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Simple ways to compost your organic waste

Reading Time: 11 minutes

The last times I mentioned composting here in the blog, we were either not yet adapted to any composting process, or I said it was super simple to do in two lines without giving the proper details.

Many people ask me about my composting process, so today I’m gonna explain two ways of composting that we use in our home, as well as talk about how to store the organic material and what can and cannot go in the compost pile.

But before we start… what is composting?

Composting is basically a way of controlling the decomposition of organic materials so this material returns to the earth in the best possible way, the compost material is an incredible natural fertilizer for potted plants and gardens and means we are repurposing our trash instead of throwing it away, which makes composting a key part of living zero waste.

But you do not necessarily need to use the fertilizer that comes out of it for yourself, which means you do not need to have plants at home in order to compost.

An excellent tip for “getting rid” of your fertilized soil is to go to the park and distribute it around plants you like, to contact florists or farmers at organic markets who can use this soil, or even give it to friends and family members to add to their home-grown crops. There are also initiatives for reforestation and replanting of trees in cities that would surely love to use this material to accelerate tree growth.

Composting systems and composters

When I first became interested in composting, the first thing I thought I would need to buy was a composter, these super modern and expensive ones that do all the dirty job for you. When I found out I didn’t have to buy one, I thought I’d need at least two giant plastic boxes and many earthworms to set up one at home. Just the thought of having to deal with worms made me shiver.

During my research and trial and errors I discovered that a simple bucket with a few holes would already make a good composter – no worms involved, and that’s how we started.

But how exactly do you turn your banana peels into fertile soil with a single bucket, you ask? See bellow:

Instructions for a simple composter

You will need:

  • A large plant pot or old plastic pail
  • A plant pot saucer or plastic basin
  • A drill (or any other way of drilling holes in the bucket if it doesn’t have it yet)
  • Dirt
  • Organic materials

How to assemble it:

  • Make a few holes in the bottom of the bucket with the drill. In our case, we made four holes on each side and a hole in the middle.
  • Place a thin layer of dirt in the basin or in the saucer.
  • Place the bucket or plant pot on top of the bowl or the saucer.
  • Place a layer of dirt in the bucket or plant pot.
  • Chop the organic material into small pieces to speed up the decomposition process.
  • Place the organic material in the bucket.
  • Cover the organic material with one more layer of dirt.
  • Keep adding layers of dirt and waste until you fill the bucket, and cover it up with dirt in the end.
  • That’s it. In a few weeks your banana peels will be completely absorbed by the dirt, and you can use it for your plants.
The options for the simple composter: a large plant pot with saucer or a bucket and a basin.

Why do you need the basin under the bucket or the saucer for the plant pot? You don’t really need it, but beware that when organic materials begin to decompose, they generate leachate, that organic garbage liquid, you know? For this liquid may be excellent for the soil it is not so excellent when it flows down around your home. Leachate coming out of the compost usually doesn’t smell bad, as it is filtered through the soil and decomposes naturally (unlike when mixed with other materials that do not allow it to breathe like in ordinary trash bins).

This is a good option if you live in an apartment, since you can leave the bucket indoors or on the balcony. To avoid bugs and bad smell, remember to keep the organic material well covered with soil and to have enough soil in the basin so that the leachate is absorbed by it. You can cover up the bucket with a lid as well.

Do you have a garden at home? We have a patio at our home so we put the bucket straight on the land, the leachate then flows directly into the soil and fertilizes the plants.

Want more simplicity than a bucket? We gave up the bucket and found the most practical and ideal way for us to compost: straight into the ground.

Instructions for an even simpler composter

You will need:

  • A land area where you can dig holes in
  • A shovel
  • Organic materials

How to do it:

  • Dig a relatively deep hole that accommodates all your organic waste.
  • Put some waste in the bottom, and break it down a little bit with the shovel, mixing up with some dirt.
  • Cover with more dirt, and put some more waste on top.
  • Continue forming layers of organic waste and dirt until you cover the entire hole with it. Finish with dirt.
  • Done. Next month, the material will be completely decomposed and you can dig in the same spot if you need to, but ideally try to make several holes close to your plants so they can benefit from this super healthy soil.

How to store organic waste for composting?

So you don’t have to compost every time you peel a banana, there are two ways to save time and stay focused:

Store the material to be composted in a dedicated “compost bin”

To be practical, choose a small bin with a separate lid and leave it underneath or near the sink, so every time you are cooking you can easily discard the remains in it.

Do not leave the organic material waiting in the bin for too long, especially on hot days (at most one day), so that it does not begin to decompose without the dirt (generating stinking slurry and possibly attracting unwanted bugs).

Beautiful compost container to keep on the kitchen counter / © Cliff Spencer

Keep the organic waste in the freezer

The ideal option for us has been to store the organic waste in a drawer of our freezer, so we compost only when the drawer is full, ie once a month (when we generate two-persons waste only).

An easy way to store organic material in the freezer if you do not have drawers is to put it in a brown paper bag | © Margaret Badore

What can and cannot go in the composting pile?

Another challenge we found when we started composting was to understand what could go in composting and what could not, there are millions can-cannots out there, so I’ll summarize for you:

The simplest rule of what goes in composting: Remains of fruits, vegetables and grains in general.

What doesn’t go in compost at all: Chemical substances, dairy products, eggs (except the shells), plastic or colored papers, used toilet paper and oily products. These things can harm the soil and make the plants sick.

What goes in the compost and you did not even know: Remains of ordinary paper (newspapers, black and white prints, cardboard, brown paper), used napkins (beware of excess of fat!), hair and fur from both animals and humans, nails clippings (no nail polish!), dust from sweeping the floors and the vacuum cleaner and leftover food remaining in the sink after washing the dishes.

 What you should be cautious when adding to the compost: animal feces, diseased plants, spoiled food, processed foods, meat and bones. These things can also harm the soil and the plants. The ideal is to bury them separate from your normal compost and away from your plants! Remains of meat and bones can attract animals looking for food and take longer to decompose, and processed foods can also contain harmful chemicals (bad for the soil and to you, too, why continue buying it?).

The ideal blend: For the decomposition process to be as natural and fast as possible, composting requires a mixture of nitrogen-rich materials (wet material, like leftovers) and carbon-rich materials (dry and brown, such as dry leaves and branches or common papers).

Extra! Extra! Right at the beginning of this post I mentioned that it is also possible to buy a composter that does everything for you, so I will mention some here since they might be a viable option for your lifestyle, or at least serve as inspiration 🙂

Composters that are worth checking

1. Zera Food Recycler –  on pre-sale by Indiegogo, this is certainly my favorite. It is beautiful, practical and there are no earthworms involved.

2. The Food Cycler: Home – this one is also cool and doesn’t require worms 🙂

3. Worm Farm Composter – if you are ok with earthworms, this one is kinda cute.

4. BIOVESSEL – this one users earthworks, it’s also in pre-sale (via Kickstarter), but it does look like an work of Art instead of a composter!

5. Bokashi One – what I dislike the most about this one is that you need to buy the Bokashi mix to use it, and it comes in plastic. It might be possible to replace it with dry leaves or sawdust, though.

6. Simplest home composter – this is the most common model in Brazil, and it’s also super easy to DIY (P.S.: It has worms involved :-P)

There are many of options available and more and more showing up in the market, in some cities you can also hire a service that collects the organic waste from your home, find find pickup points or even join a compost club.

So what about you, are you gonna try some of these out?

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