When you think minimizing animal consumption is all a vegan can do, you soon realize there’s much more to it.
As vegans, we’re empathetic. Our ability to sacrifice convenience for a bigger cause is accentuated, and thus we often adopt ideologies that go beyond dieting.
Certainly, you’ve heard of the zero-waste lifestyle.
Although it isn’t a byproduct of veganism, there’s something that ties them together.
The zero-waste lifestyle minimizes waste by reducing consumption and increasing the life cycle of goods. It also touches on different methods like recycling, upcycling and composting.
Today we’re covering composting.
We’re going to understand why it’s such an effective approach to better the environment, and we’ll also learn how to implement it in our homes in a purely organic and vegan fashion.
What Is Compost?
Compost is decayed organic matter.
When you mix organic matter in a compost pile, it breaks down naturally into a nutrient-rich fertilizer that can be used to help plants and flowers grow. Almost anything that comes from the ground can be composted.
Yet to compost, organic matter is either carbon or nitrogen-based, and the key to creating a successful compost pile is having a healthy balance between the two.
Carbon vs Nitrogen
Carbon is typically materials like dried leaves, branches, bits of wood, corn stalks, sawdust, coffee grounds, and stems. These are usually what give the compost its light and fluffy composition.
On the other hand, nitrogen (or protein-rich matter) is food waste. This includes fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, everything that can decay naturally, and thus provide nutrients to the soil.
Generally, a good compost pile has more carbon than nitrogen.
A simple rule to follow is having one-third green (nitrogen) and two-thirds brown (carbon). If you have too much nitrogen, you’re just creating a slow and smelly decomposing pile of garbage.
However, if you have slightly more carbon than nitrogen, you can secure a balance that allows the organic matter to rot and turn into compost that can later be used to fertilize the land. In case of doubt, add more carbon-rich material to the compost pile.
What To Add To Your Compost Pile
|Fruit and vegetable scraps||Nitrogen|
|Seaweed & Kelp||Nitrogen|
|Straw or Hay||Carbon|
|Garden Plants||Use disease-free plants|
|Lawn and Garden weeds||Nitrogen|
What You Shouldn’t Add To A Compost Pile
– Don’t compost meat, bones, fish, and other animal-based products since they usually attract pests. The only exception is if you use a composter specifically designed for that purpose.
– Avoid diseased plants if you’re planning to use the compost.
– Avoid using pet manure for food crops.
– Thick fruit peels may contain pesticides so they should be kept out of the compost.
– Don’t use black walnut leaves.
– If you add sawdust to the compost, be sure to scatter it thinly to avoid clumping. Lastly, make sure the sawdust does not contain machine or chain oil residues.
Easy Way To Start Collecting Compost
To start composting, you need to collect both carbon and nitrogen. And in the kitchen, you can collect nitrogen in the form of food scraps and coffee grounds.
People are very mindful of the smell, but that is easily solved with any of the bins above.
Different Materials Decompose At Different Speeds
Different compost materials decompose at different rates.
Yard and garden waste is a good example to look at because if you want to speed up decomposition, you have to chop the larger materials into smaller pieces. In fact, you should to the same with the food scraps you’re collecting.
The goal is to accelerate the composting process, and ensuring that every single material disintegrates at a similar pace.
Materials like leaves and grass clippings are to be sprinkled into the compost, or mixed with other materials. You can’t add them in thick layers, otherwise, you’re reducing aeration, which slows down the decomposing process.
Decomposition by itself is already a slow process, so you don’t want to make it even slower.
How Does It Impact The Environment?
When the food scraps in your trash reach the landfill, they emit methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Through composting, you can minimize methane emissions and prevent the use of chemicals, which erode the soil.
According to the EPA, compost can help aid reforestation, wetlands restoration, and habitat revitalization efforts by improving the quality of the soil. Plus, it also captures and eliminates 99.6 percent of volatile organic compounds from the air, which are harmful to your health.
But the benefits don’t end there.
Further studies show that composting traps and contains carbon within the soil, keeping it from spreading throughout the atmosphere. In other words, composting can protect us against climate change.
Beyond that, composting can also promote higher yields in crops. As such, if you wish to donate your compost pile to farmers or gardeners, they would put it to good use.
How To Start Composting
1. Typically you can start your compost pile by assembling some dirt. Worms and other living organisms are needed to aerate the compost.
2. Placing twigs and straw a few inches deep helps you aerate the pile of compost more effectively, improving the decomposition rate. (Optional)
3. Add compost materials in layers. Start by alternating between moist and dry materials. Moist materials are food scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags and things like seaweed. Dry materials are straw (not plastic straws), leaves, wood ashes, and sawdust. If you’re using wood ashes, sprinkle them in thinly to avoid clumping.
4. Add green manure to activate the decomposition process. This includes wheatgrass, grass clippings, buckwheat, etc. They’re sources of nitrogen.
5. Keep the compost pile moist. You can either water the pile, or you can just leave it to the rain. It will probably come down to the climate in your area.
6. Cover the pile with anything you might have. You can use plastic, cardboard, wood, literally anything you can find to retain the moisture and heat. Covering the compost will also prevent it from getting over-watered by the rain. The goal is to keep it moist… but not soaked.
7. Mix the pile from time to time. Every few weeks make sure you turn the compost pile around with a pitchfork or anything else you can use. This allows every particle within the compost to receive oxygen and decompose adequately. Each time you add more materials to the compost pile, mix up the materials to “add” in the oxygen. Don’t forget that you need more carbon than nitrogen, so keep that in mind each time you add more materials to the pile.
Note: If you have a homemade composter, you will have to do this manually. But if you don’t like the hassle, you can always get a tumbling composter that rotates and makes it easy to mix the compost regularly.
Difference Between Vegan & Regular Compost
There’s no difference between both as long as you just gather materials that are NOT animal-based. As you might know, things like eggshells can be used to create compost.
Even meat and bones can be used if you have the right type of composter to make it work. So it depends on the materials you’re using for the compost.
Some vegans are against people using worms to aerate and increase decomposition speed.
Frankly, I truly believe that worms are not harmed in the process since they naturally thrive in similar environments. Besides, the kitchen scraps you add to the compost pile acts like food for worms, so it’s not like you’re endangering them through the process.
If you’re against people using worms, you don’t have to use worms.
How To Choose A Composter
There are different types of composters. And three things will influence the type of composter you get:
- The place you live in;
- What you’ll be composting;
- Whether or not you prefer ‘some’ manual labor.
If you live in an apartment, and don’t have a yard or garden, and are planning to compost mostly kitchen scraps, you should consider a worm bin. This is an optimal solution for someone without an outdoor space.
I understand that using worms may seem unethical for a vegan, but they’re not being killed or tortured in this environment. Worms thrive within the compost.
If you have an outdoor space, you can still use a worm bin, but at this point, you can also get an enclosed bin or use a slightly more advanced alternative like a compost tumbler.
But that also depends on the amount of work you’re willing to do.
If you’re willing to turn your compost every one or two weeks and you live in an area where you can easily access carbon-rich materials, enclosed bins or an open compost pile can work quite well for you. Living in a rural area with a large backyard allows you to build a composting system without spending a single dime.
However, that is not recommended if you share your outdoor space with a neighbor since you might hear complaints due to the smell. Personally, I would only build a homemade composter if I lived in a suburban or rural area with enough outdoor space.
Easy Composting Methods
If you have an enclosed bin or an open compost pile, you have to turn the pile from time to time to allow the oxygen to spread.
But there’s also a way to aerate compost without turning it every one or two weeks.
In order to properly create compost without turning, you have to keep it aerated. When you mix in enough coarse material like straw, you can achieve the same result as you would if you turned the compost pile regularly.
With this composting method, you can add new materials on top of the pile, and harvest the fresh compost from the bottom of the bin without turning.
Enclosed Compost Bins
Enclosed bins are optimal for small-scale composting.
There are four types of enclosed bins:
- DIY compost bins
- Standard compost bins
- Food waste digester.
Tumblers are built for efficiency. With a tumbler, you can maintain the compost at a relatively warm temperature since the tumbler acts as an insulator, and the turning keeps the compost aerated and activated.
This being said, the tumbler is not TOTALLY insulated, since it has airways that allow oxygen to seep in which prevents the compost from clumping.
A tumbler is one of the best small-scale composters since it takes away the need to regularly turn the compost to keep it activated. Plus, rodents, raccoons and other critters can’t really access the compost since it’s neatly protected.
The FCMP Tumbling Composter is fantastic for a beginner since it makes it super easy to add in new materials, as well as remove finished compost.
DIY Compost Bin
If you have space in your backyard and want to save money, building your compost bin is very doable. You can either build a homemade composter from:
- a heavy-duty garbage can
- or four pallets with matching size.
Heavy Duty Garbage Can
For heavy-duty garbage can you can drill 1.5 cm holes in rows at roughly 15 cm intervals around the can in order to aerate the compost. Then you can fill the can with a mixture of carbon and nitrogen-rich materials following the ratios mentioned earlier.
From time to time you can stir the compost to aerate and activate the organisms to speed up decomposition.
Composting Using Pallets
As you know, with pallets there’s no need to drill holes to create airways. But there’s some cutting and hammering that might be necessary to create a walled structure.
If you want to build a compost bin from pallets, check out the video below.
On an important note, pleasure makes sure you use pallets stamped with the “IPCC/EPAL” and “HT. This indicates the wood has been heat-treated and there’s no risk of toxic materials leaching into your compost.
Additionally, avoid pallets with the letters “MB”. These letters stand for “methyl bromide”, which indicates the wood has been treated with a pesticide.
These are details that should not be left unseen.
Standard Compost Bin
Compost bins are usually enclosed on the sides and top but are open on the bottom so the compost is directly connected to the ground. These bins are inexpensive but since it’s harder to turn the compost, you’ll find that it takes longer to have finished compost.
Food Waste Digester
Food waste digesters are not composters. They have a particular purpose which is to grind and dehydrate food waste. This process takes a little over three hours, but you get an odor-free material that is immediately ready to be used as fertilizer.
Problem Solving Tips For Beginners
Given the multiple intricacies that go into building a successful composting system— I’m going to do my best to answer some of the most frequently asked questions, and also provide some tips to some of the most commonly occurring problems in compost creation.
Shall we get started? Here we go.
My Compost Smells Badly? What Do I Do?
Bad odors can be a problem, especially when you live in urban or suburban areas.
In those areas, you generally keep the composter inside the house, or in the backyard right next to your neighbors.
If you want to reduce or eliminate the bad odors, there are two things you can do:
- Remember not to put anything that is non-biodegradable, as well as meat or bones, which shouldn’t be the case considering you’re vegan;
- Cover new additions to the compost with dry grass clippings or anything similar. If you add carbon-rich materials, you should have success dealing with the odors.
Using something like lime may also help neutralize the odor.
Why Is My Compost Not “Activating”?
Activating your compost essentially means kickstarting and speeding up the decomposition process. If you notice that the decomposition is simply going too slowly, or is not picking up at all, you can add some of the following activators:
- Young weeds
- Green leaves
- Vegetable manure
- Grass clippings
Interestingly, a shovel of finished compost can also have a similar effect.
How Do I Get Rid Of The Flies Hovering The Compost?
The reason flies (and other insects) are attracted to your compost bin is usually because fruit and vegetable scraps are left exposed.
If you properly cover any food scraps, you can discourage insects from getting close. In fact, you can keep a small pile of green leaves, or grass clippings next to your compost bin, and use them when you sense that:
a) There’s a really bad odor, and;
b) You’ve got a ton of insects flying over your compost bin.
Perhaps the reason those issues happen is that you don’t have a healthy content of carbon-rich materials in your pile of compost.
Therefore, use carbon vs nitrogen ratio I’ve mentioned earlier, and ensure the nitrogen content (especially food scraps) are not exposed.
What If My Compost Pile Gets Overly Wet?
Composting outside can be troublesome in very humid countries, where it rains a lot. And this is even worse in winter, where it’s more difficult to find reliable carbon-rich materials to speed up decomposition and keep the compost dry.
In order to solve this problem, you have to look at the carbon vs nitrogen ratio and check what you’re doing wrong. Most likely, you have more nitrogen than carbon.
Don’t laze out on the carbon, friend!
How Can I Better Avoid Rodents?
If you live in a rural or suburban area and find that rodents are attracted to your compost pile, then don’t be surprised about it. A compost pile has many kitchen scraps, so it’s only natural rodents come around to feed themselves.
The goal here is not to prevent them from getting close, though. You just have to keep them from plunging into your compost pile and ruining your work.
The easy solution is to find a fitting lid for your composter.
With a homemade pallet composter, it might seem slightly complicated, but I’m sure you can come up with a solution like the one below. You just literally need something to cover up the container, and it doesn’t need to be anything fancy.
Can I Actually Compost In An Apartment?
Most people don’t like the idea of composting in apartments, but it can be done.
In fact, there are two known (at least that I’ve learned) tactics that will enable you to compost even if you don’t have a garden or yard. Let’s start with the first one.
Composting Tactic #1: Worm Composters.
What, that’s disgusting? Well, it might not seem appealing to have a composter filled with worms indoors, but you can feel at ease because you barely have any contact with them.
Worm composters are actually very versatile in the sense they’re small, easy to transport, and you can easily achieve the same result as other composters. Furthermore, worm composters don’t need ‘turning’ since the worms do the heavy lifting for you.
All you have to do is guarantee that the worms are fed and thriving.
As far as worm composters go, you have two options.
Premade Worm Composter.
Premade Worm Composters are ready-made models that work flawlessly in apartments.
For instance, this Worm Factory 360 is a beginner-friendly model that houses thousands of worms but it’s still easy to set up and operate. According to the manufacturer, it only takes you 15 minutes per week to manage, without any ‘turning’ being required.
It comes equipped with four-stacking trays, a worm ladder, a vented lid, and a spigot to easily drain off the end product/fertilizer.
Plus, its unique design allows oxygen to flow through and discourage any stinky odors.
DIY Worm Composter.
If you’re a lazy dunce like me, this is not the most attractive solution. But if you don’t want to spend money on composters, you can always build yours.
Generally, a DIY worm composter is a plastic tote perforated with holes on top to ventilate the compost, and holes on the bottom to drain it.
In fact here’s an example of one, as well as a tutorial to create one.
Composting Tactic #2: Tumblers.
Another viable option is tumblers. But for this to work properly, you need to have a balcony, or perhaps a communal area like a patio where you can leave the composter.
Naturally, you’d need to have the permission of fellow residents, but owning a tumbler is probably the easiest way to guarantee a highly nutritious fertilizer.
A tumbler is larger than a worm composter but is sealed to preserve the temperature of the compost which increases the decomposition speed.
Every tumbler also comes with a handle that you can turn in order to aerate and mix the contents, making the process much less time-consuming and painless.
In addition to that, you can also feel free to not worry about pests or odors because the tumbler being sealed makes it difficult for anything to enter or leave. A commonly recommended tumbler is a rather affordable model by FCMP Outdoor that is available through Amazon.
Using The Finished Compost
Even if you intend to cultivate plants at home, you may end up producing more compost than the one you can use. Thankfully, there’s always a demand for it.
Since I don’t really use compost, I typically search for the local community garden, or even local farmers to donate my compost too. You’ll note that most individuals within the gardening community will accept your compost with open arms. 🙂
Whatever you decide to do, you’re contributing to the good health of our planet. 🙂