Waste

Zero-Waste is a holistic approach to addressing the problem of unsustainable resource flows. Zero-Waste encompasses waste eliminated at the source through product design and producer responsibility, and waste reduction strategies further down the supply chain such as recycling, reuse, and composting.

Communities and governments that implement Zero-Waste Programs are striving to switch from long-term waste management through disposal or incineration to value-added resource recovery systems that will help build sustainable local economies.

What is Zero-Waste?

DIY Zero-Waste Cleaning

How to Recycle Correctly

101 On How to Compost

How to Compost @ Home

Why Compost Now?

We are amidst a global pandemic where most of our food is being prepared ourselves. The majority of our waste is being generated in our homes and not on campus. Unfortunately, unlike The Commons, most of us do not have access to an organic waste pick-up. Composting at home is a great solution to reduce the volume of waste we produce. Beyond waste reduction, there are many other great benefits to composting at home:

Lowers your carbon footprint

Around 20-30% of the material we throw out in the United States is organic waste. Organics sent to the landfill decompose and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

You are protecting air-quality and communities in Baltimore

The Wheelabrator in Baltimore City is the 10th largest trash incinerator in the country and accounts for 36%of all air pollution in Baltimore City. We as citizens can help with our personal actions by producing less waste to fuel the incinerator.

Your new quarantine garden will thrive

Compost is full of nutrients and is great for plants, gardens, and lawns. Amending soil with compost enhances the growth of all plant life.

You are helping save the bay

Using nutrient full compost on your lawn and garden will lead to less dependence on chemical fertilizers that are harmful to the Chesapeake Bay.

It’s a fun rewarding experience you can share with the kids!

Composting is an empowering practice in a time when many things feel out of our control. It is a great way to teach your family about waste, soil science, sustainable solutions, and self-reliance.


How To Get Started

Step 1: Pick the best compost option for you & set up your operation

There are multiple options for composting at home. The best option for your household will be dependent on factors such as space, type and amount of organic waste you produce, and upkeep.

Use the table below to decide which option is best for you, each option has a link to a page with more information on that composting method.

 

Where do you live?

What organic waste will you be composting?

Mostly Kitchen Scraps Kitchen Scraps/Yard Waste Mostly Yard Waste
Urban (no outdoor space) Vermicomposting
Urban/Suburban (some outdoor space) Vermicomposting or Compost Tumbler Compost Tumbler
Suburban (access to a yard) Enclosed Bin or Compost Tumbler Enclosed Bin or Compost Tumbler Enclosed Bin or Open Compost Pile
Rural (access to yard) Enclosed Bin or Compost Tumbler Open Compost Pile, Enclosed Bin or Compost Tumbler Open Compost Pile or Multiple Enclosed Bins

 

Step 2: Feed your compost

What to Place in Your Compost:

Composting directly at home is very different from sending organic waste to an industrial composting facility (like we do in The Commons at UMBC). No matter if you are backyard composting or vermicomposting, below is a printable graphic on what to place in your bin!

Browns vs. Greens

In the above graphic, there is a delineation between organic waste: greens & browns. This is common terminology used to distinguish between organic waste that is wet and high in nitrogen (greens) and dry and high in carbon (browns).

A compost pile is a living ecosystem made up of microorganisms. Happy and healthy microbes are essential because they are breaking down the organic material.

Greens:

  • Nitrogen dense organic matter
  • Provides nutrients for microbes to build their bodies and reproduce

Browns:

  • Carbon dense organic matter
  • Provides energy for microbes that help break down organic matter
  • Assists in airflow
  • Maintains structural integrity of pile and prevents compaction and suffocation of microbes

Usually, your compost should contain equal parts greens to browns. For vermicomposting you should have 70% browns to 30% greens. Below are some additional tips to maintain a healthy nitrogen to carbon ratio:

  • Whenever you add kitchen scraps or grass clipping make sure to mix in dry high-carbon material as well.
  • Store carbon-rich browns ahead of time. They can be hard to obtain in the summer and store easily.
    • Fall leaves
    • Non-Glossy shredded paper (shredded paper cannot be recycled in single stream recycling)
  • Yard waste, dead leaves, and woody material should be cut or chopped into small pieces
  • Store your kitchen scraps in an enclosed bin in your kitchen. That way you only have to feed your compost once a week.

Step 3: Aerate your compost

Microbes thrive in environments with lots of air. It is important that we mix our compost pile at least once a week before we feed it new materials. Below is a list of gardening tools you can use to aerate your compost:

  • Compost crank
  • Spade fork
  • Wing dinger
  • Pitchfork

Step 4: Check the moisture of your compost

The greens of your compost will add moisture and your browns will absorb that water. The ideal moisture content of your compost should resemble a wrung-out sponge. It should be moist but not soggy.

If your compost is dry you can add water to it to help with moisture. If you have an open compost pile it can become dry from sun and heat.

Step 5: Monitor & troubleshoot problems with your compost

Composting is a learning process and there can be a couple of hiccups along the way. Below are some troubleshooting guides for composting & vermicomposting:

Step 6: Use the Finished Product!

How to know your compost is done?
  • Even in color or texture
  • Earthy in smell
  • Not too moist
How to use your compost?
  • Add it as a soil amendment to existing garden beds or new
  • Use 2 inches of compost as mulch around landscape plants
  • Sprinkle ½ an inch of compost over your lawn
  • Make compost tea to water plants
  • Incorporate into your potting soil: 1-part compost 2-parts of potting soil