Explore the Various Forms of Composting and Best Management Methods

If you check the list of appropriate products to compost, you may very well mistake it as a shopping list for the fruit and vegetables in your restaurant or home kitchen. If you separated out your compostable waste from the rest, it’s likely you have plenty of fuel to produce a thriving compost operation. Why then are you paying expensive waste management fees and adding to our overflowing landfills?

Perhaps it’s the assumption that composting is unsightly or produces an offensive odor? Is there a concern about attracting pests? Do you just feel the fuss isn’t worth it? To tackle all these topics, we have put together a comprehensive guide on how to compost. You’re just a quick read away from a thorough understanding of this process and its benefits.

Composting Food Waste:

To begin, lets consider the different kinds of composting. If you are composting at home or comporting waste from a small establishment, you may consider composting on site. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways.

Several companies offer varying sizes of composting containers that can be as basic as a 50-gallon composting drum and as complex as large scale, temperature- and moisture-regulating composting systems.

If you feel onsite composting isn’t ideal for your situation, there are several facilities across the country that offer composting services. These services also range in complexity. Some offer waste separation and require no extra care when disposing of your garbage while others require separation of organic products from other, non-compostable products.

Once you have decided which route you will take, you can begin the process of identifying which items in your home or commercial kitchen can be utilized in a composting operation.

What to Compost:

In most cases, it is best to stick to vegetable and fruit scraps and refrain from composting dairy, meat, fish, and other oils. By sticking with plant-based composting, you are reducing the potential for harmful bacterial growth and overwhelming odor.

Compost-Safe Products:

  • Fruit and vegetable peels
  • Citrus rinds
  • Melon rinds
  • Coffee grounds
  • Tea leaves/tea bags
  • Old vegetables from the crisper
  • Houseplant trimmings
  • Weeds that haven’t gone to seed
  • Grass clippings
  • Fresh leaves
  • Deadheads from flowers
  • Dead plants (as long as they aren’t diseased)
  • Seaweed
  • Cooked plain rice
  • Cooked plain pasta
  • Stale bread
  • Corn husks
  • Corn cobs
  • Broccoli stalks
  • Sod that you’ve removed to make new garden beds
  • Thinning waste from the vegetable garden
  • Spent bulbs that you used for forcing indoors
  • Holiday greenery (from wreaths and swags, for example) — just be sure to cut the stems off of the wreath form or wires first)
  • Old, less flavorful packaged herbs and spices
  • Egg shells
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Shredded office paper/school papers
  • Shredded, non-glossy junk mail
  • Torn up plain corrugated cardboard boxes (not with glossy coatings)
  • Straw
  • Bedding from hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits
  • Fall leaves
  • Chopped up twigs and small branches
  • Pine cones
  • Nut shells (avoid walnut shells as they can inhibit plant growth)
  • Excelsior
  • Raffia
  • Used napkins
  • Toilet paper, paper towel, or wrapping paper tubes (cardboard)
  • Fallen bird’s nests
  • Pine needles/pine straw
  • Paper coffee filters (used)
  • Pressed paper egg cartons, torn into small pieces
  • Sawdust (only from untreated wood)
  • Brown paper shopping bags, shredded/torn
  • Brown paper lunch bags, shredded/torn
  • Leftover peat or coir from seed starting
  • Coir liners for hanging baskets
  • Wood chips
  • Bedding from chickens

The Benefits of Composting:

By utilizing compost in your home or business landscaping, you are reducing the need for expensive chemical fertilizers.

If sharing your compost with others, you are helping to produce more fruitful crop yields.

By lowering the number of waste collection visits, you are reducing the cost of waste management.

Utilizing composting techniques extends the life of your local landfill while avoiding the production of methane and leachate formulation in landfills.

Compost is a marketable commodity and the practice of implementing sustainable practices can actually build goodwill with customers and neighbors.

Tips and Tricks to Composting:

Before you begin composting at your restaurant or foodservice establishment, contact your local government to verify that you do not need a permit for onsite composting.

Consider the amount of space you will need for composting before you begin doing so. Consider the percentage of your waste that is compostable and adjust the number and size of your composting bins from there.

To combat concerns of odor and pest management, it’s best to regularly schedule pick up of compostable products and ready-to-use compost. Also be sure your containers seal tightly and are kept tidy on the outside.

Contact the composting company you intend to purchase your containers from and discuss the potential climate concerns. For example, those living in dry environments will need to take care to keep their compost dry while those in extreme cold environments may need to consider warming mechanisms.

One other form of composting is called vermicomposting. This kind of composting is aided by the use of earthworms and can manage large quantities of food scraps.

Caring for Compost:

For the most part, tending to a compost pile is fairly simple. If you are composting at home, it’s a matter of turning the pile with a garden tool every week or two and checking to make sure the compost pile is slightly damp.

With larger operations, there are a variety of turning systems that can be purchased to guarantee that your pile is turned and regulated for proper temperature and moisture levels.

Most importantly, be sure to maintain a good level of brown and green plant matter. This has the potential to be a little more complex in a foodservice operation but can be managed with a joint effort between your indoor operation and landscape management.

Green plant matter: Nitrogen rich products like vegetable and fruit scraps

Brown plant matter: Carbon rich products like dry leaves, wood chips, branches, paper, newspaper, brown bags

What to Do With Prepared Compost:

There are several options for utilizing your compost. Some restaurants or home composters simply give their compost away. Others sell or share it with local farmers, community gardens, or just utilize it in their home or business-place flowerbeds. If you do choose to sell your compost, be sure to check with your local Department of Agriculture for regulations and potential liability concerns.

National Food Waste Resources:

EPA: The Environmental Protection Agency food waste site offers several resources on the composting process and links to various composting-related agencies.

Find a Composter: Visit this site to locate the closest composting facility to your home or restaurant.

Earthworm Digest: If you plan to participate in Vermicomposting, visit this site for information on the process and to purchase your earthworms.

Chelsea B. Sanz
Chelsea B. Sanz

Chelsea Sanz has lived in East Tennessee since her family moved here from South Florida just before she started high school. While she initially begrudged her new home state, she eventually realized she had come to not only love it, but to “bleed orange” as University of Tennessee Volunteers fans here like to say. She and her boyfriend Hunter, a trail worker for Great Smoky Mountains National Park, enjoy exploring the nation’s most visited national park and coming up with their own farm-to-table recipes.

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