The Compost Post: What You Need to Know


Ever feel like all your friends have composting figured out and you don’t? We have news for you. It’s easy and less complicated than you think.

Composting is a bite-sized way for you to make the world a little greener from the cozy confines of your own home. Everything we can do to embrace “The Three Rs”— Recycle, Reduce, Reuse — is important, but few give you the satisfaction of making life grow from stuff that would otherwise be waste in a landfill.

All it takes to compost is three basic ingredients, which the EPA helpfully divides into “Browns” “Greens,” and “Water.” Browns include things like dead leaves and twigs. Greens include lawn clippings, fruit and veggie waste, and (confusingly) old coffee grounds. And water, well, water is self-explanatory. It’s all about having the right ratio.

According to the EPA:

Your compost pile should have an equal amount of browns to greens. You should also alternate layers of organic materials of different-sized particles. The brown materials provide carbon for your compost, the green materials provide nitrogen, and the water provides moisture to help break down the organic matter.

Do composting right and you’ll create nutrient-rich humus — no, not hummus, that’s another blog post — a component of soil produced when microorganisms chew up decaying organic matter. Good compost will help your plants retain moisture and fend off pests, help reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers and help lower greenhouse gas emissions from landfills.

The good news for us paper and packaging folks is that many of our industry’s products make great compost starters, including used coffee filters and tea bags, shredded newspaper, cardboard and corrugated board, paper, saw dust, and wood chips.

Even better, sometimes when you’re recycling, you’re also composting without even knowing it. That’s because ink, clay, short fibers, and other materials that are usually removed during the de-inking process of paper recycling are OK to use in the composting process.

So how do you get started? Outdoor compost piles should be set in dry, shady places, preferably within easy reach of your hose or another water source. You can add Browns and Greens as you collect them, the important thing is to make sure they’re all chopped or shredded into manageable, similarly-sized pieces, and that any edible material is buried under a good 10 inches of compost material.

Always make sure to water dry additions, and keep a tarp over your pile if you want to retain more moisture. Compost can be ready in as little as two months.

If you want an even quicker option, or are composting in an apartment, you can use a special type of bin available at hardware stores and gardening centers. Indoor compost bins can produce usable compost in as little as two weeks.

So fear not. Now that this compost post has given you the dirt on soil, you’re ready!