Tuesday, September 29

What you should and should not compost

Ever wonder what you can and cannot compost?

Have you ever wondered, "What exactly is compost?" or "Why should I even bother composting?"

You know I have. And I found my answers at an unexpected source, the EPA website!

I was very surprised at how much information this user friendly website had.
Here is a small sampling of what I learned.

Organic materials that you can compost:
  • Animal manure
  • Cardboard rolls
  • Clean paper
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Cotton rags
  • Dryer and vacuum cleaner lint
  • Eggshells
  • Fireplace ashes
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Grass clippings
  • Hair and fur
  • Hay and straw
  • Houseplants
  • Leaves
  • Nut shells
  • Sawdust
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Tea bags
  • Wood chips
  • Wool rags
  • Yard trimmings

Wow! That is some list. I knew about most of these items but not all, like nut shells for instance. (I can't believe I threw nutshells away the other day. What was I thinking? I won't make that mistake again).

I am quite surprised at how much our garbage volume has decreased since we started composting (and recycling but that is something we always did). Our family of 4 generates ~ 1 kitchen size bag a week and most weeks that is not even full.

Here are some other things that I learned on the EPA website:

  • Compost is organic material that can be used as a soil amendment or as a medium to grow plants.
  • Mature compost is a stable material with a content called humus that is dark brown or black and has a soil-like, earthy smell. It is created by: combining organic wastes (e.g., yard trimmings, food wastes, manures) in proper ratios into piles, rows, or vessels; adding bulking agents (e.g., wood chips) as necessary to accelerate the breakdown of organic materials; and allowing the finished material to fully stabilize and mature through a curing process.
  • Natural composting, or biological decomposition, began with the first plants on earth and has been going on ever since. As vegetation falls to the ground, it slowly decays, providing minerals and nutrients needed for plants, animals, and microorganisms.
  • Mature compost, however, includes the production of high temperatures to destroy pathogens and weed seeds that natural decomposition does not destroy.

Did You Know That Compost Can...
  • Suppress plant diseases and pests.
  • Reduce or eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers.
  • Promote higher yields of agricultural crops.
  • Facilitate reforestation, wetlands restoration, and habitat revitalization efforts by amending contaminated, compacted, and marginal soils.
  • Cost-effectively remediate soils contaminated by hazardous waste.
  • Remove solids, oil, grease, and heavy metals from stormwater runoff.
  • Capture and destroy 99.6 percent of industrial volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) in contaminated air.
  • Provide cost savings of at least 50 percent over conventional soil, water, and air pollution remediation technologies, where applicable.

Here is another list that I found very helpful (especially the explanation as to why not)

What not to compost and Why:

  • Black walnut tree leaves or twigs
    Releases substances that might be harmful to plants
  • Coal or charcoal ash
    Might contain substances harmful to plants
  • Dairy products (e.g., butter, egg yolks, milk, sour cream, yogurt)
    Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
  • Diseased or insect-ridden plants
    Diseases or insects might survive and be transferred back to other plants
  • Fats, grease, lard, or oils
    Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
  • Meat or fish bones and scraps
    Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
  • Pet wastes (e.g., dog or cat feces, soiled cat litter)
    Might contain parasites, bacteria, germs, pathogens, and viruses harmful to humans
  • Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides
    Might kill beneficial composting organisms

This is only a sampling of the helpful information that I found on the EPA's website. Hope you found it helpful too!


Eco Yogini said...

oh wow!!! this is a fantastic list! Thanks so much for putting it together. :)

I was thinking about the whole 'biodegradable' issue with supposedly compostable plastics.... I'll check out that site for more info! :)

Kim Kasch said...

Very helpful info. Thanks.

Over Coffee - the green edition said...

Your both very welcome. Glad that I could share some helpful info.

I do need to look into the composting biodegradable materials more. I actually have not added such items to my composter....