You’ve ditched plastic straws for metal ones, stocked up on reusable food containers, and swapped out your old cleaning products for organic alternatives. The next logical step in your ecowarrior journey is taking on composting. According to Rebecca Louie, founder of the Compostess website and author of Compost City, “composting is the human version of re-creating what mother nature does out in the wild: taking a controlled space and mixing together various organic materials in magical cocktails or recipes appropriate to the system.” The result, compost, is a soil additive so rich in plant nutrients that it’s nicknamed “black gold.”
The “recipes” Louie mentioned are combinations of carbon-based “browns” (cardboard, paper, sawdust, or wood chips), nitrogen-rich “greens” (food scraps like apple cores or banana peels), water, and air. Over time, bacteria breaks down the scraps to create compost. There are systems you can use to make this process happen at home, but if you prefer, you can just collect your food scraps and drop them off at a location listed at GrowNYC.
For the best ways to compost at home, I spoke to Louie, Marisa DeDominicis, co-founder and executive director of environmental nonprofit Earth Matter NY, and Sandy Nurse, founder and co-director of BK Rot, a service that collects businesses’ food waste for composting. The experts recommended a variety of composting strategies for all levels of commitment.
If you want to do the bare minimum
For collecting food scraps to bring to a drop-off site, Nurse recommended doing so in compostable bags made from organic materials, like these from Florida-based company BioBag. “They’re great for using in a bin, and you can tie it up and bring it to a site, eliminating plastic bags,” she said.
Use your BioBags to line a tight-sealing compost bin, like this one from OXO, to minimize odor and keep fruit flies and other critters away. Freezing your scraps before adding to a bin can also kill off any pest eggs that may be lurking.
If you’re okay with worms as roommates
Both Louie and DeDominicis recommended worm composters as an indoor composting option if you don’t have a ton of space — and if you’re cool with sharing your place with a couple hundred worms. “It’s a flow-through system of stacked trays with a mostly carbon-based setting [browns],” said Louie, “and then you feed little portions of food [greens] that the worms will eat up and poop out. Once one tray gets full, you can add another as the worms climb vertically.” The digested organic materials — or worm poop — make up the final compost product. “It’s really fun, especially if you have kids who love to play with the worms,” said Louie.
If you’re not okay with worms as roommates
Even if you’re not down with the worm thing, you can still compost indoors with a fermenting Bokashi system. Unlike other forms of composting, DeDominicis said, “Bokashi only works in the absence of air,” and involves mixing microorganism-saturated oat bran, included in this kit, with your food waste in an airtight container. One advantage of Bokashi, according to Louie, is that you can add “the crazy Frankenstein stuff in the back of your fridge — like condiments or oily things — that wouldn’t go in a normal compost system.” The fermented materials get buried in the ground to further decompose and nourish soil.
If you have some outdoor space
Sized for a patio or rooftop, a small drum composter is filled with food waste and browns and then rotated by hand to mix everything together and encourage decomposition and compost formation. Nurse said the Compost Wizard Jr. “looks to be the best for being rodent-proof and [easy to] use.”
The Envirocycle bills itself as “the cutest composter in the world,” and the hot-pink version is certainly eye-catching. Simply combine your browns and greens, turn the drum every couple of days, and solid compost will be ready in four to eight weeks.
If you have lots of outdoor space
Similar to the drums above, Louie said a tumbler “spins around in various ways, rolling or churning your browns and greens in there and speeding things up in terms of decomposition.” A double chamber tumbler, like this one, is ideal according to DeDominicis, who recommended separating your fresh waste from materials that are further along in the composting process. A tumbler takes up more space than some other methods, but the experts I spoke with mentioned they’ve heard about building residents sharing a rooftop tumbler with their landlords’ permission, so that might be worth looking into if you have other ecoconscious neighbors.
A traditional compost bin, this larger model is best for those with lawns or gardens who plan on using the compost for their own plants. The bin collects water and air from its surroundings to combine with everything you put inside, and as DeDominicis said, “compost happens.” Remove finished compost from a hatch at the bottom while the upper layers continue to decompose.
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