How Does It Work? Composting

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Story Updated: Mar 8, 2012

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By Amy Levin-Epstein for Green Goes Simple

I’ve always known my plants could benefit from the fertilizing effects of my family’s cooking scraps, but for me, the idea of composting usually conjured up images of stinky containers bulging with fermenting cucumbers and rotten tomatoes. The process seemed complicated -- and intimidating! But instead of continuing to guiltily toss my carrot peels and apple cores in with the rest of the garbage, I asked Deb Martin, co-author of The Complete Compost Gardening Guide, for some tips on using waste wisely.|

How exactly does composting work?

Compost gets made by organisms -- from earthworms to bacteria -- feeding on organic material and breaking it down.

Why is composting green?
Composting takes the nutrients in parts of food we don’t use and gives them back to the soil, where they can support the growth of more food. Also, it reduces the amount of trash that will never break down in a landfill.

How do I get started?

For outdoor use, you’ll need one part wet waste (like veggie scraps) and two or three parts dry waste (like newspaper), plus air and water. In an area of your lawn or garden, combine the ingredients and dampen them until they’re about as wet as a squeezed-out sponge. Stirring or turning the ingredients circulates air and keeps the process moving, which prevents the “rotten” smell.

How can urbanites compost if they don’t have room for a garden?
For apartment dwellers, there are several options: worm composting bins; under-the-sink units that grind, turn and aerate the materials; and even composting cooperatives.

For more on composting, visit CompostGardening.com.

Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who’s been published in magazines like Glamour, Self and Prevention, on websites like AOL, Babble and Details.com and in newspapers like the New York Post and the Boston Globe. You can read more of her writing at AmyLevinEpstein.com. Her articles have previously appeared on Green Goes Simple.

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