Tag Archives: home composting

Anaerobic Composting – Is It Worth It?

Anaerobic Composting – Is It Worth It?

Anaerobic composting is a simple and fun alternative to the usual ways of composting, which include using a compost bin, a tumbler, or worms. While it may be the easiest method, it takes a really long time to finish and it has different environmental consequences…more on that in a moment.

A popular method I’ve read about is to use two thick black garbage bags, a bucket to measure out the contents and some water. Add equal parts shredded food scraps (no meat/dairy/seafood), soil+some finished compost, and “brown” materials (shredded leaves, shredded paper). Add some water to get the material damp, but not completely soaked. Tie off the bag, then put it inside the other garbage bag and tie that off, too. All done!

This process is often said to finish within 6-8 weeks, but based on my findings, I’m willing to bet that’s unusually fast. I gave it another six months to sit…how does it look? The results are really nice! Was it worth it? Yes and no.

If you’re composting, that means you’re avoiding throwing away perfectly good material to the landfill, which is always a good thing. Speaking of landfills, they spew out one third of our methane output (along with nearly 100 non-methane organic compounds that are severely toxic such as dioxins and furans), which has a global warming potential 23 times greater than carbon dioxide (results from aerobic composting).

While only a small amount is emitted when opening the bag, every little bit counts and aerobic home composting is the best method.

Maybe I’m being a bit over the top…your home composting effort is obviously not composed of the same materials as a landfill and therefore has drastically different emissions. Regardless, I want you to think about it… compost as much as you can!

The easily avoidable negative aspect is that I’m creating garbage bag waste, so this will be the last time I try anaerobic composting using this method. At least I can hold onto this garbage bag and fill it up over time with my non-compostable/non-recyclables, which is a pretty small amount of our waste if you think about it.

A commenter on my previous anaerobic composting video stated that I should try using a 5 gallon bucket with lid so I avoid the plastic bag waste. While the standard lid wouldn’t be airtight enough, there are definitely airtight lids out there such as the Gamma Lid brand that has locking lids.

So there you have it- not the best possible method, and I always suggest aerobic composting over anaerobic, but if this method works better for you (try buckets!) and keeps you from sending stuff to the landfill, go for it.

If you’d like to learn more about landfill gas and their emissions, check here: http://www.energyjustice.net/lfg#2

Anaerobic Composting Update

Ahhhh, the weather broke… kind of.  I went out on the balcony for the first time since the Fall and checked out the garbage bag, it was stuck to the deck a little bit.

Back in November, I opened this bag the first time around and the material was definitely breaking down in there, but it wasn’t finished.  I wanted to give it another six months and take a peek, so when May comes around we’ll see how it went through the winter months, and if the cold had a serious effect on the process.

An aside: I was collecting the last of the leaves off my street yesterday to use for my next compost pile, and I decided to try a biodegradable garbage bag since I had some different ones lying around.  What a disaster!  I was only able to fill it halfway before the bottom fell out.  While I would love to support using bioplastics in some applications, they don’t make sense if you’re performing a heavy duty task…like filling a bag halfway with dry leaves.  Maybe the bag was really old.

Anyway, garbage bag opening ceremony in another 6 weeks…

Anaerobic Composting – How Does It Work?

Anaerobic Composting – How Does It Work?

Anaerobic composting is a simple and fun alternative to the usual composting methods, such as using a compost bin, a tumbler, or worms.  While it may be the easiest way to do it, it takes a really long time to finish.

All you need is two thick black garbage bags, a bucket to measure out the contents and some water.  Add equal parts shredded food scraps (no meat/dairy/seafood), soil+some finished compost, and “brown” materials (shredded leaves, shredded paper).  Add some water to get the material damp, but not completely soaked.  Tie off the bag, then put it inside the other garbage bag and tie that off, too.  All done!

This process is often said to finish within 6-8 weeks, but based on my findings here, I’m willing to bet that’s unusually fast.  Perhaps if the process is done during the warmer months it would be quicker, but it’s gotten to near freezing here for the last week or two and my batch isn’t finished.

However, the end results thus far are impressive: almost everything is unrecognizable, and the finished compost inside smells just like the earthy stuff you buy from the garden center.

While this experiment was mostly a success, I’m going to bag it up and give it another six months…I’ve read that some crazy composters will give it at least a year to be completely finished.  To be continued!

Guide to Composting in the Winter (article)

Have you ever checked out the website earth911.com?  I’ve checked it out plenty when it comes to finding recycling avenues for anything imaginable…but I never thought to see if they had any material on composting.  It turns out that they do, and I’ve been asked a lot about starting a compost pile in the winter.  While composting isn’t easy in the wintertime, it is doable.  Let’s see what earth911 has to say about it in the article below…

Just as you started to get into a solid groove with your compost pile this past summer and fall, churning over plentiful amounts of that beautiful garden gold, BAM! Winter hits.

But don’t throw in the shovel just because a white blanket of snow or a hardened sheet of ice now sits atop your compost pile. To help you get through the winter and ready to go once spring returns, learn some of the ins-and-outs of winter composting.

Listen to the experts

According to the University of Illinois Extension, “Composting [is] a biological process that decomposes organic material under aerobic ([meaning] oxygen [is] required) conditions. […] Composting speeds up the natural process of decomposition, providing optimum conditions so that organic matter can break down more quickly.”

In other words, a compost pile is an intentional strategy to speed up the decomposition process that nature, left alone, would take years to accomplish. To decompose at the rapid pace described above, the U of I Extension asserts that a main goal when composting is to promote the existence and propagation of aerobic bacteria.

Luckily for you, these compost dwellers are not picky eaters. And when they eat, they can turn up the heat – literally. According to the U of I Extension, aerobic bacteria heat up a compost pile when they eat, through the chemical process called oxidation. They especially love the carbon-rich (often called brown) materials, which give them energy. Another essential ingredient for your pile, nitrogen-rich (often called green) materials, help the bacteria grow big and strong and reproduce.

But why all the talk about the nutrient needs and chemical processes of bacteria? These factors can help us better understand why in the winter, at least if you live in a cold spot, composting is a different beast than it was in those warmer months.

The winter slow down

It happens to humans, so why can’t it happen to bacteria? The gray dreariness that often makes us want to go into hibernation mode (if only work, life, etc. would let us) also affects aerobic bacteria, in a manner of speaking.

The University of Illinois Extension says “warmer outside temperatures in late spring, summer and early fall stimulate bacteria and speed up decomposition. Low winter temperatures will slow or temporarily stop the composting process.” But fear not: “As air temperatures warm up in the spring, microbial activity will resume.”

Because ambient air temperature affects the speed of decomposition, when the temps cool down, so too does the aforementioned oxidation process. Instead of the voracious eaters they were in the summer and early fall, aerobic bacteria revert to a calmer state.

Yet even when the temperature drops, microbes responsible for the breakdown of organic matter can remain active in the compost pile, according the Texas AgriLife Extension Service. The center of the pile can be warm and actively composting because of heat generated by bacteria, but the outer layers of your pile are at the mercy of the daily highs and lows.

Furthermore, a compost pile needs the right amount of air and water (in addition to carbon and nitrogen) to be successful. So, when that winter snow and spring rain keeps on coming, your pile can get drenched. While water in the summer may be a necessary amendment, too much winter water will force air out of pore spaces in your compost pile, suffocating our dear aerobic bacteria friends.

Strategies for success, despite the cold

Here, a cinder block structure surrounds a compost heap. A block structure is one way to maintain internal pile heat longer into the winter. Photo: University of Illinois Extension

There are measures you can take to protect your pile from the elements and keep it viable further into the winter months. Here are some suggestions:

1. Build a roof. You have one over your head, why can’t your pile? Control external environmental factors by protecting your compost pile from unwanted precipitation.

2. Block it in. You may have noticed that the car in the garage or in the carport tends to be less frost-ridden in the morning than the car parked in the street. Without the protection of the house or other built structure, the car in the street is exposed to a bigger swing in nighttime temperatures.

Same principle applies to your compost pile. If you compost with heaps, build a protective barrier around your pile. If you already compost in some type of holding unit, you (and your compost pile) are covered.

3. Lay down a tarp. Putting a tarp over your compost pile not only whisks away unwanted precipitation, but it also helps contain the internal heat from the pile where you want it – in the pile.

4. Make a bigger heap. Extend the longevity of your pile by prepping early. According to the University of Illinois Extension, “During [the] fall months, making a good sized heap will help the composting process work longer into the winter season.”

Holding units are an alternative to heap piles, and can help protect the compost from winter elements that tend to slow the decomposition process. Photo: University of Illinois Extension.

Because volume is a factor in retaining compost pile heat, the U of I Extension suggests that for those in the Midwest, piles should be at least one cubic yard. The Midwest gets pretty cold, so it’s likely safe to say that this measurement suggestion can apply elsewhere in the U.S.

5. Shred it. According to the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, “Shredding the material in the pile to particles less than two inches in size will allow [the pile] to heat more uniformly and will insulate it from outside temperature extremes.”

6. Dig a hole and bury it. Another tip from the Texas AgriLife Extension Service suggests digging a trench in the garden or flowerbed and adding organic wastes like kitchen scraps (hold the meat, grease or animal fat, please!) little by little, making sure to bury the waste after each addition.

Similarly, “compost-holing,” or digging a one-foot deep hole anywhere in the yard and covering with a board or bricks until full of organic wastes, is another strategy to beat the winter cold and keep on composting.

Right method for the right place

In the end, it is always important to consider what type of system works best for you. The area available for composting, seasonal climate, along with the time commitment you are willing to give to your pile, all impact the type of composting system that would work best. Always do your research when looking to start, continue, or try a new type of composting system.

It doesn’t need to be fancy…

When I visited home for the holidays, I had to take a look and see what my mom’s old composting area looked like.  This really spun me out because I remember making this little frame out of cinder blocks a long time ago and it looked good.  What’s funny is that if you want to compost, you can make do with this just fine…just make space and add stuff to it in appropriate quantities.

Next to this was a nice looking compost bin…again, it does the trick.  You can add material nice and high and it stays fairly organized.  Note the slits near bottom which double as a spot to anchor it to the ground as well as provide some needed air circulation.  Way to go, mom!

To start composting, all you really need is a little space and a rough idea of what to do…that’s really it.  It can be as simple or complex as you want it to be.

The following day I got to go out into the wilderness and I found myself thinking about how much the animals would appreciate all the food scraps that people throw away, especially during the winter.  Who wouldn’t want to feed this guy?

Can You Compost Dryer Lint & Vacuum Dust? (video)

Can You Compost Dryer Lint & Vacuum Dust?

Can you compost dryer lint and vacuum dust? It’s a tough call. Both of these items may contain synthetic fibers, but if you know what you have, the answer may be simple.

Stuff to consider: What’s your clothing made of? Apparently dryer lint consists mostly of pieces of cotton coming off your stuff. However, I’d imagine there’s some synthetics in there.

I think vacuum bags are a much simpler answer as they’re mainly dirt, skin, hair and dust.

What do you think? Leave a comment and let me know!