We invited Brent Crampton from Hillside Solutions to give us the scoop on composting during our Morning Blend segment. Read the full inteview below on how you can start composting at home.
What is composting?
Composting is basically nature’s version of recycling. But where humans work with paper, plastic, and aluminum to create new products, nature takes food scraps, soiled paper, and yard waste to produce a nutrient dense, living soil that’s ideal for growing delicious organic food or sweet looking flowers.
Sounds amazing! Why don’t people compost more?
Part of the reason is that it’s not as simple and clean as conventional recycling. There’s a bit of mystery around how “garbage” can be turned into a nutrient dense soil that some folks are currently spending $35 a bag for at a store.
But the biggest deterrent is a lack of understanding on what happens to food, paper, and yard waste when it goes to the landfill.
Most folks assume, “Well, if my food waste, paper products, and yard waste go into the landfill, it just pleasantly breaks down into dirt and has no environmental harm, right?”
The reality is that they’re wrong, because it turns to methane.
How does our landfill waste put off methane?
Because landfill’s are compacted with a layer of dirt each day, oxygen can’t get to our trash, so it takes an absurd amount of time to break down. I’m talking like: it takes 10-25 years for a head of cabbage to break down.
In the meantime, it puts off methane, which is a greenhouse gas that a recent study said was 80 times worse than CO2. The good news is that composting solves this problem, and there’s more people realizing this everyday.
What kind of things are compostable?
There’s 2 categories: Things that can be composted in your backyard, and things that can be composted at a commercial composting farm. The folks I work for, Hillside Solutions, are crazy enough to have opened the area’s first commercial composting farm back in 2015. More on that later.
But first, for home composting: most recommend anything food related that’s not meat, which include things like fruit/vegetable scraps, egg shells, and coffee grounds. You can also compost your yard waste, and you’ll definitely need to plan on having an ample amount of leaves or wood shavings to put into your mix.
At commercial sites like ours, we get everything from yard waste from Bellevue residents, manure from the Henry Doorly Zoo, and salmon skins from Blue Sushi. There’s a ton of stuff that our farm can break down that home composters can’t.
Give me an example of something that home composters can’t break down that your commercial site can.
One example is all of the compostable service ware that is currently flooding the Omaha market. If you notice, more and more food vendors are switching away from nasty non-recyclable plastics to get utensils, cups, and bowls made from natural fibers that break down into soil.
Here’s the problem: if these compostable materials aren’t being composted, then they are doing more harm than good. Most restaurants don’t know this.
What harm does it pose if it’s not being composted?
If it winds up with recycling, it contaminates the recycling stream. Little known fact: if the recycling stream gets too many of the wrong things, our recycling centers have a hard time sorting through it, so it all ends up in the landfill.
If compostable serviceware ends up in the landfill, it puts off methane.
The good news is that our compost site can break these items back into their intended state—which is soil.
Got it! So with a home application, what do you do with the compost?
Once you have the soil, it’s all about growing things in it. Use it in a garden, replace your top soil, or give it away to a school or community garden for their use.
How can people start composting at home?
There’s a number of ways to go about this. If you’re willing to put some daily effort into it, or if you add worms to your pile, it can take about a month. But a low maintenance option may take 3 to 12 months.
Without having to spend any money and to start composting today, all you need is … 1) A bin or bucket to put your food scraps into that you will empty once a week, 2) A space in your yard to create a compost pile. Don’t worry about smells. If you do it right, the good bacteria in your pile will take care of that. Get the right mix: For every 1 part of food scraps you have, you’ll want 3 parts of browns, like leaves or saw dust. This helps the mixture get what it needs to break everything down and produce healthy living soil. When it’s done, it’ll look and smell like dark soil, but if you’re unsure, here’s a test: Put some in a plastic bag and smell it. Then put that bag in a drawer for a day or two. Then take it out and smell it again. If it smells worse than before, your soil needs more time.
Great! If someone doesn’t want to start a compost pile at home, but they don’t want their compostables to go to the landfill, is there somewhere where they can drop it off to get composted?
Yes! Big Muddy Farm and Gifford Park are accepting compostable material on Friday evenings during the Gifford Park Neighborhood Market. Check out the Facebook event for more info, or Big Muddy’s website.
Hillside also just started a new program offering single-family housing communities with a community compost drop-off site. And for multi-family housing, we have a door-to-door pickup program. Folks can just hit us up on our website for more info.