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Green 101: Composting

By Marissa Higgins

In our Green 101 guides, we explore familiar terms and buzzwords related to sustainability, eco-friendly living, and environmental issues.

When it comes to living green, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. But eco-friendly living can actually be really simple once you get the hang of it. And one of the easiest ways to start living green is to compost. 

Composting is nature's way of recycling organic matter and breaking it down into a nutrient rich soil, or "compost." It's a natural process that happens on its own in nature all the time, and may already be familiar to you if you manage your own farm or garden. But thankfully for those of us who are totally new to having a green thumb, composting is simple to do and inexpensive to start. Composting is accessible to every lifestyle, and—even better—it's fantastic for the planet.

What goes into my compost?

Unfortunately, we can't add the scraps of everything we eat or use to our compost bins. Why not? While everything organic does eventually decompose, not everything interacts well with other matter. For example, you'll want to avoid putting meats into your compost, as it can attract animals and give off an unpleasant odor. On a similar note, you'll want to avoid adding matter that is particularly high in fat, such as cheese, milk, yogurt, or cooking oil, as they can also attract pests to your pile. Of course, if you have a covered bin or live in a rural area with a compost pit far from your home, you have more freedom to add any food scraps you'd like.

In terms of non-food items, sadly, we can never compost plastic. And while glass and metal do decompose, they take a long, long time.

Still, there's plenty you can put into your compost. Some of the most common items include coffee grounds and filters, egg shells, stale bread, tea bags, and fruit and vegetable scraps. You can even put plant trimmings and dead flowers in your compost, as long as they aren't diseased. Strips of newspaper, shredded junk mail, and other paper items are also fair game.