I’ve been telling myself that “I really need to start composting” for a long time. For years, actually. I’m not sure why it took me so long to get started — for some reason, I felt intimidated by it all, and thought that composting would pose a huge lifestyle change. Turns out, it’s one of the easiest things you can do in your home to live a whole lot greener. And once you get into the habit of being mindful about what you send to the landfill, it’s almost impossible to not make thoughtful decisions about your waste.

Today, we’ve partnered with Seventh Generation to really get to the nitty gritty of composting: How do you do it? Why should you care? What if you don’t have a yard? And by turning to Austin’s own Break it Down, we were able to get all those tough questions answered. Click through for all the details, and to see how composting helped me whip up an entire brunch while creating zero waste.

*photography by Kate LeSueur

 


First thing’s first: what’s the benefit of composting?

Melanie: The benefits of composting depend on where your values lie. If you’re concerned for the environment, then you’ll be happy to know that reducing food to landfills reduces the release of methane into the atmosphere. If you care about health and nutrition, then the value of compost lies in the production of nutrient dense foods. If you’re the owner of a restaurant struggling to deal with a smelly dumpster, composting can greatly reduce odor and nuisance problems. Or as a gardener you might appreciate “closing the loop” by using the food that you eat to grow more food that you eat.


I’ve always heard that when it comes to composting, “if it grows, it goes.” In general, what can go into the bin?

 


Wow! And to think that I’ve been sending all those things straight to a landfill… I have to admit I’m feeling a bit shameful.

M: Composting is important because it forces us to stop and think about the waste that we are sending to landfills. In my mind, all “waste” should go to its highest value end use. Once an item goes to the landfill, that’s it. As we’ve seen with recycling, a cardboard box can go on and on and on, and it’s the same with food waste. Rather than depleting soil, we can put the food waste back into the soil to actually replenish it. Socially, environmentally and economically it’s a much higher value end-use than the landfill.


For those of us without a backyard or a garden, how can we compost effectively?

M: An air-tight bucket is all you need – then you can dump the material off-site once or twice a week. Simply take it to a local community garden, a friend with a yard, a composting kiosk at your local farmer’s market, or have a composting pick-up service collect it.


What are some things that people often mistake as compostable, but actually aren’t?

M: Bottles, aluminum foil, and straws! The problem is people not paying attention to what they’re throwing in the compost bin. Home composting is great because it gets everyone in the habit of separating out wastes.

Compostable serviceware can create a lot of confusion as well – two to-go cups can look identical, but one is made from corn so it can be composted, and the other is a traditional plastic that can’t be composted. Many businesses pay extra for compostable to-go serviceware, and most of it ends up in the trash landfill, where it breaks down and releases methane. You have to read the fine print on the bottom of the cup to know the difference.


M: There is such a huge range of materials which can be composted. In a small residential compost pile, fruit and vegetable scraps are really is all that will work well. But at the commercial scale, virtually any food waste can be composted.

*pictured here: My adorable 1 Gallon copper composting bin. It has a filter in the lid that keeps my kitchen totally odorless, and it’s not a total eyesore on my countertop!


M: At Break it Down, we recently launched an apartment-composting program. Since we operate on a larger scale composting system we are able to take all food waste, so that could be another option for you, depending on where you live.

 


This post has been brought to you by Seventh Generation who create powerful plant-based solutions for your home & family. Check out our Living Green series for more ideas on living a clean, green life!

11 comments
  1. 1
    Gabriella | April 21, 2016 at 6:17 am

    Great post! Meat, however, shouldn’t be put in a compost bin, especially if you compost your own scraps. Meat attracts rats and that’s definitely not something you want. Other than that you can compost pretty much anything on that list!

    Reply
    • Juliana Engel Storms | May 12, 2016 at 11:59 am

      Thanks for bringing this important issue to light. On average, 45% of garbage collected is compostable. This matter is heavier more expensive to remove and had to be stored somewhere. Some progressive manicipalities are choosing to harvest this waste for energy to offset costs and use renewables. I agree, your at home compost bin should not get meat, dairy or even citrus, if citrus does not grow local for you. Our village will take meat, dairy cardboard, etc. to be burned for fuel. Bokashi is a natural probiotic enzyme that can be added to the container in your home to increase breakdown speed and reduce any funky smells. Best to your green endevours.

      Reply
  2. 2
    Jessica Rose | April 21, 2016 at 6:54 am

    My sister does this as she lives in the countryside in the UK. Foxes would go through there bins for food. It’s something I need to look into now I see how easy it is. 😉

    http://vodkaandarose.blogspot.co.uk

    Reply
  3. 3
    Suzanne | Agent Athletica | April 21, 2016 at 9:07 am

    I second Gabriella!. Animal products shouldn’t go into your compost bin or it will attract raccoons, rats, etc. I actually use a vermicompost system instead of a regular, microorganism-only bin. It breaks things down faster, produces super high quality compost, and it’s pretty easy. Also: I really like that copper canister!!

    Reply
  4. 4
    Cynthia | April 21, 2016 at 11:04 am

    My boyfriend is always trying to compost! It’s a great idea, and since we’re avid gardeners it makes sense. But it is a little gross in reality. Also, homemade compost is more susceptible to local weeds since it was made in the same area as the garden. We built a big compost area in a co-op I lived in during college, so I picked up a few tricks 😉
    Likely By Sea

    Reply
  5. 5
    Brit | April 21, 2016 at 10:50 pm

    Love the article! I was wondering where that lovely dress is from? Also, thanks for the link to the bin! I have been looking for a pretty one ?

    Reply
    • Chanel Dror | April 27, 2016 at 3:45 pm

      Thanks Brit! The dress is Joie, though I don’t think it’s still available 🙁 Good luck!

      Reply
  6. 6
    growingalittlelove | April 23, 2016 at 11:14 am

    I’ve been telling myself this for ages! So excited to get started, thanks for the great post!

    Sarah-Beth
    http://www.growingalittlelove.com

    Reply
    • Chanel Dror | April 27, 2016 at 3:45 pm

      Glad I could help… let us know how it goes!

      Reply
  7. 7
    Bridget (Nutty Hiker) | May 9, 2016 at 12:37 am

    Great article! We need to start composting soon. Getting ready to start a garden as well!
    =) Bridget http://nuttyhiker.com

    Reply
  8. 8
    Cynthia Herzing | April 17, 2018 at 12:24 pm

    where can I find the Frittata recipe? Looks wonderful.

    Reply
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