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Composting basics: The dos and the don'ts

Maria Mora is a freelance writer and single mom fueled by coffee, questionable time management skills, toaster oven waffles and the color orange. She lives in Florida with her two young sons. If you see her on Twitter, tell her to stop p...

Learn how to compost at home

Wondering how to get started composting? We talked to a pro to get the basics and learned that composting is a lot easier than it sounds. Get the scoop on everything from the gear you need to how bad it smells. (Hint: It doesn’t!)

Compost jar for kitchen

Composting is a unique way to recycle some of your household waste into a valuable soil additive. Whether you’re an expert gardener or an amateur, compost can enhance whatever you grow. It also reduces the waste you send to landfills. Find out how to start composting with tips from Andi Graham, blogger and web designer.

composting tumblerDo: Begin with a bin

Unless you have a relatively large property and a love for pitchforking, the easiest way to get started is to use a bin. “We bought a $13 Rubbermaid outdoor trash can with a lid,” says Andi. “That's it. We drilled holes in it to make sure it got enough oxygen and kept it in the back corner of our yard.” Get tips on how to make your own compost bin. A year later, Andi and her family received a composting tumbler from a friend. Tumblers make it simple to compost and they keep vermin out. Because they’re enclosed and can be rotated easily, they’ll generally convert your waste into compost even faster than a pile in the yard (The Home Depot, $99).

Don’t: Compost the wrong materials

The most difficult part of composting is reminding yourself what can and cannot go in the compost bin or pile. Once you have that down, it’s an easy routine. Organic materials like plant waste from the yard, veggie scraps from the kitchen, coffee grounds, paper and fireplace ashes are good. Dairy products, meat and meat by-products like fat and bone are a no-no. These will cause major odor issues and won’t break down to compost. Eggshells are okay if you rinse them and don’t include the egg material. Get a full list of what you can compost from the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Do: Keep a smaller compost container in the kitchen

“We use an old protein powder container at home for our kitchen and table scraps, and take it out to the bin a couple times a week,” Andi says. “My husband bought me an adorable counter-top bin that I keep at the office. We drink a lot of coffee, and coffee grounds (and the filters) are all compostable, so I bring it home from work weekly too now.” Anything with a sealed top should keep smells out of your kitchen. If you’re really worried about odors, you can try using a bin or large jar in the fridge for your food scraps until you’re ready to take them outside.

Don’t: Overthink it

Andi has advice for would-be composters: “Don't make it harder than it has to be! Composting for us has been an even lazier way to live as we have to take far less trash out to the dumpster in our alley — plus we know we're not contributing to the heinous heap that is the city dump — where nothing breaks down.” Stick to the easiest method that’s right for your household, and start simple until you have a handle on the routine. Once you have a rhythm down, composting will become as easy as doing the laundry. Unless you hate doing laundry. In that case, composting is probably easier.

More going green

Take the paper-towel free challenge
5 Benefits of composting
Easy ways to go green in the kitchen

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