What is Composting?
Composting is the natural process of breaking down organic matter into compost, which is a nutrient rich substrate! It is most commonly made from food scraps, paper, and other easily biodegradable material in a container with a combination of decomposers such as bacteria, fungi, or worms! Once compost is produced, it can be mixed in with topsoil as a natural fertilizer for crops or other plants.
Food scraps and garden waste make up over 28% of what we throw away, only to go to a landfill or incinerator and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. By composting, you save this waste from our landfills and incinerators, while producing a natural alternative to toxic synthetic fertilizers! Compost can even increase the water retention of your soil, meaning that the soil will hold onto more water and plants won’t have to be irrigated as much!
Greens and Browns: Browns are carbon rich, or dry materials, like twigs, dead leaves, straw, and papers. Greens are nitrogen rich, or wet materials, such as yard waste or food scraps. In order for your compost to be most efficient, it is important to maintain about a 3:1 ratio of browns to greens, burying the greens within the browns.
Conditions: The decomposers in your compost need oxygen and water to break down your waste! It's important to maintain adequate air and water flow within your compost, and this can be done by breaking down greens and browns into small pieces, layering them, and aerating your compost. Compost should be as wet as a wrung out sponge. Food scraps will most likely provide enough water for the compost, but you can always add water if necessary! The compost should also maintain a temperature of about 130°F - 140°F for decomposers to work best. You may want to compost in a shady area or a sunny area depending on your climate!
Method: There are many different methods you can use to compost. Check out the infographic below to find which composting method will work best for you!
Check out the map by the Cornell Waste Management Institute below to find composting facilities and demonstration sites near you!
The Office of Recycling and Resource Management at Binghamton University collects compostable materials from all over campus! Pre- and post-consumer food scraps are collected from all residential dining halls, the campus pre-school, Food Co-op, Marketplace, Jazzman's Cafe, and the John Arthur Cafe. Garden scraps are collected from the Greenhouse and occasionally the Memorial Garden located in Fine Arts.
The compostable material is collected and picked up by the company Natural by Nature to a local farm. The scraps are broken down through windrows, and eventually brought back to campus to be used as a topsoil additive in places like the Greenhouse, the Three Sisters Garden, BU Acres, and special events! Martin Larocca, Resource Recovery Manager at Binghamton University, has stated that the University collects an average of 160,000 pounds of compostable material each year, and that this number is decreasing due to successful efforts at reducing food prep waste in the dining halls!
BU Acres is a garden on the Binghamton University campus! This compost mostly consists of biomass from the garden, including weeds and discarded plants from the end of the season. Although it is not set up for just anyone to bring their own compostables, the BU Acres Manager, Sean Cummings, is willing to work with students and community members on a case-by-case basis. Email Sean Cummings now for more information!
The Broome County Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) runs a free community composting program called We Compost Collective! Located at the Broome County Farmers Market, anyone living in Broome County that has limited composting options is encouraged to drop off their food scraps to be composted!
If you are interesting in joining the We Compost Collective when its reopened, first complete the We Compost Collective Sign-Up, located on the We Compost Collective page. Once submitted, your responses will be reviewed and you will be contacted with information about a brief orientation. At this meeting you will receive a free food scraps bucket, a list of acceptable materials, and information on how to weigh your waste and add to the community bins! Previous Recycling and Composting Educator at CCE, Josh Enderle, states that this program has diverted over 1,200 pounds of residential food waste and coffee grounds just this year, and that there’s plenty of space for more people to join!
Any Broome County resident can bring yard waste, such as branches and grass clippings, to the Broome County Landfill to be composted! Residents must weigh in and out on the scales and pay $20/ton for yard waste disposal, with a $5 minimum. The materials are put into long sections called “windrows” to be composted. The final product is then screened and made available to the public at no cost through the Compost Give Back program!
The Broome County Landfill encourages people to compost food scraps at home. Residents can purchase Earth Machine Composters for $45 per unit at the landfill scale house, click here for more information!
This video, Compost: Getting Started by Josh Enderle at CCE, covers several different types of compost bins, how they work, and how to start composting!