Nurturing Yourself and the Earth: What Compost Has To Do With Wellness

As we grapple with how to take care of our own bodies and the planet we live on, there’s a powerful solution hidden in a process as ancient as life itself: composting. 

This seemingly simple act goes beyond the decomposition of organic matter; it connects us to the intricate web of life, reduces our carbon footprint, and provides a tangible way to contribute to a healthier planet. In exploring the science behind composting, we’ll learn how this natural process can connect to our own wellness journeys, discuss the many ways to compost at home, and highlight the changes you’ll notice in yourself once you begin.

Composting as a Transformative Act

A biological process that decomposes organic matter into a nutrient-rich soil conditioner with the help of a diverse community of microorganisms, composting results in enriched soil and promotes healthier, more nutrient-dense produce. The finished produce is a dark, crumbly, earthy-smelling soil amendment that is biologically stable. Preventing food waste starts first by using it up, donating it, feeding it to animals, reducing what you buy, and finally, composting wasted food. Understanding how this process works and how it affects our lives is a crucial step for individuals seeking to make a positive impact. By diverting organic waste from landfills for composting, individuals actively improve the health of their planet and local communities. Compost not only enhances soil health by improving its structure, water retention, and nutrient content but also supports robust and sustainable food systems, benefiting both environmental and human well-being. 

Anaerobic conditions in landfills lead to the breakdown of organic materials by bacteria, producing methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Composting mitigates these emissions while generating valuable resources for agriculture. Food waste constitutes the single most common material sent to landfills; approximately 23% of all municipal solid waste in the United States as of 2020. That translates to an alarming 66.2 million tons of waste food generated, whereas only 5% of food waste is composted. When combined with yard trimmings, wood, and paper/paperboard, organic materials are responsible for 58% of landfill methane emissions.

Nationally and internationally, it’s become clear that composting and other forms of reducing food waste, play a critical role in sustainable waste management, as well as in its ability to facilitate carbon sequestration by converting organic waste into stable carbon compounds, thereby contributing to climate change mitigation. Composting offers a solution by returning valuable nutrients and carbon to the soil, improving soil quality, supporting plant growth, and building resilience in local ecosystems and communities. Whether conducted indoors or outdoors, composting methods can be adapted to individual home situations, time availability, mobility levels, and management styles.

How to start Composting:

Composting can be simple or complex, as hands-on or hands-off as you want to make it. Depending on your level of food waste, whether you have access to an outdoor space, and what options are available in your city may affect the style of composting you choose to start.

  • Outdoor Composting: Traditional composting in backyard bins or piles allows for the decomposition of larger amounts of organic waste, including yard debris, and takes several months to break down fully.  Always cover food waste with a layer of leaves/straw/other dry organic material to minimize smell and bugs/animals. If you turn your compost pile 1x a week, the process can speed up.
    • DIY: Build your own 3 or 4 sided container for compost using scrap wood or wire fencing to hold at least 3x3ft of food and yard waste: this is the minimum size needed for heat to build up in the center and start breaking down the organic matter.
    • Plastic Bins: Some popular varieties are compost tumblers, Earth Machines, Solar Digesters, and in-ground bins.
    • It’s important to note that most backyard compost bins cannot accommodate meat, dairy, baked goods, fatty/greasy foods, or bioplastics due to their size.
  • Community Composting: For those that want to contribute to the benefits of compost without having to make it themselves, many communities offer municipal composting programs where residents can dispose of organic waste to be processed on a large commercial scale.
    • Curbside Pickup: If you’re lucky enough to live in a city that offers curbside ‘yard waste’ bins, take advantage of this convenient option to reduce your waste! 
    • Drop-Off Bins: Some areas may offer sites for residents to bring their food waste.
    • Subscription Model: Areas with or without city-wide composting initiatives may offer private compost subscription services like CompostNow: They provide you with a clean bin for food scraps every week, pick it up and turn it into compost. You only get finished compost back if you request it.
    • If municipal composting options are not available, you might consider bringing your food waste to a neighbor’s pile, farmers market, or community garden.
  • Indoor Composting: For those without access to an outdoor space, apartments, urban areas, areas without access to municipal options, or as a low-effort option for those who can’t or don’t want to manage an outdoor bin, but still want to compost for all the benefits discussed above.
    • Indoor Electric Composters
      • Lomi, Vitamix Food Cycler, and Reencle, are some of the most popular indoor electric composters on the market currently. These models use very little electricity, and are quiet and odorless. They are able to fully or partially compost/dehydrate and grind up food waste to a usable soil amendment level within hours. These systems cannot accept large pits or bones, but can accept meat, dairy, small amounts of oily food, baked goods, and most other organic matter, as well as small amounts of bioplastics.
        • *Use the code SKYTERRA50 for $50 off of a Lomi composter!*
    • Superfood Composters: Vermiculture and Bokashi composting systems generate high quality and nutritious compost, and can be done indoors, outdoors, or a mixture of both. Both forms of composting are much quicker than traditional outdoor compost bins, without the concerns of attracting animals or taking up a lot of space.
      • Vermiculture: Fun for kids and adults, these worm bins typically use ‘red wiggler’ worms in a stacked plastic bin system to break down organic matter quickly and efficiently, leaving behind a superior quality compost. However, it’s best to avoid giving meat, dairy, oily foods or citrus to worms, since they have trouble digesting them. Worm bins can be kept indoors without any issue, in garages, on porches, or in a shady area of yards.
      • Bokashi: Originating in Japan, this super efficient form of composting actually utilizes a fermentation process to quickly break down organic material, including meat and dairy products, but any food that is moldy should not be added, as it could upset the fermentation process. The airtight containers for bokashi composting mean that there is little mess or smell, so the bins can be comfortably kept indoors.
    • Finished compost from indoor composters can be added to houseplants as a gentle fertilizer, mixed with potting soil when starting new plants, repotting, or growing microgreens, sprinkled on bare patches of lawn, donated to community gardens etc.

What You’ll Notice When You Start:

Embarking on a composting journey brings about a range of positive changes in individuals. Composters foster a sense of connection to the natural world as they witness the transformative process of decay and growth. The process of composting and the use of the finished compost often involves collective effort within communities of like minded individuals. This collective action fosters a shared sense of responsibility among community members. On an individual level, people who begin composting will often experience reduced feelings of depression and anxiety, especially eco-anxiety, as a result of actively contributing to environmental solutions and seeing the positive impact individual actions can have. Composting food waste also tends to relieve some of the guilt associated with leaving food behind on your plate, offering a constructive solution to repurpose kitchen scraps and leftovers. This process also reduces waste bound for landfills by recycling the nutrients back into the local environment, keeping communities healthy and green to enjoy for a long time. Plus, once you start generating your own compost, starting a garden could be the next step in your journey. Compost-enriched soil provides an ideal foundation for home gardening, empowering individuals to grow their own nutritious and sustainable produce while spending critical time in nature.

Finding Wellness in the Compost Pile

It’s time to get started! We hope these tips and tricks help you feel confident starting your composting journey! Choose a method that suits your lifestyle, and investigate existing systems in your community. Whether through indoor, outdoor, or community-based composting, every effort contributes to a healthier planet and a healthier you. If you want an extra boost of confidence and care, consider letting us help! Skyterra embraces composting as a fundamental aspect of our holistic approach to health. Rest assured that no food is wasted on our campus; our closed loop composting system feeds our on-campus garden, helping us to continue growing healthy food for our guests to enjoy. We also offer hands-on classes on gardening, composting, and the many other ways interacting with nature can benefit you on your health journey. If you want a little extra help, connect with our Master Gardener to create a personalized plan to bring the therapeutic benefits of gardening and composting home with you. 

Composting, often overlooked in its transformative potential, emerges as a beacon of hope in the face of environmental challenges and emotional struggles. As we engage in the science of compost, we discover not only a practical solution for reducing our carbon footprint but also a source of wellness for the mind and soul. From reducing eco-anxiety to fostering a deeper connection to the world, composting becomes a catalyst for positive change. The options are diverse, the benefits are profound, and the call to action is clear—let’s embrace composting as a path to personal and planetary wellness.