What is Compost: The Benefits of Composting and 6 Popular Methods

Compost sign

Approximately 108 billion pounds of food goes to waste annually in the United States. This results in wasted money, water, and natural resources. These food scraps are usually sent to landfills, where they take up space and contribute to water pollution, air pollution, and climate change. Thankfully, there are far more environmentally friendly ways to dispose of food waste, including composting.

If you haven’t composted before, it’s never too late to start! By incorporating a composting method into your routine, you can safely dispose of your food waste and create a usable eco-friendly product. To help you get started on your composting journey, we’ll be covering these topics:



Before we get into the benefits of compost or the methods you can try, let’s first define compost and the act of composting. 


What is composting?

A compost bin

Composting is a microbial process in which organic materials are converted into a natural fertilizer. Composting often occurs through aerobic composting or anaerobic composting, with the former utilizing oxygen to break down yard and food waste and the latter depriving the environment of oxygen.

If you opt for a composting method that requires oxygen, such as an outdoor composting pile, you’ll need to manage the pile in several ways. This includes ensuring the pile has a healthy amount of moisture, not too much and not too little. You’ll also need a proper balance of green and brown materials. Green materials are nitrogen-rich waste like grass clippings and egg shells, while brown materials are carbon-rich waste like straw and paper. 


What is compost and what is it used for?

A person holding compost in their hands

Compost is a combination of different ingredients, namely organic food and yard waste, that has decomposed without losing their nutrients. What is compost used for? Typically as a nutrient-filled natural fertilizer that can be added to soil to enhance plant growth and create a healthier environment for your plants.

That said, not everything should be added to a compost pile. If you want to create healthy and usable compost, you’ll want to follow a list of composting dos and don’ts. While green and brown materials are acceptable, items like pet waste and human waste are not. You should also avoid composting weeds unless they’ve very young, otherwise, you may not be able to kill the weed seeds during the composting process.

Though compost is commonly added to flower or vegetable beds, there are actually many other ways to use this nutrient-rich mixture. You can also rake it into tree beds and add it to potting soil for your indoor plants. If you’re not satisfied with your lawn, you could also spread some compost on top as a soil amendment. Of course, versatility is just one of compost’s many benefits. 


Top 7 benefits of composting

A plant sprouting from dirt by environmental symbols

There are almost too many composting benefits to name them all. From water conservation to healthier plant growth, here are some standout benefits of composting that will make you want to get started right away.

  1. Assists plant growth: Compost balances soil density, helps retain moisture, and suppresses plant diseases. All of this contributes to healthier and stronger plant growth. 
  2. Reduces waste going to landfills: The fewer food scraps you throw away, the less food waste in landfills. Why take up space in landfills when your scraps can be transformed into an eco-friendly product?
  3. Prevents soil erosion: Compost binds soil together and slows the surface flow of water. Both of these things can help reduce soil erosion.
  4. Lowers carbon footprint: When food ends up in landfills, the scraps eventually produce methane as they rot. By reducing the amount of waste in landfills, you’re helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lowering your carbon footprint in the process. 
  5. Conserves water: Compost is able to retain a great deal of moisture, which helps you conserve water long term. 
  6. Adds nutrients to soil: Good finished compost will contain the three primary fertilizer nutrients - potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus. Adding these nutrients to your soil can greatly improve plant health.  
  7. Can replace chemical fertilizers: You can replace your chemical fertilizers with compost. This is a major benefit, as chemical fertilizers can contribute to soil degradation and a loss of soil carbon. 

 


 

6 popular composting methods you can try

Ready to start composting? Then you’ll need to start by selecting a composting method. There is no best way to compost, so you’ll need to find a method that suits your needs and lifestyle. You’ll need to consider your living situation, whether you want to compost indoors or outdoors, how much waste you create, and more. Without further ado, here are 6 popular composting methods you can try!


1. Outdoor compost pile

Outdoor compost pile

Outdoor compost piles are one of the most popular composting methods out there and for good reason. They’re very straightforward and beginner-friendly. This method requires you to put out a compost bin or to create your own designated pile, which you can set up with wood pallets.

Once you have a designated space, you can dump all kinds of compostable materials onto the pile. This includes a variety of yard and food waste, such as fresh grass clippings, coffee grounds, brown plant material, and much more. If you want finished compost faster, you can pursue hot composting by turning the pile with a pitchfork every few days to evenly distribute the oxygen. If you’d prefer not to turn the pile, you can opt for cold composting

Needless to say, having a decent amount of backyard space is essential for this composting method. If you don’t have a backyard or live in an apartment building, you may want to consider a compact electric composter instead. If you opt for cold composting, you’ll also need to be willing to wait 6 months to 1 year for your immature compost to be finished.

Try this if: Your household creates large amounts of waste, you don’t mind waiting for finished compost, and you have sufficient backyard space. 

Pro tip: To speed up the decomposition process, maintain a ratio of about 3 to 4 parts brown materials to 1 part green materials. This will give your pile the right mixture of carbon and nitrogen while maintaining a healthy amount of moisture. 


2. Lomi kitchen composter

A woman cutting up strawberries beside a lomi composter

If you’d like to make nutrient rich fertilizer in your own kitchen, look no further than Lomi. Lomi is an electric kitchen composter that breaks down food waste in less than a day. The device degrades waste with a decomposition process using oxygen, abrasion, and heat.

Lomi transforms organic waste, such as fruit and vegetable peels, into natural fertilizer. The composter can also break down eggs, cotton tea bags, and a wide variety of Lomi Approved certified compostables. It’s also compact, efficient, and doesn’t attract pests. If all these features aren’t enough to convince you, using an electric composter like Lomi is also a great way to keep compost from smelling!

Try this if: You want a fast and easy way to create natural fertilizer in your own kitchen. 

Pro tip: Check out this list of what can go in Lomi so that you can use the device to its full potential.

 

Lomi by Pela

Lomi

★★★★★

Lomi allows you to turn food waste into plant-ready nutrients in under 24 hours. Boost your plants while reducing your waste.


 

3. Indoor composting bin

Indoor compost bin

There are so many indoor composting bins out there, including the electric one mentioned above. If you opt for non-electric bins, you have plenty of options to choose from. These are bins that you can fit on your counter or on the ground next to your trash bin.

There is a great variety of composting bins out there. When browsing through the best kitchen compost bins, you’ll need to consider your own preferences. Would you prefer a bin that relies on the aerobic or anaerobic composting method? What’s your budget? How important is it to you that odors are kept out of your kitchen? Once you have your criteria sorted out, you’ll be able to find a solid indoor compost bin that gets the job done.

Try this if: You want a basic composting method and don’t create large amounts of waste. 

Pro tip: If you do create a lot of waste, you can still use an indoor composting bin. You’ll just need to regularly empty the bin into a larger outdoor compost heap or a compost tumbler.


 


 

4. Vermicomposting

Handful of compost with worms

Vermicomposting, also referred to as worm composting, is a composting method in which worms are added to the pile. This is one of the most eco-friendly ways to go about recycling organic matter. The worms, typically red wigglers, help to hasten the decomposition process. They’re even faster than the microbes involved in aerobic composting.

Though worm composting is efficient, it’s not necessarily the most beginner friendly. You need to be careful when creating the bin if you opt to take a DIY approach. If you create a bin rather than buying one, remember to put lots of holes in the lid so the worms get the oxygen they need. You should also add something like wood chips for bedding alongside the composting materials. Once you have the bin set up, add your food scraps and wait for results!

Try this if: Worms don’t make you squeamish and you’re looking for a method that can be used indoors or outdoors. 

Pro tip: Add something like wood chips to the bin for bedding. This provides the worms with a reliable long-term food source. 


5. Compost tumbler

Compost tumbler

A compost tumbler is a sealed container that can be rotated to mix the compostable food and garden waste. Compost tumblers use the aerobic composting method, which involves using oxygen to break down the fruit and vegetable scraps, leaves, and other waste. By rotating the compost, you can evenly distribute oxygen through the pile and speed up the composting process.

The container lets in oxygen, but it’s sealed in a way that allows it to retain heat. Heat can aid the decomposition process and destroy seeds and weeds in the process. Compost tumblers are very easy to use. All you have to do is insert your kitchen and yard waste, turn the pile regularly, and soon you’ll have usable compost to add to your garden.

Try this if: You have backyard space and want a simple composting method with relatively little maintenance. 

Pro tip: Shred or cut up fresh organic material before adding it to your compost tumbler. This can greatly speed up the decomposition process.



6. Trench composting

Trench composting

Trench composting is known as a lazy method because it requires zero maintenance. That said, there is some physical labor required up front. First, you’ll need to dig a hole or trench approximately 12-18” deep in your garden. Next you can add a mixture of green and brown materials to the hole or trench. Now cover up your pile with about 6-8” of soil. That’s all there is to it!

Digging the trench is the hard part. Once you’ve finished covering the pile, there’s no maintenance involved. This is a great way to deliver nutrients directly to your plants. Another benefit of trench composting is that you don’t need to worry about odors or attracting pests, which are common concerns when dealing with a compost heap.

Try this if: You don’t mind some physical labor and don’t want to wait for waste to break down. 

Pro tip: Make sure that your trench is dug at least 6” away from your plants.


9 best resources for learning about composting

A book next to gardening resources

Interested in furthering your education into composting, different composting methods, and achieving a more sustainable lifestyle? Here are several videos, books, and blogs to help you learn more about the wonders of composting!

  1. The Rodale Book of Composting: This composting guide by Grace Gershuny and Deborah L. Martin is a fantastic choice for gardeners. The book covers several composting techniques with easy-to-follow instructions and tips.
  2. Composting 101: Stupid-Easy Compost Making in Piles & Bins: This short but informative video from the YouTube channel Pure Living for Life makes creating compost outdoors as simple as can be.
  3. The Ultimate Guide to Indoor Composting: Tips, Products & More: Pela’s informative indoor composting guide covers everything you need to know. This includes different composting methods, products to try, and much more.
  4. Let It Rot!: The Gardener’s Guide to Composting: Stu Campbell’s book is a great introduction to anyone interested in using food scraps to nourish their gardens. 
  5. Big Blog of Gardening: The Big Blog of Gardening offers a wide range of articles about all things composting. Their posts cover a variety of topics, including whether or not certain waste is compostable and what compost bins to buy.
  6. Urban Worm Company: Anyone considering vermicomposting should definitely check out the Urban Worm Company. On this website, you’ll find everything you need to know about the benefits of vermicomposting and how to get started.
  7. Making Compost in 30 Days Using Pallet Wood Bins: Have a few wood pallets lying around? With this video, you can learn how to turn them into compost bins and put them to great use!
  8. Compost Tea Basics: This excellent blog from Almanac gives you all the information you need to make your own compost tea at home.
  9. 5 Hot Composting Mistakes to Avoid: This video from the popular YouTube channel Epic Gardening will save you from making common hot composting mistakes, such as having too much or too little moisture in the pile. 

Now you have all the resources, methods, and tips you need to create your own compost, grow healthier plants, and reduce methane emissions! One of the best ways of doing this is with a Lomi electric composter. With this efficient device, you can unlock the potential of your food waste and transform it into something new. You’ll also be one step closer to a zero waste kitchen and an even more sustainable lifestyle.


Written by: E Sawden