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A Beginner's Guide To Composting

Keep it ~green~ in 2018.

Buckle up, y'all, because I'm about to hit ya with some sizzlin' stats: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that food scraps and yard waste currently make up 20-30% of what we throw away — and could be composted instead of piling up at a landfill.


When all of that organic waste arrives at a landfill, it's buried under heaps and heaps of garbage, decomposing without exposure to oxygen, which causes it to release methane, a harmful and potent greenhouse gas.

If you're curious about composting, but have questions like, WTF is it? How is it different from recycling? And Do I need to own several cows to do it? I'm here to help.

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🎶 I'm not a teacher, baby, but I can teach ya somethin' 🎶 —Beyoncé/me

1. OK, so, WTF is it?


Composting is collecting a pile of organic materials, like food scraps and yard waste, that eventually decompose into a soil-like substance that's used to help plants grow.

When you properly compile those food scraps and yard waste, microorganisms in the pile break them down and ~transform~ them into a substance that's fluffy, dark, and full of nutrients, similar to soil. That fluffy substance can then be used as mulch in a garden or for potting plants.

2. And what are the benefits?


Don't even get me started on the benefits of composting!!! JK, please get me started. Composting enriches soil, reduces the need for chemical fertilizers, sparks the production of beneficial bacteria that break down organic matter, reduces methane emissions from landfills, and lowers your carbon footprint.

3. What should I add to my compost pile? Can you break it down for me? (LOL get it?)


According to the EPA, all compost piles need three basic ingredients:

Browns (e.g. dead leaves, branches, twigs)

Greens (e.g. grass clippings, vegetable waste, fruit scraps, coffee grounds)

Water (you know what water is)

Here's a full list of everything you can toss on your compost pile:

• Fruits and vegetables

• Eggshells

• Coffee grounds and filters

• Tea bags

• Nut shells

• Shredded newspaper

• Cardboard

• Paper

• Yard trimmings

• Grass clippings

• Houseplants

• Hay and straw

• Leaves

• Sawdust

• Wood chips

• Cotton and wool rags

• Dryer and vacuum cleaner lint

• Hair and fur

• Fireplace ashes

4. So, is this even for me?


It might seem like composting is just for serious gardeners, farmers, and characters on Portlandia, but whether you live somewhere with a backyard or in a small city apartment like yours truly, you 👏 can 👏 do 👏 it 👏.

5. Tell me about composting outside!

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If you want your compost to bring all the plants to the yard (🎶 'cause their life, it's better than yours 🎶) here are some tips on backyard composting from the EPA:

• Pick a dry, shady spot near a water source for your compost pile or bin.

• When it comes to bins, you have a variety to choose from in price and setup, like this expandable pen you can get from Amazon for $34.99, or — for almost double the price — there's this heavy-duty bin that's a best-seller on Amazon at $61.24.

• Add those brown and green materials we talked about earlier (in alternating layers a few inches thick), and chop or shred any particularly large pieces. Make sure you use brown waste as your top layer to mask any odors.

• Moisten dry materials as you add them (you can also cover the top of your pile with a tarp to keep it moist).

• Turn the pile with a pitchfork or shovel once a week to ensure your pile gets air and maintains an even temperature.

• When the material at the bottom is dark and rich in color, your compost is ready to use! This typically takes four to six months, but it could be ready in as little as two.

6. What if I want to do an indoor compost thang?

Tom Vellner / BuzzFeed

If you're like me and you have no outdoor space, all you need is a lil' compost bin and a collection site. A measly $19.95 (basically the price of a single movie ticket in NYC) will get you this cute OXO compost bin that'll hold your food scraps and barely take up any room on your counter or in your fridge.

Once my bin is full (after about a week), I drop off the waste at a farmers market near my subway stop, where it's sent to one of NYC's compost sites to be turned into soil for urban farming and gardening projects. A quick Google search should tell you where your nearest collection site is located.

Also, in case you're worried about ~smells~, the bin is sealed tight, so I haven't noticed a single odor emerge from it. It's really easy to clean, too, since the lid is removable and the bin is dishwasher-safe. The inside is smooth and doesn't have any crevices, which prevents buildup of mold and bacteria.

And, listen — this is a beginner's guide, so let's not get crazy, BUT if you're interested in making your own composting system indoors — instead of going to a collection site — you can do that too:

Gannet77 / Getty Images

Get yourself a storage bin with a lid and some small holes to make sure air can enter (you can drill the holes yourself, too, if you're into ~DIY~), and, if possible, keep it on a tray in case of any spills.

From there, it works just like backyard composting: You fill the bottom of the bin with a few inches of drainage material, like potting mix. Then you can add your alternating layers of greens and browns, turning the pile once a week with a lil' garden shovel. Make sure brown waste is on top and keep the lid shut to prevent odors. BOOM: You'll have some fresh compost in a few months.

That's all, folks! Once you get into the habit of composting, it really will become as routine as taking out your trash and recycling. Plus, you'll feel like a freakin' hero.

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Go forth and do your part to help save the planet!

Dump Week is a series of posts that will help you take out the trash in every aspect of your life, making room for all the good stuff you deserve. See more posts here.

Jenny Chang / BuzzFeed