L'Association pour la santé environnementale du Québec / Environmental Health Association of Québec

Composting 101

Some people believe that composting is too complicated, smells too bad, takes too much time to accomplish, and that it is overall a very messy affair. This is untrue, as it is in fact quite easy and quick to make your own compost if you know how to do it. It is also worth making organic compost, where only food and yard material not laced with pesticides and synthetic fertilizers are used in your compost. According to the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle), some pesticides remain persistent once turned into compost, which can then damage soil and plants. So in order to stay on the safe side, we recommend making an organic compost. 

This is something that you should begin doing if you have not already, as it comes with a myriad of benefits. Composting in general is a great solution and is crucial in diverting organic waste from landfills, where if deposited would release the potent greenhouse gas methane. While saving the planet, you will also get rich homemade fertilizer out of it too, which can be added to your garden for healthy and strong plants. 

Benefits of Composting:

  • Supports healthy soil structure and plant growth
  • Eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers by serving as a homemade organic fertilizer
  • Reduces methane emissions from landfills 

It is often unnerving for those who are new to composting to know which items belong in the compost bin. Here is a quick list made up of items you can find in your kitchen, garden, and perhaps generally in your house that can be composted (ensure that these items do not contain artificial chemicals if you are looking to make an organic compost):

  • Vegetable scraps 
  • Fruit scraps
  • Nuts, nutshells
  • Eggshells
  • Coffee grounds 
  • Tea leaves
  • Yard trimmings
  • Grass clippings
  • Leaves
  • Twigs
  • Wood chips
  • Straw 

Items that should not be included in an organic compost:

  • Shredded cardboard
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Vacuumed materials
  • Glossy paper
  • Shavings from treated wood
  • Animal products

There are various ways you can compost. If you’re not interested in making your own at-home compost, then leave it to your municipal waste collection service. Look up if they offer a compost bin – they most likely will. The only thing you need to do is make sure that you have properly disposed of the correct items that are compostable in your compost bin, and you’re good to go!

If you would like to take on a more hands-on approach to composting, you can do so by creating an indoor or outdoor compost. An outdoor compost is easy and quick to accomplish; however, it may not be possible for those who do not have access to yard space. If you’re an apartment dweller, it would be more advantageous to compost indoors. 

Before starting your compost, you need to first understand what brown and green materials consist of. Brown and green materials are integral for a compost pile: brown materials are carbon-rich, and the green materials provide the compost with nitrogen. A compost pile should have a greater proportion of brown materials to green. 

Brown materials include:

  • Dried leaves
  • Hay
  • Straw
  • Twigs

Green materials include:

  • Vegetable scraps
  • Fruit scraps
  • Coffee grounds
  • Eggshells
  • Untreated grass clippings

Here are two common composting methods:

Outdoor Composting (done during warm months):

  1. Find a shady, dry spot in your backyard that gets little to no sunlight
  2. Pile your brown and green materials: make 1/3 of your compost consist of green material and 2/3 brown material
  3. Spray water on the pile regularly so that it remains moist
  4. Turn the compost pile regularly for aeration
  5. Monitor your compost: it is ready if it is dark and crumbly

Indoor Composting (done year-round):

  1. Take a plastic, metal or wooden bin that is large enough to store your compostable scraps yet small enough to fit into the allocated space in your home
  2. Drill a few holes into the lid, at the bottom and near the top of the compost bin for aeration in order for decomposition to occur
  3. Place the bin on a tray
  4. Add some paper towel to the bottom of your bin
  5. Pile in your brown and green materials: make 1/3 of your compost consist of green material and 2/3 brown material
  6. Monitor your compost until it’s ready

How to Use Your Compost

  1. Place it around the plant that requires extra attention
  2. Cover the compost layer with soil
  3. Add extra compost on top by scooping out a small proportion of the soil from around the plant
  4. Create a shallow dip to make watering easy and for runoff to not occur

Wait a few weeks so that the plants have time to grow. Hopefully, when they’re grown, you will be able to see the effect compost has on your plants!