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Composting: It’s Easier Than You Think

Posted on August 26, 2014 in Articles

What Happens at a Landfill Site?

It is estimated that almost a million tonnes of compostable materials are sent for disposal in Greater Vancouver facilities each year, in the form of food and yard waste, paper, wood and grass clippings. According to the Recycling Council of BC, diversion of these wastes from landfill sites through composting could reduce household waste by up to 40%.

When these organic materials rot in a landfill, usually wrapped in plastic, they generate large quantities of methane gas, a direct contributor to global warming. The high water content also adds to the liquid runoff from landfills known as leachate, which threatens to contaminate ground and surface water.

Composting is the name given to the controlled decay of organic materials under optimal conditions, resulting in a rich mixture of minerals, humus and beneficial microbes, which when added to soil reduce the need for commercial pesticides and fertilizers. Compost also helps soil retain moisture, reducing the frequency of watering. Although most people think that composting is a good idea, a lack of practical knowledge and an assumed fear of inconvenience are often deterrents. However, it really is possible with only a little effort!

Starting a Compost Bin

Spring is the ideal time to begin a compost pile, as there is usually plenty of garden waste. Choose a suitable area for your bin. I recommend a bin rather than an open pile, as a measure against pests and because the heat retained will help speed up the process. You can make your own bin out of a plastic drum, wooden pallets, a clean food grade metal drum, chicken wire and fence posts, or anything else that can be reasonably used as a container. It is important to remember that one of the main ingredients in a successful compost pile is oxygen, so ensure adequate air holes. Without oxygen, the pile will still decompose, but much slower and will result in a putrid rotting smell.

There are a number of compost bins available to buy if you do not have the time or inclination to build your own. When choosing, remember to consider the ease of turning and access to the final product. Ideal heat retention is maintained in a bin with dimensions of approximately 1 cubic metre.

What To Put In a Bin

Apart from oxygen, the other essential ingedients are water and food. The desired moisture content of a pile is that of a wrung out sponge. Food can be broken down into two categories- dry browns (carbon rich waste) and moist greens (nitrogen rich waste):

  • Browns: Straw, autumn leaves, broken up branches, wood chips and shredded newsprint
  • Greens: Fruit and vegetable scraps, tea bags and coffee grounds, crushed eggshells, green leaves, grass clippings, dead flowers and fresh horse manure

Things to Avoid

  • Animal by-products ( meat, grease, bones, fish, dairy), dog or cat faeces, cardboard, diseased plants, barbeque ashes

A good balance of moisture, air and nutrients will result in a successful pile. Create layers of browns and greens, adding a little soil or manure too. For best results, turn the pile once a week to help break things up and to introduce air. Continue adding layers until the bin is full but there is still room to turn. The pile will shrink until it consists of a dark crumbly matter with a rich earthy smell. The compost can now be used and another pile started. If it gets cold enough in winter, the pile will go dormant until spring, when you can continue adding and turning.

Indoor Composting with Worms (Vermicomposting)

This method can work well for people who live in apartments, for offices or for those who wish to continue composting food scraps during winter. The worms used are known as red wrigglers (Eisenia foetida). They thrive on organic materials and differ from brown earthworms who prefer to live in soil. Under the right conditions, red wrigglers can eat half their weight in food each day! The worms are put in a plastic or wooden bin with bedding consisting of moistened shredded newspaper ( no coloured inks) and straw or leaves and a handful of sand. Food scraps can then be buried in the bedding, which in time becomes rich compost. It is important to remember that worms are living creatures who require specific needs in order to thrive. It is your responsibility to give them adequate light, heat, air and water. If your worms are happy, they will rewartd you with their ‘black gold’ castings which can then be used on household plants as a great soil conditioner.

Resources

There are several organisations in the Lower Mainland who will provide you with the tools to get started and answer any questions. To find out more about how you can start composting or to arrange a visit to a compost demonstration site, contact your local resource listed below:

  • Burnaby: Compost Demonstration Garden- (604) 299-0659
  • North Vancouver: at Park & Tilford Gardens. Workshops offered by North Shore Recycling Program- (604) 984-9730
  • Richmond: The Richmond Compost Demonstration Garden- (604) 270-3257
  • Vancouver: City Farmer Compost Demonstration Garden- (604) 736-2250
  • West Vancouver: The West Vancouver Compost Demonstration- (604) 984-9730

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