In this column, staff at the Center for EcoTechnology offer advice on easy ways for people — and businesses — to introduce green changes in their daily lives.
Q: What exactly is composting?
A: Composting means speeding up the natural decomposition process that occurs to organic matter in nature. Leaves that fall from trees, flowers, and other organic matter are consumed as food by microorganisms, like fungi and bacteria. This normally takes quite a while, but humans have learned the ideal conditions for micro-organisms to decompose organic matter, so we can accelerate that process. It allows you to turn fallen leaves, grass clippings, eggshells, vegetable peels, and more into a nutrient-dense soil that plants really enjoy. In addition, composting reduces the amount of organic waste deposited in landfills.
Q: Why should I start composting at home?
A: Well, if keeping your used coffee grounds and the salad you aren't going to finish from sitting in landfills producing harmful greenhouse gases isn't enough motivation, there are some more immediate benefits.
If your town charges you by weight for trash services, consider how much money you will save by composting things, like vegetable peels and apple cores, instead of throwing them out. Also, by composting outside, you take some of the odors of decomposing food out of your trash cans, keeping the area around your trash from getting too smelly.
Additionally, if you have old newspapers or cardboard in your basement, composting is a great way to dispose of them. If you're a woodworker, it is a fine way to dispose of sawdust. Finally, compost is so nutrient-rich that you can probably go without adding fertilizer to your plants, so you can save money on that too, and have the peace of mind that comes with knowing exactly what is helping your plants grow.
Q: Do I really have to build a compost pile or a complicated frame for my compost?
A: No! Another wonderful thing about composting is that there are so many ways to do it. If you don't want to build and turn a compost pile or put together a frame, you can use an enclosed container like an old metal or plastic barrel that you can roll to agitate the compost so it doesn't settle. CET sells Jack's Solar Composter at the CET EcoBuilding Bargains store in Springfield, for example.
No space for a traditional compost pile or container? No problem! Vermicomposting uses worms to break down organic material, and can be housed in a 5-gallon bucket on a porch or under a sink. You may find composting more attractive when it does not require you go to outside in the cold of winter, but this is also great for people with smaller yards or those who rent.
Composting is a great way to keep waste out of landfills, put nutrients back into the soil and put money back into your wallet. For more about composting and other ways to go green, visit us at cetonline.org.
Look out for this column every two weeks, and send Go Green questions to GoGreen@cetonline.org.