Compost Heaven

Kitchen Waste Composting:

Why Many People find it Hard to Compost their Kitchen Garbage.

Kitchen waste composting is both one of the main reasons we should compost at home, and one of the main reasons people find composting hard or distasteful.

Banana peels, tea bags, onion peels, boiled carrots and celery left from making soup stock, egg shells.

Kitchens produce a lot of waste.

Pie Chart from EPA of Solid Waste Categories
Thank you to the US EPA for this pie chart.

The EPA has some scary statistics.

  • 254 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW)was generated in the US in 2007.
  • Of that, 12.5%, or 31.75 million tons of waste was food waste.  This number is hard to imagine so, in a more personal comparison, each person produced 4.6 pounds MSW per day.  12.5% of that is .58 lbs food waste/person/day or 210 lbs/year.  A family of four produces 840 lbs of food waste a year.  840 lbs of waste which people load onto trucks, the trucks filled with gas haul away and dump into a big pile.  My statistic may be low because I calculated it from the EPA and the Ohio EPA lists the statistic at 1.3 lbs of food scraps/person/day.  In either case, a lot of egg shells take a lot of work to be put in a big pile outside of town.

Americans throw away 25% of the food we prepare.  This 96 billion pounds of food costs about 1 billion dollars/year to dispose of.  (Yes, this is a different number than the one in the last paragraph.  I don't understand the EPA's statistics, but it's on the EPA website).  When it makes it to the landfill, it produces methane.  34% of all methane emissions come from landfills, and food waste play a huge role in that production.

It is obvious that we all must participate in kitchen waste composting.

Kitchen waste is one of the silliest wastes to put into our waste management system.

On a small, house to house basis, food scraps are best recycled at home, not in behemoth piles.  We can make a huge difference in green house gas emissions, land use and general environment improvement by turning the vegetable matter we don't eat, right back into our own soil.

Why your Kitchen Waste Composting Pile Stinks and What You Can Do About It.

The hitch with kitchen waste composting is that you must use some management savvy to keep from ending up with flies and smell.

Difficulties of Kitchen Waste Composting

#1--Kitchen Waste Composting is mostly "green"

In the green/brown (or the nitrogen/carbon) equation of a compost pile, kitchen waste is considered mostly green.  It needs carbon to balance it out, and often in an urban area, carbon is in short supply.  If you don't have a yard with lots of woody garden clippings, or a big pile of leaves left from fall cleanup, where do you get your brown?

One solution is to buy it.  Many gardening stores carry straw bales and you can build a pile or fill your tumbler with a bucket of straw every time you put a bucket of kitchen scraps in.

You can use shredded newspaper for carbon.  The newspaper should be shredded and crumpled to keep from becoming a matted mess, but scrap paper would do it.  Or junk mail.  Or cardboard.  Plus this keeps this paper out of the landfills.

You can scrounge for carbon.  Does your city mulch garden waste and make it available to you?  Are there farmers nearby who could help you out?  A sawmill?  Is your neighbor trimming his hedge?  Be creative and you can find sources of carbon for your pile, even when your own garden doesn't produce it.

#2--Kitchen Waste Composting is Wet

Kitchen scraps are very wet and as they start to decompose, they produce even more water.  This water can overwhelm a barrel or worm bin system, or any pile that is not set up to drain well.  Let your garbage sit in its own water and you have 'aroma de dumpster.'

You have to have kitchen waste drain.  The kitchen waste composting systems, Bokashi and NatureMill both have ways to eliminate the excess water that accumulates.

Whatever kitchen waste composting system you use, make sure it drains.

#3--Kitchen Waste Composting Attracts Pests

Pests, both big and small are potential companions for a compost pile made of kitchen scraps.

The small pests like fruit flies and flies are best deterred by making sure that all the scraps are buried completely in whatever system you use.  Since your pile needs air to decompose, know that insects will have no problem finding your morsels.  You may be able to keep flies to a minimum by covering your pile with a screen.  But fruit flies can find their way into the smallest cracks, so plan on burying your scraps COMPLETELY, at least 6' below the soil level.  Insects are part of the team that decompose your garbage, so if possible, place your pile where you won't care if they arrive.

When your kitchen waste composting attracts larger pests like rats, dogs and raccoons, this can make your neighbors decide that your green living has got to stop.

I have blocked my piles with chicken wire and old boards to keep the dogs and raccoons out.  You could use a barrel to contain your pile.  Don't put meat in your pile, but even this will not keep all the animals away.  Burying your kitchen scraps in a huge pile of garden debris may help lessen the problem.

#4--Kitchen Waste Composting does not Follow Seasonal Cycles

You eat all year long.

Winter, summer, snow or rain, every day you produce kitchen scraps.

But while you produce kitchen scraps rain or shine, the organisms which drive decomposition take the winter off.  So all winter long, you add to the compost pile, and you have no garden debris to add carbon, and the temperatures slow decomposition to a halt.

Then in the spring, the whole thing gets overwhelmed.

Each spring, I have a mess of half frozen grapefruit rinds and avocado pits waiting for me.  It's an archaeological site of all my meals for the last 6 months.  Oh look, wasn't that kale dish delicious?

If you use compost piles, you can make a "winter food pile" so that when spring comes, you stop adding to it and let it sit while you move on to your summer pile.  This will give the Compost Team time to get decomposing.  Manage your winter pile as if all the food where added at one time--the day the pile thawed.  During the winter, your winter pile is just an outdoor freezer, storing your food scraps for the spring.  In the spring, add a huge amount of woody material to equal the food scraps, and then let it be.

On the other hand, think of your summer pile as one that develops little by little each day.  It will start small and you will add carbon to it as you add the kitchen waste.  A bucket of kitchen scraps and a bucket of woody material.

Kitchen waste composting is both one of the main reasons we should compost at home, and one of the main reasons people don't want to compost.

To keep a pile pleasant with food scraps, you must be aware that kitchen scraps represent only half the ingredients needed for a pleasant pile.  If you care what your pile looks and smells like, you won't be happy just dumping your kitchen compost scraps in a pile.  There are many tips for composting your kitchen waste.

If all this sounds too complicated, try composting in your kitchen with the Bokashi or NatureMill system.  Both of these methods address the difficulties of kitchen waste composting.

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