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Sustainable waste management is crucial for maintaining a healthy household and planet. However, according to the EPA, the average person produces 4.9 lbs. of waste per day, and only a fraction is recycled.
You should dispose of household waste like packaging meat products in high-quality black garbage bags. However, you can compost vegetable and fruit peels, eggshells and other biodegradable items or use them in your garden.
Discover six common types of composting to choose the right method for your home.
1. Composting In-Place
Composting in-place is the most basic form of composting, using the natural decomposition process to nourish your garden bed. It is a cold composting method that involves placing leaf litter, lawn trimmings and chopped bioaccumulator plants in your garden bed rather than transporting compost from another location.
To compost in-place, dig 12-inch deep trenches in your garden bed and layer in organic materials like autumn leaves, coffee grounds, plant trimmings and straw. Cover with around 6 inches of topsoil to prevent animals from digging up the compost.
To speed up the decomposition process, you can also cover composted garden beds with black plastic sheets or polypropylene landscaping fabric. Once it is planting season, remove the covering and dig the composted matter through the soil to prepare your garden bed.
This method is ideal for homesteaders with large vegetable patches or garden beds that grow annually rather than perennial plants.
Vermicomposting is a cold composting method that speeds up the decomposition process by using worms such as red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) and red worms (Lumbricus rubellus) to digest the organic matter. It’s a more complex composting method because you need to nurture the worm’s growth in addition to monitoring the compost.
However, it produces lower nitrogen compost than other composting methods for optimal soil health.
Temperature and moisture levels are crucial for vermicomposting. The ideal conditions for worm health and growth are between 68°F and 77°F and 80-85% moisture content. When these conditions are met, the worms tunnel through the compostable material, aerating the soil and promoting aerobic decomposition. They also enrich the soil with the enzymes and bacteria found in their castings.
Vermicomposting must be done in a container to prevent the worms from escaping. However, you cannot use copper containers because the metal leaches into the soil and kills the worms. You should also avoid foam containers because the worms can chew through them.
If you use a plastic container, ensure it has a faucet attached to drain the fermented liquid or compost tea. This liquid forms when you steep the vermicompost in a container for a few days. It’s great for loosening hard soil and clay or pouring on sandy soil in your yard to help it retain nutrients.
You can create worm farms on a small or large scale, so they are an excellent choice for a suburban family home or school.
3. EMO Composting
If you have limited space or live in an urban area, EMO composting is ideal for recycling your kitchen scraps and minimizing your waste output. Effective MicroOrganism (EMO) composting, also called Bokashi, is designed to manage a relatively small amount of waste and uses a container that you can place under your kitchen sink. Most containers are fitted with a carbon filter to control odors.
Unlike many other composting methods, EMO doesn’t require oxygen. The kitchen scraps are layered with wheat bran inoculated with microorganisms that flourish in anaerobic environments.
Some of the EMOs used include yeasts (Saccharomyces), bacteria that produce lactic acids (Lactobacillus) and (phototrophic) purple non-sulfur bacteria (Rhodopseudomonas). Once the bin is full, it is sealed and left for up to two weeks. The only maintenance required is draining the leachate by-product from the bucket every second day.
There are very few limits to what you can put into an EMO bucket. This means that you can compost dairy products and meat scraps. However, the compost produced by an EMO unit is highly acidic, so you need to bury it for two weeks in your garden to neutralize it before using it on plants. You should keep two buckets — one to collect scraps while the other ferments.
4. Aerated Windrow Composting
Many groups and facilities require large-scale composting, such as small farms, community gardens or food processing businesses like restaurants or cafeterias. The aerated windrow method is ideal for these applications because it produces large volumes of composted soil in a relatively short time.
The technique involves forming organic matter into long piles called windrows. These piles are typically 4-8 feet high and 14-16 feet wide to ensure the piles are big enough to generate enough heat to facilitate hot composting. These windrows must be turned periodically to improve oxygen flow and support aerobic decomposition.
Windrows are suitable for use in any climate. Even if the weather reaches freezing temperatures, the internal core of the compost pile can still retain its temperature up to 140°F. You can also compost a more diverse range of materials in windrows, including animal by-products, grease and liquids.
However, because the piles are so big and require large tracts of land, they may be subject to zoning regulations. Also, leachate liquid needs to be removed to avoid contaminating groundwater, and you must implement odor-control methods.
5. Cold Composting
If you have a large household with a spacious yard, cold composting may be an excellent choice for your home. Cold composting requires a dedicated space to locate your pile and carefully monitor moisture and oxygen levels to facilitate the aerobic decomposition process. However, it is an affordable, fast way to start composting, suitable for beginners.
Cold composting can be done as a free-form pile on the ground or inside a walled container fitted with a large compostable trash bag, but it is typically uncovered. The process involves layering nitrogen-rich green matter (lawn clippings and food scraps) with carbon-rich brown matter (wood chips and dried leaves) at a ratio of about 3:1.
You need to turn the pile every week before adding more green matter. And in dry climates or during the summer, you may need to water the compost pile before turning it. This ensures adequate air is available to feed the microbes, breaking down the matter.
6. In-Vessel Composting
In-vessel composting, also called tumbler composting, is an excellent alternative to free-form cold composting piles. The process uses a barrel or container mounted to a frame, allowing it to spin vertically. The container is typically fitted with a handle that enables you to turn the compost weekly and a hatch or drawer that easily removes ready compost.
As with standard cold composting, you layer green and brown matter inside. However, with in-vessel composting, the container is sealed, which helps to generate heat to speed up decomposition.
In-vessel composting is an excellent choice for homes with limited outdoor space to house compost bins. It also prevents rodent infestations and pets from digging in the compost. The closed design helps control odors, making them suitable for residential neighborhoods.
Find the Right Composting System for You
The best composting system for your needs depends on the amount of space you have and how much organic material you need to compost. Whether you opt for vermicomposting or EMO composting can also depend on how much time you can dedicate to maintaining the optimal environment.
Regardless of the type of composting method you choose, recycling your organic waste is a sustainable, responsible way to manage your household waste.