Prevent Waste by Composting at Home

It’s easy not to think about what you toss out in the garbage once it’s left your home – out of sight, out of mind. Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s simply vanished though. The University of Michigan estimates that U.S. households produce 250 million tons of waste per year. Packaging and containers make up about 30 percent, nondurable goods lasting less than three years make up 21 percent and the rest is split between durable goods, yard waste and food scraps. With landfill space scarce, reusing, recycling and reducing household waste as much as possible can help lessen the strain on our resources and the planet.

Save energy and recycle

Be sure to reuse durable goods as long as possible to help save landfill space and energy. Recycle your plastic, paper, metal, glass and even electronics and appliances when they’ve reached the end of their useful life. It’s pretty obvious how reusing and recycling save space in landfills, but you may be wondering how it saves energy. When you recycle, you can save raw materials and the energy required to process them into a usable state. Recycled aluminum, for example, can be back on the shelf in less than 60 days. Sourcing and processing new aluminum requires nearly 20 times as much energy as recycling. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, recycling just one ton of aluminum cans saves 209 million Btu (British thermal units).

Compost organic waste and save

After you’ve sorted your household trash to recycle as much as possible, a good bit of the leftover waste is food scraps and yard trimmings. These bits of organic matter are perfect for composting. Composting your organic waste not only saves landfill space, it saves you money on fertilizer for your flower bed or vegetable garden and can even be used to heat water.
If you’re feeling really ambitious, you can construct your own water heating system that uses the heat from your compost pile to heat water for your home. The core temperature in your compost heap can reach 130 to 140 degrees F. Using your compost pile as a free source of heat for your water is ingenious and eco-friendly. You can save money on water heating expenses while reducing your household waste and creating your own fertilizer.

What’s compostable?

The key to successful composting is an even mix of green and brown materials. A 50/50 ratio will help microbes break down your organic waste into something you can use.

Green materials are mostly fruit and veggie scraps (banana peels, broccoli stalks, etc.); egg shells; tea bags and leaves; fresh grass clippings and table scraps. Be sure to keep meat and bones out of your compost pile, though! Home compost piles typically don’t get hot enough to break down meat and bones. Set those aside to go to your municipal composting facility.

Brown materials are mostly yard waste and paper products but also include coffee grounds, nuts and shells. Shredded newspaper, paper egg cartons, cereal boxed and other paperboard items can also be added to your compost pile. Be sure those paper products are shredded. This will help them break down faster. Compostable picnic utensils such as paper plates and cups or dishware made from corn-based plastics should go to your municipal composting facility. Like meat and bones, your home compost pile won’t get hot enough to break these down.

Avoid contaminating your compost pile with pet waste, diseased plants, weeds, inorganic herbicides and pesticides, plastic, medicines, dairy products, fats, oils and greases.