Composting is one of the best ways to give back to our planet. It’s the foundation for circularity — and everyone can do it. Composting reduces waste in landfills, lowers greenhouse gas emissions, and fights climate injustice.
In this blog, we’re looking at the food waste problem in the U.S., the social benefits of composting, and how to start your own compost pile.
Facing Food Waste and Climate Injustice
In the United States, 30-40% of our food supply ends up as waste in landfills. This accounts for over 400 billion dollars or 1.3 billion tons of food 😱 With world hunger on the rise and 35 million Americans without food security in the U.S., we are facing a global food crisis.
Image: Assorted vegetables on burlap @srilanka
But food waste isn’t the only problem. Industrial agriculture diverts freshwater and land use away from communities and ecosystems. And as food piles up in landfills, it releases harmful greenhouse gases that pollute our air, speed up global warming, and contribute to climate change.
Landfill pollution disproportionately affects minority groups in the U.S. More than half of the populations living near landfills are people of color, including Black Americans who are three times more at risk.
To address food insecurity and climate injustice, we need to empower individuals and communities to take control of their food and waste.
The Benefits of Community Composting
While composting may seem new, it's an essential part of nature and key to our evolution. As societies have grown and commercial food and waste systems have gotten more complex, they've become further removed from our daily lives. But just as we've always relied on nature to recycle nutrients in the environment, we've relied on composting to manage waste, grow new crops, and feed our communities.
Image: Hands holding soil by Gabriel Jimenez
There are many benefits to growing food, composting, and gardening, including:
🌱 Connecting us with the history of the land we live on and its cultivators,
🌱 Healing and empowering communities to cultivate their own food, and
🌱 Inspiring learning, collaboration, and land stewardship.
To learn more about the social benefits of community composting, we asked our friends at Java's Compost, a residential compost pick-up service in New Jersey, about their work.
"We work to create compost communities because we believe that it reduces our reliance on incinerators and landfills that increase pollution and health issues in the vulnerable communities they are typically located in. [Instead] composting creates a natural soil amendment that can be used to grow healthier food."
The best part? Sharing the rewards.
"A lot of people are paralyzed into inaction around our environmental problems because they can be overwhelming and daunting. Composting is one of those things that provides immediate impact and a sense of hope — especially when you see your trash cut in half and your food scraps turn into beautiful black gold. These results have impact and tend to encourage others to try composting as well. This creates a sense of community that is empowered to make a difference."
Here's how to get started 💪
What is Composting?
Composting is the natural process of turning organic materials like food scraps and yard waste into nutrient soil. The resulting compost encourages and enriches new plant growth and is integral to any organic garden.
Creating compost is simple and doesn’t require much. All you need is a space to set up a compost bin or pile, some browns and greens, water, air, and some patience.
Image: Stacked cardboard by Tania Melnyczuk and cracked eggshells by Jonathan Kemper
The Browns and The Greens
A great compost has four main ingredients: water, air, browns (carbon), and greens (nitrogen). A balance of the four is necessary for a rich compost, but the main components to balance are the browns and greens. The golden ratio is 3:1 — or three parts browns, one part greens.
- Paper (including napkins, paper plates, etc.)
- Fruit and veggie scraps
- Flowers and houseplants clippings
- Coffee grounds
What NOT to add to your compost:
- Produce stickers, rubber bands, twist ties
- Pet litter
- Synthetic materials, styrofoam, chemicals
- Wine corks
- Metal, glass, plastic
- Fireplace ash
- Dryer lint
Image: Green leaf plants sprouting in black soil by Markus Spiske
How to Compost
Transforming organic waste into soil can feel like magic. And taking something old and turning it into something new and useful is rewarding. If you have space for a compost bin or pile, here are the steps to do it:
1. Set up your bin in a shady, dry spot. You can also create a compost pile by using hex netting.
2. Add a thick layer of browns to start. Then add the greens and continue adding layers of greens and browns while maintaining a 3:1 ratio (three parts browns, 1 part greens).
3. Moisten your pile with some water. It doesn’t need to be soaked, just damp. Then, let nature work its magic.
Useful Tips for Achieving a Great Compost
Occasionally, turn your compost to aerate it and help it decompose faster. The natural decomposition process heats up the pile, so if you notice heat or steam coming off of it, don’t worry! That’s a good sign. Nature is working its magical fingers.
If the pile doesn’t heat up, it probably needs an extra layer of greens. If your compost pile starts to smell bad, it probably needs an extra layer of browns. Then, it’s just a waiting game.
Composting takes time, so be patient as your waste turns into rich, nutritious black gold. If you want to speed up the process, it helps to cut up the food scraps, paper, twigs, and everything else you add into small pieces.
Image: Food scraps on a bamboo mat by Chandra Oh
Once your compost is ready, you’ll have dark, rich soil for use in your garden or for your houseplants.
How to Compost if You Don't Have Space
Living in cities or suburbs can mean not having enough space to grow food or compost. If you don't have the space for a compost bin or pile, check your area for a composter program and encourage your state regulators to expand them. Some natural grocery stores and eco-minded businesses collect compostable items as well.
If you're looking for an easy way to get started, try searching for a neighborhood compost pick-up service that can pick up your food scraps and compost them for you. If none are available near you, our friends at Java's Compost suggest spreading the word to create demand.
"The more people know about composting, its benefits, and the solutions it can provide to our waste, social, and health issues, the more likely communities will want to support and be involved in composting efforts."
Be the Change You Sqwish to See
By transforming organic waste into soil for growing healthy foods, revitalizing communities and their connections to lands, and healing and offering self-empowerment to neighborhoods in need, community composting helps tackle food insecurity and climate injustice.
At Sqwishful, we’re committed to changing the cleaning industry by making the best zero waste products that clean and leave the world cleaner. We've made composting all of our products and packaging easy by making them plant-based and plastic-free ☁️
Join us in our mission to build a circular future. Shop for our compostable products at select retailers worldwide or at our online store here.
Special thanks to our friends at Java's Compost for contributing to this blog.