to store compost material until you take it outside.
Composting is certainly the number one way to reduce household waste, but there are many more. Here are a few suggestions.
- Use leftovers from dinner for lunch the next day. There may not be enough left to make another dinner, but it can be enough for a great lunch. Add leftover vegetables to a container in your freezer. When you have enough mixed vegetables, add them to a homemade soup.
- Use a banana that is overripe to make banana bread or muffins. Add that banana or peach or strawberry to your next smoothie. Don’t have time right now? Freeze it until you can use it.
- Switch from paper napkins to reusable cloth napkins.
- Repurpose worn or unusable cotton clothing into rags to replace paper towels. Keep a basket of them in your kitchen.
- Keep a cute tea towel by your kitchen sink for drying your hands after washing rather than using paper towels. Make it your goal to eliminate paper towels from your kitchen.
- Start a garden. If you grow your own herbs and vegetables, you will be much less likely to waste food. First of all, you won’t pick it until you are ready to use it, so it won’t be stored long. Also, as you tend your garden, you will know that the beans are almost ready to pick or the tomatoes are just about ripe and you can plan your meals to incorporate them in the menu.
- Eliminate all one-time-use disposable items like paper plates, plastic drink bottles and Styrofoam cups from your home.
- Go paperless whenever possible. Use technology to eliminate the paper that will then need to be disposed of.
- Use reusable dryer balls instead of dryer sheets.
- Use reusable canvas bags for shopping instead of the store’s paper or plastic bags.
By making these small changes over time, you will see a significant drop in the amount of waste in your household, you’ll save money and you will help the environment.