Best practices for composting with The Compost Crew
When we separate our food scraps and other natural products for composting we may encounter drawbacks that make the process less appealing. Since people’s food, eating habits, kitchen’s, and home’s vary, there is not a single solution that fits all. This article will aid you and your household to improve your practices for source separating food scraps and other compostable items. We hope to improve the experience of composting at home for you and your family.
Using a two bin system.
A two bin system is nothing new to your household. Infact you most likely use this system for your trash and recycling. In a two bin system you have a bin inside to collect compostables as they are produced within the household. Once that bin is full it is transferred to your curbside collection bin which is generally kept outdoors or in a garage.
For compostables this bin can vary in size and form. Some households simply use a large bowl on the counter, others may use a large tupperware container or up-cycle various containers. In stores and online there are a wide variety of bins made specifically for collecting compostables in home. Some use filters, while others do not. Some are best used with compostable liners, whereas others are made easy to rinse off like a dirty dish. Some are even dishwasher safe! We offer recommended options at our store compostcrew.com/shop. *Note: compostable liners are not necessary for the inside bin, but do make the process cleaner. However, it is highly recommended that liners be used when adding/transfering to your curbside collection bin. This will keep your curbside bin cleaner for longer.
Choosing your inside bin.
As stated above there is a wide variety of inside bins/containers you can use in your two bin system. You can be creative and make one yourself or purchase a state of the art bin for your state of the art kitchen. This really depends on you, your household and how composting will be integrated into your lives. However, there are some basic concepts to keep in mind with selecting your bin.
- The bin should NOT be airtight. This will lead to bad odors and possible pests.
- Airflow or “breathability” is important so that excess moisture has a place to escape and the compostables can dry out, slowing the decomposition process.
- Size will depend on household habits. If your household cooks a lot, you may want to have a larger bin. *Note: Heavy producers may want to have an intermediate bin/container to allow scraps to air out before adding to the inside collection. More on this later.
- You can find several options for your inside bin at compostcrew.com/shop
To use liners or not to use liners? That is the question.
Choose what works best for you and your household. While liners keep things clean and easy, they are an added cost. If you do not mind rinsing your bin after you empty it, then no inside liners are needed. When using liners in your bin, a quick rinse with soapy water will do. If you opt to against using liners, you may need to scrub just a little bit more, but it doesn’t have to be perfect for collecting more scraps.
This decision usually comes down to cost, what level of ick factor tolerance you have, and/or enjoyability. You can be a little creative with ways to minimize the clean up of your inside bin.
- Place paper towels or some other absorbent item on the bottom of the bin. These help to absorb moisture and odors, and also prevents scraps getting stuck to the bottom of the bin.
- Use a paper bag as a liner. It has similar effects to using paper towels. One important note is that you should monitor moisture of the bottom of the bag and when it becomes too moist, you should take the whole bag to the curbside bin. The last thing you want is for the paper bag to break as you take it to your curbside bin.
Coffee grinds and tea bag/leaves
We may not realize it but coffee grinds and tea bags/leaves are food scraps that we deal with almost daily. Many of us start our day with a fresh pot of coffee or cup of tea and continue drinking these products throughout the day. This mean that we are throwing away old spent coffee grinds and tea bags/leaves fairly often. Tea bags/leaves and coffee grinds hold a surprising amount of moisture in them. When they are added directly to your inside bin or your curbside bin, potentially still warm, that warm moisture releases and can’t escape the bin. What does not escape, causes the contents of the bin to release their excess water and can cause odorous condition as well as a messier bin. To avoid this situation:
- Empty wet coffee grinds and tea bags onto a dish or bowl to allow them to dry out while you are away for the day.
- Avoid adding hot/warm tea bags/leaves and coffee grinds directly to any bin.
Meat, seafood, and Dairy
Although we generally consume most of our meats and seafood there are times where waste is unavoidable. Most of the time the waste we produce when dealing with these products are bones, shells, trimmings (both cooked and raw), and what goes uneaten. These include both the raw and cooked meats and seafood. All meat and seafood related scraps can be composted in the proper environment with no health or sanitation concerns. However, these discarded scraps are most appealing to any pest or vermin in your area so taking extra precaution to avoid any major issues is key.
- When possible wrap scraps in a napkin, paper towel, or piece of paper. This will help contain the odors that attract pests. The point here is for the dry napkin to absorb fluid and odors, drying out the food scraps to slow down the breakdown process.
- Place scraps in a small liner and tie it off tightly. Best results when also wrapping scraps in something as noted above.
- Add the discarded scraps to your collection bin as close to your collection day as possible. Doing this gives less time for pest and vermin to stumble upon it and wreak havoc on your collection bin.
- Consider freezing scraps until closer to your collection day. This will help avoid major odors by stopping the breakdown process. Just place in a ziplock bag in the freezer and empty the night before collection day.
- Take precautions with you pets!! Dogs and cats also like the smell of these waste products and could try and get in your bins, which could potentially be dangerous to their health. Bins kept on the floor or on counters/shelves that your animals can access should have a securing mechanism of some sort.
Spoiled, rotten foods
Food that has gone bad and is no longer edible it is ready to be composted. Moldy, fuzzy, stinky, mushy, dark spots, and more are signs of spoiled or rotten food or food scraps. Often it is left overs that were forgotten or things going bad while you were away for an extended amount of time. These foods and scraps are great for composting, but can cause odor issues for your home as well as your compost bin. Please remove any spoiled food waste from its packaging before adding to your composting bin. You may consider treating these scraps as you would meat or dairy scraps.
Eggs and eggshells
Sometimes we get a bad egg or two and instead of tossing them in the trash we should compost them. First step is to not break the eggs if you know they have gone bad. If the carton is made from paper material you can place the entire carton with the rotten eggs inside your compost bin. If not, you can place the eggs gently in your bin trying to keep them intact. Eggshells can be treated similarly, but can also be added to your kitchen bin directly. You may consider drying the shells out before adding to your bins to help with the odors.
Oil, grease and fat by themselves
Bacon fat, cooking oil, and other greasy products are often difficult to handle as a waste product. They are all compostable, although they may cause issues if not composted in the proper setting. We do not recommend trying to compost these items in a backyard system. There are a few suggestions we have to dealing with these items.
- Once the grease, fat, oil, or lard has cooled to a safe temperature, collect it in a disposable cup. Cover the cup with foil and freeze contents. Add frozen oil, fat, grease or lard the day before or on your collection day. *If not using a compostable cup, remove contents before adding to bin.
- Once the grease, fat, oil, or lard has cooled to a safe temperature, collect it separately in a small compostable liner to contain the liquid as best as possible and tie it off. Adding some papery material at the bottom could help with leakage.
Non-food compostable items and products
There are many products that are associated with food and food products that can be collected for composting. Food and food scraps are not the only materials we are able to compost. Napkins/paper towels, coffee filters, soiled paper, natural fabrics, compostable products/packaging (plastic and/or paper based), and more can be composted because they are made from natural materials. There are precautions to take when thinking about adding these items to your curbside collection bin.
Checking for contamination is key! Contamination can be non-compostable materials (plastic, metal, glass, etc), chemicals (household cleaning supplies, herbicides/pesticides, etc), or potentially hazardous material (bodily fluids, feces, etc). We want to leave these contaminants out of our bins even if the amount is minimal. While some can be filtered out, others are undetectable and may not cause issue until the final compost has been made.
- Products (such as disposable plates, utensils, and cups) marketed as compostable need to be “certified compostable” – biodegradable is not acceptable. These products should be clearly labeled as “compostable” and be marked with #7 plastic symbol. They may also have the letters “PLA”
- When tossing used tissue paper, napkins, paper towels, or rags think about whether or not it was used to clean any chemicals or hazardous material – including germs – and if so DO NOT compost. Cleaning up spilled beverages/foods is fine, just no harmful substances.
If you are not sure whether something should be added to your compost bin, remember…
when in doubt, leave it out! Then call/email us to ask for next time 🙂
Overflowing your bin
There will be moments when you have have too much compostable waste for your curbside collection bin. Not to worry! There are a few options for having it all picked up and whisked away for composting without worrying about having to hold on to scraps for an extra week.
- Use a temporary bin to hold extra compostables until your next pickup day. If you do not have a bin available, use a bag. We recommend using compostable or paper bags. Set the bin(or bag) out, labeled “compost” next to your curbside collection bin on your pickup day. Note, that if you do not have a bin with a lid, we do not recommend leaving your overflow out the night before your pickup day, as this is a strong pest risk.
- The type of bin you use will vary, but most anything with a lid should be a fine temporary storage place. A large coffee tin or tupperware, an indoor waste bin, an outdoor waste bin, or storage container will all work well. We will always leave the bin or container behind and only take the contents, bagged or not.
- If you have the space you may consider freezing your overflow until you have room in your bin.
Placing your bin out for collection
We ask that your please place your bin in an accessible location, by the curb, that is visible from the road. That being said there are a couple of things to keep in mind when placing your bin to make sure it all goes well.
- Avoid placing your bin next to your other waste bins if your collection days fall on the same day. The reason being is that your bin may get accidentally thrown out or recycled. It is best to leave your bin separate from the other waste bins, far enough away that a worker would not be tempted to toss it out.
- Make your bin as visible as possible to avoid misses!