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Food waste is a huge topic in the global food industry, as about one-third of all food produced is wasted and little being done at the industrial scale. So when it comes to the home, many cooks are taking the matter into their own hands and doing what they can to help prevent food waste in their own kitchens. There are lots of ways this can be done—for instance fermenting, pickling, or preserving ingredients; better meal prepping, planning, and shopping; and, last but not least, composting food scraps.
Throughout the country, there are now various programs to help citizens compost more easily. From the drop-off sites scattered around New York City to encourage urban, countertop composting to Seattle’s food scrap composting mandate, it’s a good idea to do some research into how your city and state are thinking about composting before you choose the best way to get started. Once you know your options, you’ll be ready to start your own countertop or backyard compost—here’s how, and why.
The big question when it comes to starting a compost, which will definitely take some time and investment on your part, is why? The answers (yes, there are many) to this question are relatively straightforward: Composting keeps food scraps and other biodegradable waste out of our landfills and incinerators, helping us reduce waste, air, and water pollution.
The compost you create also offers soil enrichment that helps your plants and can even keep pests and certain plant diseases away, reducing the need to use any chemical fertilizers.
How to Set Up a Countertop Compost
There are a few ways to think about composting at home when you don’t have a big backyard to take advantage of. The first is creating a little “countertop” compost for yourself, the second is simply collecting your food scraps and transferring them to a larger compost collected by your city or started within your community—that’s where the research I mentioned above will help you.
If you have access to a compost managed by someone else and simply want to hand over your food waste to them, I would suggest getting a small bin that can be stored in your fridge. This way you can gather the scraps (keeping them cool in the fridge so they don’t stink up your kitchen) and offer them up as needed to the community or city compost.
For more information on starting up a compost pile in your backyard, check your state and city regulations, then jump into this helpful and detailed guide.
Tools and Step-by-Step Instructions for Countertop Composting
If you want to create a countertop compost for your own use and management, here’s what you need you’ll need, and how to do it.
- 1 plastic container with a lid
- 1 nail
- 1 plastic tray that fits under the container
- 1 bag of soil
- 1 newspaper, shredded
- Use the nail to make small holes in both the bottom and lid of your compost container. Place the bin on the plastic tray to catch any leaks from your compost.
- Create an even layer of shredded newspaper over the bottom of the container, then create a thick layer of dirt over top. Repeat once more.
- Now you’ll be able to add your food scraps—see our list of what’s allowed, and what’s not, below.
- Each time you add food waste, add equal parts shredded newspaper and dirt over the top.
- Stir the compost well at least once a week to keep the compost aerated properly and encourage the foods to break down more quickly. As more and more food waste is added, your compost should be taking on a soil-like consistency and smell fresh and earthy.
- In 5 to 6 weeks you should be able to use your compost as you would soil to plant or fertilize plants. If you have too much on your hands, offer it up to neighbors!
What Can and Can’t Be Composted
Food scraps that are good for composting include vegetable or fruit peels, coffee grounds, lettuces, eggshells, etc.
When it comes to what can’t be composted, the list is a bit longer: meat, bones, dairy, oils and other fats (so this takes most leftover foods off the list!), bread, pasta, etc.