Did you know that composting can transform your trash into new life? And that new life, in the form of microbes, fungi, earthworms, and more, provides the foundation for much of all other healthy life on Earth.
Composting is a great way to create healthy soil to support our people and our planet. Healthy soil is also a magical carbon sink that absorbs carbon from our atmosphere and helps cool the planet. While dead dirt has few living organisms, a teaspoon of healthy soil has more living organisms in it than the entire population of humans on Planet Earth!(1)
We need the world to compost!
Don’t think you can compost? We’ve got a whole set of resources on Everything To Know About Composting At Home, including more You Can Make Dirt interviews. All of this information about composting at home will hopefully prove that just about anyone can make space and find a system to turn their food scraps into nutrient-rich compost to enrich our soil, feed our food cycle, and limit the food waste that ends up in landfills.
This series highlights families in various circumstances who have all found a way that composting works for their lifestyle. Hopefully, you can be inspired to give it a go and help our planet stay a little healthier.
No matter where you live, you can probably find a composting method that works for you and your family. Laura lives in an urban neighborhood in Minnesota. Despite a small yard and cold weather for half the year, she turns her food waste into soil for her garden year-round. I’ll let her tell you more about her journey into composting and what gets her excited about playing with the dirt.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you live, your family, etc.. the Laura 101?
My name is Laura and I am the blogger behind Reduce Renew Reuse which acts as a guide to help reduce mental clutter through mindful and intentional living, minimalism, and zero waste living.
I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota with my husband, 3-year old son, and two cats. I love spending time outside hiking, camping, photographing nature, and exploring the outdoors with my son. Additionally, I’m obsessed with musicals (some of my favorites are RENT, Waitress, Something Rotten, and Wicked) and Harry Potter. Oh, and if there is any edible cookie dough shops near me, I’m there.
Tell us a little bit about why you decided to start composting?
A little over a year ago, my family and I applied to participate (and got accepted) in a zero waste challenge that our local county was hosting. Part of the challenge included doing a waste audit and weighing our waste for four weeks straight. We were not composting at the time, and we quickly found that food waste made up 60% of our weekly waste on average. That was a lot!
Luckily there was an easy solution – composting!
However, there was only one problem. I was SO. INTIMIDATED. Because we live in a city, we are in close proximity to our neighbors. I was convinced the compost pile was going to be this huge mound of smelly garbage that would upset our neighbors.
What method or methods of composting do you use or have you used?
I use container composting. We have a container inside the house that we store compost in until it fills up. Once it does, we take it out to one of two compost piles. We have a large wire bin that we got through our county (but could easily be made), and a small tall hamper that I found on the side of the road. We add our food scraps to either one of the bins (depending on which one is more full), and then add dried leaves that we keep in our garage. The general ratio we follow is 3:1 (brown to green); brown being the leaves and green the food scraps.
How do you store the scraps until they are taken to your compost pile?
We have a storage container (just a regular plastic one) that we keep the compost in until it needs to be taken out. We do use compostable bags in the bin because we can usually go a few days to a week until we have to take it out. The bags aren’t necessary, but we find it helps reduce the amount of cleaning we have to do to the bin. We keep ours on the floor by our fridge, so it doesn’t take up any space that would be used for anything else. Because it has a lid, we don’t find it smells, and honestly, we’ve had an open container on the counter for a day or two and that didn’t even smell. We have had no issues with it at all!
Do you have any special tools, containers, or products that help make composting easier or more accessible for you?
I wouldn’t consider them special – the wire bin we got from our county, but it is something you could easily make out of some wood and chicken wire. Honestly, I don’t think you need anything special. After all, I’m using a tall hamper I found on the side of the road! I like having a bin, but in reality, you don’t even need that and could just have a pile in your yard.
The container we use for the scraps inside was a $5 plastic storage bin with a lid. We do use the compostable bags to help keep things a little more clean, but those aren’t even necessary.
For stirring the compost, I use a really old rusted shovel that would likely have otherwise ended up in the landfill.
It all comes down to personal preference. There are certainly lots of cool and fancy options out there if you want to go for it. But for our family, we found that we don’t need those things at this time.
Do you have any other supplies, like extra cardboard or brown materials, for example, that you store until you need to add them to your compost pile?
Yes, we save our leaves that we rake in the fall for our compost. Because we follow the 3 (brown): 1 (green) ratio, I find that we use almost all the leaves we rake up throughout the year. Plus, it helps us save money by not having to pay for yard waste collection (we use our grass clippings in our garden throughout the year as well).
We store the bags in the garage. I guess we have the advantage that although we have a two car garage, we only are able to fit on car in there at a time, so we do have a little extra room for the leaf bags. If that wasn’t the case, we would be able to store them in our garage attic, which has lots of storage space. I personally don’t think of them as clutter, because they do get used (and for a good cause!). You could also use some large storage bins with a lid to keep out moisture, and keep them by your compost bin. That way you wouldn’t be taking up space or contributing to clutter in your garage or elsewhere.
It’s really cold in the winter where you live. Do you compost year round? How does it work in the winter?
Yes, we compost year round! By the time fall comes around, our bins are only half full at most. During the freezing months, we just keep adding food and leaves as normal. The pile will sometimes stay warm enough that it will slowly continue to break down the food and leaf matter, but it really doesn’t start to accelerate until it starts to get warmer outside in spring. Once everything thaws out, the whole pile completely decompresses. We mix the pile a few times and it quickly starts up again! It’s actually even less maintenance in the winter.
How does your family feel about composting? Do they participate?
My husband is on board and adds things to the compost pile, but as the main gardener (by choice), I am also the pile manager. I make sure it’s getting turned often, and that it has enough water (I don’t have a metric for this, I usually just add a little hose water to the piles when I’m watering the garden). Since my son is so young, he thinks composting is just a normal part of life. I plan on having him help manage the pile as soon as he is able, but he does help add things to the indoor bin. We call it ‘future garden food’.
Have you experienced any benefits from composting, especially ones that might have surprised you?
Being able to add nutrient-rich soil to my gardens has been a wonderful benefit, especially knowing that soil has come from things that would have otherwise ended up in the landfill.
Additionally, by being part of the zero waste challenge, we had the benefit of weighing our trash before we started composting and then again after we had been composting for a few months. Having this data showed us that composting helped us reduce our trash weight by an average of 60%! That was a lot. Overall, it has contributed to us reducing our weekly trash by 35lbs-40lbs a week.
An average of 40% of all food ends up in the trash. That’s a lot of money and waste in the landfill. Composting has really made us aware of our individual food waste and allowed us to find ways to combat that. Plus, by composting, if we do have some food waste for whatever reason (and yes, it still does happen), I feel better knowing it will become garden food.
If you’re curious about some of the other changes we made, you can check out the following posts:
19 Super Simple and Budget-Friendly Ways to Save Money and Reduce Waste!
12 Zero Waste Resources you can Implement in 5 Minutes or Less + 2 FREE Printables!
Anything else you’d like to share with readers about your composting practices, especially to help beginners gain confidence that they too can compost?
As I mentioned at the very beginning, I was so incredibly intimidated by composting. I was worried I was going to screw it up, that it was going to smell, and our neighbors were going to complain. I am happy to say that none of these things have happened.
First, I happily discovered it’s pretty hard to screw up. You really just add stuff to the pile. If there is a little bit of a smell, add some more brown matter (leaves, sticks). If it’s not ‘going down’, try stirring it or add some water. You quickly learn tricks that work for your pile, and find that there really isn’t ‘screwing up’, just adjusting as you go.
Second, if it’s working properly, it doesn’t smell. And if there is a smell, I have found that it isn’t this terrible smell wafting around the entire neighborhood (like I thought it would be). It’s a whiff every now and then. Just throw some leaves in, mix it up a bit, and you’re good to go. And I’m not kidding, I live in the city where we live very close to our neighbors. If I can do it, anyone can!
Where else can we find you and learn more about what you’re up to?
I blog over at the Reduce Renew Reuse which acts as a guide to encourage an overall mindset of ‘reducing’ through mindfulness and intentional living, minimalism, and zero waste living. By doing so, I hope to show that it’s not about taking on more to achieve a harmonious balance in life, but by simply removing in a sustainable way. You can also find me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.