“Hey, don’t throw that away!” This a phrase I heard quite often when I visited my parents over the holidays. What were they referring to? All the banana and carrot peelings I would discard, nonchalantly into the garbage bin. My father, an avid gardener for as long as I can remember, has taken-up composting again, this time with renewed fervor and an ever watchful eye.
The aforementioned compost pile, started in March 2011 — a mixture of manure from a local farmer, kitchen scraps, grass clippings, and leaves.
In addition to the usual suspects of compost (coffee grinds, apple cores, etc.) both parents insisted things as specific as the papery outer skins of onions, discarded bags of chai tea, and rinsed-out eggshells all go into the makeshift “compost bin” on the far side of the kitchen counter (to later be added to an outdoor pile).
The result of my compost-conscious parent’s hard work? A humungous nutrient-rich compost pile, perfect for all their summer outdoor gardening projects.
If you’re thinking, as I did, that composting is mainly for gardeners, think again. There are a multitude of reasons to give it a try, as evident in this 2010 Energy Savers post on composting from John Lippert:
“We've been doing this not so much to obtain good compost for the garden, but to avoid sending the food through the garbage disposer and then via the wastewater pipe to the water treatment plant.
It may not be obvious, but communities use a lot of energy pumping and treating water and wastewater. We may not see the results show up on our bills directly, but the more water that is used and treated, the higher our water bills (which include treating wastewater) are going to go.”
So there you have it. In addition to a plethora of environmental benefits, composting is an energy-saving action as well.
Interested in getting started? EPA has a very thorough primer on how to begin, as well as a list of regional composting programs to help you along the way. If you intend to use the soil for your outdoor gardening needs, keep in mind it will take about a year for your compost pile to break down—all the while, it should be turned and watered periodically to help with the decomposing process.
And, while I’ve no outdoor garden to tend to, I’m definitely inspired by my family’s efforts, as well as the idea of reducing waste. As a result, I’ll be looking into what local options I have to start a compost pile of my own.
All you compost-experts out there please chime in with your tips, suggestions, and experiences in the comments section below.
Erin Pierce is a New Media Specialist for the Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.