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Composting: Recycling Nature

Recycling is a great start to living a greener lifestyle, and helping to preserve the environment.  However, people should not get complacent and comfortable that they are doing enough by simply recycling.  Composting is the next step to helping reduce your overall impact on the environment.  Organic materials and table scraps make up 30% of the waste sent to our local landfills.  This entire sum of waste can be easily diverted in to something that can actually help to save you money as well.  Finished compost is even more nutritious to use as a soil amendment than other fertilizers, helps retain moisture in soil, and buffers the PH levels.  Even if you dispose of your food scraps in a garbage disposal, you are still wasting water and increasing the energy needed to treat your sewage water at your local wastewater treatment facility.

To start your compost pile, you have several options.  There are many options for indoor or under sink compost bins that you can use to fill with table scraps an empty into your outdoor composter once a week or so.  Another option is to simply have a compost pile somewhere in your yard, or an outdoor churning bin.  The factors that affect composting are oxygenation, temperature, water content, surface area, and carbon nitrogen ratios:

* Oxygen is required by the compost for respiration by the aerobic inhabitants of the pile.

* Ventilation, wind, and occasional mixing of the compost will help eliminate the foul odors that may be produced by the anaerobic inhabitants.

* Optimal temperatures for composting are between 85 to 135 degrees.  Any temperatures below this will slow the process, but will not stop it completely.  Using dark colored bins in direct sunlight, or insulated bins will help in colder climates such as Chicagoland.

* The moisture content of your compost should be roughly 50%.  Dry piles can become slow piles.  You can add rain water to help keep your piles moisture ideal.  Avoid city water as the chlorine can kill the microorganisms in your compost pile.

* You can maximize surface area by making your compost as small as possible before adding it to your bin.  The more area the organisms have to work, the faster the decomposition will occur.

* Nitrogen rich materials are labeled “greens” and include fresh vegetable / fruit scraps and grass clippings.  “Browns” are dried leaves, hay, and twigs.  You compost should maintain a 2-3 parts brown to 1 part green ratio.  Layering is also important to achieve the best results.

It is important to add diversity to your compost pile.  Too much of any one thing can throw off the balance of your compost.  It is also good to add in organic soil with earthworms to the mix with any new batch of compost to assist in the decomposition.  Kitchen scraps that can be composted include vegetable scraps, fruit scraps, tea bags, coffee grounds, and other organic items.  Yard scraps that can be included include grass clippings, leaves, wood chips, sawdust, small shrub and tree waste.  Household items include cardboard, compostable food bags, and compostable plates and flatware.

There are also several items that should not be composted.  This includes any protein, dairy, or pet waste.  These items may introduce harmful bacteria into your compost, and attract rodents.

Now that you have an understanding of composting, the time is now to reduce your impact by practicing some of these strategies.  They will reduce your impact on landfills, the environment, and will also provide a healthy food for your garden and landscaping.