Composting! It’s so easy everyone can do it!

Our compost bin, full of cooking scraps.

Composting is a great way to reduce the impact of your kitchen waste. Instead of decomposing, producing methane gas, and being sad in a landfill, your yard clippings and food scraps can instead be made into delicious, delicious plant food. The only hitch in this plan is actually making sure that composting works for your life. In Seattle, we are INCREDIBLY lucky to have municipal composting; all we need to do is collect our compost material into a bucket, take it outside to our compost bin, put it out on the curb, and voila! Like magic, our food waste gets taken away and made into nutritious fertilizer. This works great for us, but there’s lots of reasons I’ve heard for why composting might not work for others. Just in case you need some motivation or ideas to kick you into composting gear, here are some excuses and solutions:

  • Excuse: The compost smells bad on my counter.
    • Overcome the excuse: Take your compost out more often! How often do you take out your trash? If you’re making a trash run, make a compost run. If you take your compost out once or twice a week, it shouldn’t get smelly or grow fruit flies (at least, that’s been the case in our kitchen!).
    • If you live somewhere warm, you may experience smelliness more quickly. In this case, you can stick your compost bin the freezer, which will prevent odors and the breeding of fruit flies.
  • Excuse: I don’t have counter space for my compost.
    • Overcome the excuse: There’s lots of attractive, little compost bins available. Here’s one cute mini-compost bin, and I’ve seen compost bins similar to this at friend’s houses.  
    • But, I also love this suggestion from a New York city apartment dweller: she uses these silicone bags to store her compost in her freezer. This solves two problems at once! No smells! And no counter space needed!
  • Excuse: I don’t live in a city that collects compost:
    • Overcome the excuse: This is (in my opinion) the most legit of the excuses. Composting involves some extra effort if you don’t live somewhere that offers composting as a municipal service. If you have a yard available, the Kitchn has this guide to easy home composting. You could also buy a small backyard composting device like this one.
    • If you’re willing to collect and periodically take your compost to a composting facility, this website will let you search for composting facilities near you.
    • The EPA also has this handy guide to home composting.

What’s the net impact of this composting effort? One important thing to note is that industrial composting is an energy intensive process; so, there is definitely a carbon cost to composting. The benefit of composting is that it prevents the emission of methane as food decomposes, instead releasing some carbon dioxide while sequestering much of the carbon and nitrogen in the nutrient-rich soil that is produced at the end of the composting process. I had a somewhat difficult time finding estimates of how much carbon emissions are prevented by composting, but according to this online calculator 0.88 tons of CO2 are stopped from entering the atmosphere per ton of composted material. As a reminder, my estimated carbon emissions are between 16 and 40 tons of CO2 emissions per year. I estimate that our household produces 7 pounds of compostable waste per week, which comes out to about 350 pounds per year, or 0.175 tons. Thus, my carbon savings from this composting come out to 0.154 tons per year, which is (at best) about 1% of my carbon emissions.

So, composting isn’t an enormous energy savings, but in aggregate, food waste makes a huge contribution to global emissions. Food waste comprises around 15% of municipal solid waste generated in the US, of which only about 9% is composted (based on figures from 2015). So, while the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions thanks to any one household composting may be small, we also have lots of room nationally to grow our composting efforts. All of these efforts help prevent food waste from decomposing into methane, and sequester carbon into nutrient-rich soil that can be used to grow more plants.

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