Benefits of composting

by Caroline Brown

Last night I finished up my master composter course. Now all I have to do is complete the 30 hours of volunteer service and I'll be an "official" URI master composter.

Now that I feel a bit more educated in the matter, I hope to start my own home compost heap. And at the same time, I'll be writing more about composting here. I'll start by discussing the benefits of composting.

Keep in mind, the benefits of composting (the process) are different from the benefits of compost (the end result of the process). I'll write about the specific benefits of compost later.

1. Composting reduces the waste stream significantly.

The pie graph shows the composition of municipal solid waste (MSW) in 2003, according to the EPA. Most all yard trimmings (12.1%), food scraps (11.7%), paper (35.2%), and wood (5.8%) can be composted. Think of how much less stuff we'd be sending to the landfill if we composted instead of hauling everything to the curb! When combined with recycling, we can really reduce the amount that we landfill each year.

2. Composting saves your money on garden improvements. Improving the quality of your soil is the the number one thing that you can do to increase the health and productivity of your garden. You can do this without buying chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, etc. if you use compost. Granted, it's hard for a single home to produce enough compost for all of it's gardening needs (even though a little bit of compost goes a long way). But still, you can save money on commercial soil amendments.

3. Composting is educational. If you have kids, this is a great way to give them a hands-on education in the science principles that they hear about in school. (Even if you don't have kids, you'll learn something yourself!) Kids love to stick their hands in the compost and see all the organisms like snails and worms at work. They'll learn about the principles of natural decomposition and can see how the balance between oxygen, water, carbon & nitrogen affects the process. And it's interesting to see how a pile changes from a heap of leaves and food scraps to compost over time.

4. Composting is natural. There are no chemicals involved; it's a completely natural process. There is ZERO guilt about composting…for people who always feel guilty about their ecological impact, this is a GREAT thing.

Did I convince you to start your own compost heap yet?! If not, come back tomorrow–I'll write about the specific benefits of compost for your garden and yard.

Photo courtesy of Paul Larson

Pie graph courtesy of EPA

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12 Responses to “Benefits of composting”

  1. Another interesting post and a topic I actually do know a bit about. Composting was a topic that was touched on, in a class I took, many moons ago. Having said that, I did NOT know that paper could be added to compost. Is that any type of paper? I think its so great …. the cycle and start to add to the earth, all over again. Really amazing stuff. BFN :)

  2. Congratulations on your certification! That’s really cool.

    I heard that newspaper printed with soy-based ink works wonders for composting. My advisor for my independent study tried it and said that there were “at least 10 worms in each handful.

  3. Thanks Matt. I'm officially a garden geek! Geraldine, I had a feeling you'd know about composting. Matt's point about soy based inks is why it's OK to compost newspaper now. They all use soy based inks now–but you can't compost the shiny catalog-type paper. Usually those papers are printed with metal-based inks which you wouldn't want to compost. Also printer paper with laser/inkjet inks is OK too. If you use paper it's best to shred it up so it decomposes faster and more completely. I'll write more about what to compost and how later.

  4. Thanks for explaining further (and more to come). I have heard of using newspapers shredded up (another thing that came up when interviewing the horticulturalist), didn’t know about other types of paper though. So how did you know that Id know about composting??? I am definitely NOT a garden geekess!!! Such a great geekess to be , I think Earth Mother is a nicer name though. :)

  5. It just seems like it fits your personality type and also composting seems like something that a Canadian or European would know a lot about.

  6. Now you have revved up my curiousity…Composting and personality, Im intrigued????
    And is it true Canadians and Europeans have more fun with their orange rinds and egg shells LOL…Im getting silly!!!
    Time to call it a night, on the computer anyways. Ill let the Mitz have a turn.

    Good night to Caroline, Curt and the Kitties…great chatting with you, on both blogs (sometimes 3) :)

  7. Hello, why do you say that paper printed with laser ink is okay to compost? I want to compost credit card applications and things with our data on it instead of shredding and recycling. Hubby thinks there is some sort of metal or plastic in the printing on laser paper. Please advise us of the facts of this matter, thanks!

  8. Hi Marcia, I am told that the only paper you can’t recycle is the shiny kind like in magazines, brochures, and newspaper inserts. It’s not the paper that causes problems it’s the inks. That’s because they have heavy metals in the inks used in those kinds of printing processes. For computer paper and newsprint/paper, it’s my understanding that the inks are soy based, no heavy metals. This means they’re OK to compost.

    The test is, if you burn a type of paper, and it has colored flames, blue, etc.–that means the inks have heavy metals. Try that with newspaper insert just for kicks. Then try the letter you’re talking about, I think it will only have yellow flames.

    However….if you compost paper of any kind you should still shred it! If you dont shred they will take a LOT longer to decompose.

  9. I think all of this duscussion about wether or not it is safe to compoast paper is great but what is the source of information and where is it coming from. We need something solid here people not just heresay! Any suggestions?

  10. Composting and gardening is a great way to connect with the youmger generation they need to understand that food comes from the ground and not a grocery store.

  11. WOW! (l.o.l. as the young ‘uns would say!) Composting sounds like so fun, and I’m getting ready to try it as my new hobby. That bit about being able to compost paper is just fascinating (smiley face) I might use my retirement years to work in my local gardening centre, encouraging the young members of the society to start composting. Lots of my best love to the united forces of composting EVERYWHERE! Helen (kisses)

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