What is Compost and What are its Benefits?
Composting is collecting organic matter (plant material, food scraps, anything that was once alive) in one place to speed up the microbial decomposition process. Natural decomposition happens every day over time— at farms, in forests, in your front yard, in the park, etc. — but composting can be done in your backyard, in your house, or on larger scales such as community and commercial scales. There are many benefits to composting.
Composting as a waste management strategy is to compost your food scraps and yard waste to keep organic matter out of the landfill. This is beneficial because organic matter in a landfill does not decompose. Landfills compact garbage, which excludes the air and water that would be necessary for decomposition. Instead, organic matter in landfills utilize anaerobic digestion to produce and release methane gas and other harmful gases. It is known that about 40% of America’s waste stream is organic matter. Instead of sending this waste to the landfill, individuals can compost their organic waste to save valuable landfill space and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
While the process of composting is beneficial, finished compost is also beneficial because it acts as a natural fertilizer and is a beneficial soil amendment. Nutrients from composted food scraps remain in the compost and boost plant growth when the compost is applied to house plants, a garden, or even a yard.
The benefits of composting on a larger scale include agricultural waste management and soil enrichment, erosion control on areas such as construction sites, roadsides, or steep slopes, and more.
Composting at Home
There are two ways to compost at home. The first is generally referred to as “backyard composting” and is where organic matter is collected in a pile outside. The second is called Vermicomposting, which uses worms in a bin and can be kept inside.
Backyard composting is collecting your food scraps in a pile that uses aerobic digestion and heat to speed up decomposition. There are many ways to backyard compost that range from low to high maintenance.
Start with a bin: A store-bought bin works great. There are many kinds, so pick one that best meets your needs. You can also make your own bin with a cubic yard of material. You can make your bin out of wooden pallets, hardware wire, or other materials. Alternatively, you can make a pile on the ground and not use a bin at all. The type of bin you choose will depend on your backyard and your aesthetics. In any case, the bin will need to accommodate for airflow to ensure aerobic digestion is possible.
Once you have your bin, you can start layering “brown” and “green” material. Green material is rich in carbon and includes moist materials such as food scraps and freshly cut yard waste. Brown material is rich in nitrogen and includes dried yard waste, woodchips, and paper products (newspaper, paper egg cartons, etc.). When you add to your compost pile, you will need to add more brown material than green material. It is best to input small pieces of food scraps and yard waste when adding to the pile. This will create less work for the microbes and will speed up the decomposition process.
Throughout your composting process, be aware of your pile’s water content. The compost should feel as moist as a squeezed-out sponge. If your pile is too dry, add water. If your pile is too wet, add brown material. If your ratio of brown to green material is correct, your compost pile should not smell. If it does smell, try adding brown material and turning your pile.
Find this valuable resource from The M.e.t. [link to the M.e.t. website (http://metrecycle.com/composting-2/) on creating your own backyard compost bin: http://composteverything.net/brochures/backyardcomposting/.
Vermicomposting (Worm Composting)
Vermicomposting is the process of composting with worms, typically of the Red Wiggler species, to speed up decomposition. The worms produce vermicast (or worm castings), which create a particularly nutrient-rich soil.
Vermicompost is typically used to compost food scraps and not yard waste. It is typically done in a small bin (think a plastic storage bin) and can be kept inside, which is perfect for an apartment setting.
The M.e.t. [link to the M.e.t. website (http://metrecycle.com/composting-2/) created a great guide to start your own vermicompost bin, which you can find at http://composteverything.net/brochures/worm-composting/. You can also purchase worms and a starter kit at www.unclejimswormfarm.com.
What to Put and Not to Put in Your Compost
- Cut up leaves, grass, and weeds
- Food scraps, like banana peels, cleaned and crushed eggshells, and coffee grounds
- Cut up cardboard (paper towel rolls) and regular paper products (office paper, tissue paper, toilet paper)
- Big, thick branches
- Domestic animal or human feces
- Animal products like meat, bones, or dairy
- Fat, oil or grease
Large-Scale/Commercial Composting in Oklahoma
There are some compost facilities in Oklahoma that do not collect food waste, but do accept yard waste, sludge, and/or manure. You can find those facilities here: https://deq.maps.arcgis.com/home/webmap/viewer.html?webmap=828cd4dd8c8b494383ac825ad3347181
There are limited commercial composting options in Oklahoma to compost food waste. Two options are Fertile Ground (link to Fertile Grounds: https://www.fertilegroundok.coop/) in Oklahoma City and Full Sun Composting (link to Full Sun Composting: http://www.fullsuncomposting.com/) in Tulsa.
If you are interested in composting on a commercial scale, contact David Cates of the Department of Environmental Quality for permitting information, or visit https://www.ag.ok.gov/aems/compost.htm for agricultural composting information.
- The Oklahoma Compost Conference Resources Page: https://www.okcompostconference.org/resources/
- The M.e.t.: http://metrecycle.com/composting-2/
- Sustainable Tulsa: https://sustainabletulsainc.org/okgreenliving/compost/
- Prairie Dirt Solutions – Sells compost, accepts landscaping waste, and more: https://prairiedirtsolutions.com/