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How much kitchen waste a year?

What makes composting such a powerful waste reduction technique? For starters, the average household produces more than 200 pounds of just kitchen waste a year. That’s a LOT of "waste" going to a landfill that can be easily diverted and turned into something that benefits the environment. Besides food scraps, paper and cardboard-related materials can also be composted instead of sending them off (sometimes very far away) to be recycled. Finally, most yard waste is left curbside for trash pickup, but this also can be composted. All told, composting can easily divert 30% of household “trash” that normally is destined for landfills. It also can limit the emission of methane, a greenhouse gas linked to climate change.

Composting really is not as hard to do (or as smelly) as you may have heard. You don’t have to have a huge yard or vegetable garden in order to start composting--anyone can compost in almost any type of location. In fact, when I first started composting, I gave it all to a grateful neighbor for her garden because my goal at the time was solely to reduce waste. Once we started a vegetable garden of our own, I started keeping and using the compost we produce.

When considering what to compost, I usually start with food. Here is a short list of some of the most common foods that can be composted:

  • Vegetable and fruit scraps

  • Coffee grounds

  • Tea bags

  • Egg shells

  • Bread/grains/pasta

For a more exhaustive list, check out these sites:

One important item to note is that for home composting, you really can’t compost meat, fish, or dairy products. The temperature of home composts doesn’t get high enough to properly break down these foods.

You will often see “greens” and “browns” mentioned and the right mix of both in just about all articles related to composting. We will cover this topic a bit more in depth in a future post.

Once you have determined you are going to collect items from your kitchen to compost, an equally important decision is where to temporarily store them. In our house, we have a large, pull-out drawer with two bins that were probably originally intended for trash and recycling. But instead of recycling, we use one bin for compost. Here is what it looks like:

The bottom of the container is lined with shredded paper, primarily to keep the foods from soiling the container. I probably empty the bin a couple of times a week and it does not smell, certainly not any differently than the contents of a typical trash can.

Some people use a small ceramic container that sits on the kitchen counter to store their scraps. The most important thing is to use what works for you in your space. There is no “one” right answer. Here are a few sites that show samples of some kitchen compost containers:

The final steps are where to put the compost outside and how to tend to the compost pile, both of which will be covered in the next post. For now, start thinking about all of food waste and related items that no longer have to put in the trash and how cool it will be turn hundreds of pounds of annual waste into a very useful product for your home.

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