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Composting is a great way to help the environment, while also producing a valuable end product. Yard trimming and food waste together makes up about 27% of the US municipal solid waste stream. Starting a compost pile of your own can significantly cut down the amount of waste your family sends to the landfill. Compost is an organic material that can be used as a soil component or a medium to grow plants and is created by combining organic wastes in proper ratios into piles.

Compost Can:

  • Reduce or eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers.
  • Promote higher yields of agricultural crops.
  • Enable 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 storm water runoff.
  • Capture and destroy 99.6 percent of industrial volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) in contaminated air.

What to Compost:

  • Green (Nitrogen) CompostGreen (Nitrogenous) Materials:
        • Fruits and Vegetables
        • Grass Clippings
        • Fresh Manure (Poultry, Sheep, Horse, Cow and other herbivores)
        • Coffee Grounds
        • Seaweed
        • Plants and Plant Cuttings
  • Brown (Carbon) CompostBrown (Carbon) Materials:
        • Leaves
        • Hay
        • Straw
        • Paper and Cardboard
        • Eggshells
        • Tea Bags
        • Sawdust
        • Wood Ashes
        • Hair and Fur
        • Dryer Lint
        • Nut Shells
        • Vacuum Bag Waste

What Not to Compost and Why:

  • Acidic fruits such as lemons or limes will kill the microorganisms in the pile
  • Black walnut tree leaves or twigs may release substances harmful to plants
  • Coal or charcoal ash may contain substances harmful to plants
  • Dairy products (milk, eggs, butter, sour cream, yogurt, etc.) create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
  • Diseased or insect-ridden plants, the diseases or insects could 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, fish, and their scraps and bones create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
  • Weeds with mature seeds and plants with pernicious root systems can be a problem unless the compost pile is hot enough to kill them off
  • Pet waste (dog or cat feces, soiled cat litter, etc.) can contain parasites, bacteria, germs, pathogens, and viruses harmful to humans
  • Pressure treated wood could release arsenic into the soil
  • Yard trimming treated with chemical pesticides might kill beneficial composting organisms
  • Other inorganic materials (plastic, metal, glass, ceramics, particle board, plywood, etc.) will not break down into compost

Now that you know what should and shouldn’t go into your compost, we’ll cover tips for successful composting in Part III next week.

— Rachel Blackburn