Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Share Your Compost Bin!

It all started with the question “What is that?” from my next-door neighbor more than five years ago. She was pointing to my new 65-gallon compost bin. I excitedly stated “it’s my new compost bin!” I then went on to explain what compost is, why I do it, and how I will use it. She asked about rodents getting into it (as expected by a next door neighbor), to which I explained that I did my research and, based on the reviews, even bears have trouble getting into it (thanks Amazon reviews!). 

Then I asked the magical question to my neighbor “would you like to use my bin?” I surprised myself by asking this question, but I thought: if I am reducing my environmental impact by keeping food waste from going into the landfill from my home, then why not share my bin with her to reduce her impact, too?

This led me to begin sharing my compost bin with three more neighbors over the past year, and I’m now at three 65-gallon bins! Every time I open up my bin and see new food scraps added , it makes me so excited! I am so happy to help other families reduce their environmental impact. Here are the things I’ve learned and done to ensure that sharing my bins with neighbors has been successful:

·        Create a simple graphic to explain what to ADD and NOT ADD to your bin. This can be based on known compost rules and also your personal preference. This is your bin and you want to make sure that it isn’t mistakenly contaminated. For example, pizza crust can be composted along with bread as long as there’s no butter and cheese, etc. on it. So you may choose to say no pizza crust at all. Below is my graphic I give to my neighbors (download here!). Lastly, make yourself available by whatever means works for you and your neighbor because they’ll have lots of questions the first few weeks. Throughout this year I have not had any contamination issues.

·        Make sure to add much more  “browns” (yard waste, newspaper, etc.) into your bin since you are getting so many “greens” (food scraps) from your neighbors. I check my bin once a week to add browns and turn it.

·        It takes about 3 months to fill up a bin with a total of 4 families filling it. Here is how I use my 3 bins: one bin is the one that gets fresh new scraps, another one is actively working and breaking down food scraps, and the third has completed or almost completed compost. I put a brick on the top of the bins that should not be added to, so neighbors don’t mistakenly add to the wrong bin.

·        Offer the finished compost to your neighbors. My neighbors do not garden so they are not interested in having compost. Interestingly enough, my neighbors use my bins mainly to act as role models of sustainable behavior for their kids, or to help me make compost for my garden. If you find yourself having too much finished compost, you can store it to add to your garden later, or you can share it with your local community garden-- just make sure to ask the gardeners first!

I challenge you to share your compost bin. It is very rewarding to enable someone else to be environmentally friendly and creates community around composting. It grows people’s knowledge about food waste and the environment. And it allows you and your neighbor to connect in a new way.
 If you are interested to talk more about this, please reach out to me at livingearthfriendlyco@gmail.com or on Instagram @livingearthfriendly. 

Can’t wait to hear from you!

A Composting Friend and Veteran Composter

Quick social distancing safety tip: when sharing your compost bin with neighbors remember to stay 6 feet apart and always wash hands after handling the compost bin. 

Monday, June 22, 2020

Paper: Better to Recycle or Compost?

After doing a number of  composting seminars this spring, I was asked this question a few times: is it better to recycle paper or compost paper? Well, the way I always respond is "it depends on what type of paper!" So here are my thoughts on a few paper products and if they should be composted or recycled.

Office Paper - RECYCLE. Office paper tends to have high quality fibers that can be used multiple times through the recycling process. Plus, when office paper gets damp during the composting process it tends to clump.

Newspaper - COMPOST. Newspaper is made mostly of recycled content already and the fibers of the paper are poor quality, which is not great when trying to process during recycling.

Cardboard - RECYCLE. Cardboard is a very valuable recyclable in the economy and would be best suited to turn into something new rather than into a soil amendment.

Magazine - RECYCLE. To achieve the shiny gloss of your magazines, companies coat the paper with synthetic materials. Thus, they are better for your recycling cart rather than the compost bin.

Paper Cartons - RECYCLE. The paper cartons we can recycle in Hamilton County tend to be made of virgin paper, which can be recycled multiple times and is valuable to the paper industry. Some paper cartons are also lined with foil and plastic, which are removed when recycled but won't break down in your compost bin.

Paper Egg Carton - COMPOST. When you look at the paper egg carton you can see all the fibers and it has that grainy look to it. This indicates to us that it is a lower quality paper and would be better suited for composting. 

So, when making the decision to recycle or compost, keep these tips in mind. Also, remember that other non-recyclable paper types can be composted when they are free of cleaners and grease, such as paper towel, tissues, and paper plates.

Guest Blogger, Angela Rivera

Monday, June 1, 2020

Are Two Bins Really Better Than One?

Once they get the hang of composting, many composters run into the issue of having nowhere to store new material while an old pile is breaking down into compost, causing delays between finishing an old pile and starting a new one. An easy solution is to use a two-bin system. With two bins, you’re able to increase your composting capacity and store unfinished compost in one bin and mature compost in the other, allowing for a continuous cycle of composting and easy access to ready-to-use compost. What’s more -- two-bin systems are relatively simple and inexpensive to construct using wooden palettes or spare lumber and chicken wire. 

If you’re ready to take your at-home composting to the next level, a two-bin system may be just what you’ve been looking for. Check out this video to build your own two-bin unit! 

For building blueprints, click here

Guest Blogger and UW-Madison Graduate Student Liaison, Kristi O'Conner