UNMC LiveGreen: Composting your kitchen scraps

June 18, 2013

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Many of us are in the habit of recycling much of our trash.

We faithfully put our discarded paper, plastic and cardboard in the green bin every week.

We take our discarded glass, electronics and batteries to the appropriate sites (see Community Links).

What's next? According to Papillion Sanitation, yard and food waste make up about 27 percent of our trash. Trash is tightly packed into landfills, which are lined with heavy plastic to keep waste compounds from leaching into ground water.

Landfills are the third largest source of methane emissions in the U.S., and eventually the linings fail, allowing waste to leach into the ground. Organic materials do not decay naturally in landfills; they ferment through an anaerobic process and contaminate the ground water.

So what do we do with the outer leaves of lettuce, the materials left over after we've strained the vegetable broth, the empty orange and lemon peels, and the egg shells from breakfast?

Why not just put them down the garbage disposal? Some peels (notably potato peels) can clog the garbage disposal and the drain, even after they're ground up.

How often do we just toss these things in the trash? What else can we do with them?

Let's compost them.

Composting transforms organic waste into rich, nutritious, dark crumbly earth that can replace chemical fertilizers for houseplants, gardens and lawns. Replacing chemical fertilizers with compost increases the health and disease-resistance of plants and decreases the amount of chemical runoff into lakes and streams.

There are several options for composting, depending on the amount of space you have and the time you want to devote to it. Small-scale composting can be done right in your kitchen, basement or garage with a kitchen composter or a worm bin. Larger scale composting can be done in your backyard, limited only by the number of bins you want to maintain and the amount of available compostable materials. Outdoor composting options range from simple homemade bins to state of the art tumblers.

Next week: How to build an outdoor compost bin.

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