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5 Steps to Creating Your Own Home Compost

My name is Renata Massion and I’m the Operations and Sustainability Coordinator here at Sun and Swell! I’m making this guide to introduce the wonderful world of home composting. I know it can be overwhelming to think about home composting, especially when life gets hectic, but it is actually one of the easiest and most effective ways to lower your carbon footprint. Whether you live in the country, in a tiny apartment, or anywhere in between, there is a composting solution for you.  Read on to learn how to compost in just 5 easy steps!

1. Gather your supplies 

  • Get a transport container: This should be large enough to hold about a week’s worth of food scraps, and have a lid so the smell doesn’t waft through your home. This indoor compost bin is made of bamboo and has a carbon filter that keeps smells from leaking. You can also reuse an existing container you have around the house- like an old milk carton, or a mason jar. If you’re worried about the smell, you can store your container in the freezer. 
  • Identify a place to dump your compost:  There are two primary options here:
    • An outdoor space to dump your compost, or 
    • An outdoor tumbler (this makes turning your compost easier when the time comes, but costs a bit extra). If you decide to invest in a tumbler I like this one that’s made in the US, or this one that is a bit more economical.
2. Fill your transport container with scraps

Most plant-based food scraps and organic materials can go into your compost (even dryer lint!). For a more complete list of what can and cannot go in your compost, see below. 

Your compost should have a mix of what we call “greens and browns” which will help with aeration and moisture levels. Green compost ingredients are wet and nitrogen rich - things like fruit peels, fresh cut grass, and tea bags. Brown compost ingredients are dry and carbon rich - things like dried grass, newspapers, and cardboard. See a longer list of greens and browns below. The nitrogen allows for microbial growth (the most important component for biodegradation) and the carbon allows for water and air flow which lets the microorganisms do their thing. Alternating layers of browns and greens will keep those dreaded smells from filling your home, and keep your compost healthy. You should aim for a 2:1 ratio of green to brown ingredients, but it doesn’t need to be perfect!

3. Transport your compost

When your transport container is full, bring it outside to your larger compost area or tumbler and dump your scraps. Try to create an even layer to ensure consistent biodegradation.  

4. Turn your compost and be patient

If you are using a tumbler you should turn your compost every 3-4 days, if you are building a freestanding compost you should turn it about 1-2 times a week. 

If you want to continually add to your compost pile, we recommend that you start 2-3 piles and separate them by decomposition status so you can have one pile of finished compost, and one where you can add fresh ingredients. 

Composting can take a while and is very dependent on climate. Hotter climates will result in faster composting, while cooler climates may take a bit longer. If you are living in a place that gets to freezing temperatures, your compost process will halt in the Winter and you may want to consider an indoor method like bokashi composting

Remember, it is a journey and things can happen unexpectedly. Remembering the COMPOST acronym can help when troubleshooting your compost pile: 

  • C - Carbon/Nitrogen: the right mixture of browns and greens is essential in any compost pile
  • O - Oxygen: aeration lets the oxygen flow through the pile and allows the microorganisms to break everything down. Structured ingredients like ripped up cardboard boxes, and continual turning will help with this. 
  • M - Moisture: aiming for 50% moisture is a good starting point and will give the microorganisms enough to eat. Remember this is not an exact science! You can tell your compost is too dry if there is no sign of decomposition and you can tell your compost is too wet if there is liquid leaching out the bottom. 
  • P - Particle Sizes: a mixture of small and medium scraps will help your compost succeed. Small scraps are easier to break down while larger scraps provide structure for air flow. A small scrap will be about the size of a banana peel, a medium scrap will be closer to a newspaper size, and a large scrap is something with lots of structure like a branch. 
  • O - Odor: When composting it is important to remember that no smell (or just smelling like regular dirt) is a good smell. 
  • S - Site: remember that each site will compost differently depending on whether you are indoors or outdoors 
  • T - Temperature: temperature plays a huge role in how fast scraps will break down. Hotter temperatures mean faster breakdown times, while cooler temperatures will take a bit longer
5. Enjoy your home-made compost! 

You did it! You will know that your compost is finished when it looks just like the soil you would buy at your local gardening center. Your compost can be used in your own garden, given to friends, or donated to local farms and community gardens. 

An incomplete list of what can and can’t be composted: 

Go for it!

  • Greens
    • Fruits 
    • Vegetables
    • Flowers and other natural waste from your garden 
    • Tea bags (as long as they don’t use a metal staple to affix the tag to the string)
    • Coffee grounds 
    • Eggshells 
    • Cooked foods that do not use oils or butters (steamed vegetables, etc.) 
    • Grains 
  • Browns
    • Dryer and vacuum lint
    • Hair from your hairbrush
    • Recyclable packing items like cardboard boxes (ripped up so they aren’t too large) and packing papers
    • Newspapers
Maybe not…
  • Animal products (meat, dairy, bones, yogurt) 
  • Oils and butters 
  • Cooked foods that use oils or butters (lasagna, cakes, etc.) 
  • Plants that still have seeds and will germinate in your compost pile

Now, get ready to enjoy the many benefits of home compost! If you have more questions  you can search through our FAQ below, or email me directly at renata@sunandswellfoods.com. I hope you enjoy your home composting experience!


FAQ: 

1. Can Sun and Swell packaging be put directly into my home compost?

Yes! Sun and Swell packaging is 100% compostable and can be put directly into home composts.

Our packaging is approved for home composting, however, we cannot guarantee a timeline as everyone’s home compost has varying degrees of humidity, heat, and presence of bacteria/microorganisms. We are currently in the process of testing a variety of home composting scenarios with our bags, so we can give more information on do's / don'ts. You can check out our progress here!

2. How long will it take for Sun and Swell packaging to break down?

Sun and Swell packaging takes about 90 days to compost in an industrial compost facility.  It will likely take longer in a home compost, and is highly dependent on your exact condition. This is a bit longer than most other food scraps because the materials in our bags are made to last through shipping and handling. 

3. I live in an apartment. Can I still compost? 

Definitely! You can use alternate methods to compost like Vermicomposting or the Bokashi method.

4. My compost smells bad. How can I fix this? 

Smelly compost is a common problem that can be easily fixed. The lack of oxygen in a compost pile is what helps the scraps decompose...and also what makes it smell. Smelly compost can mean your pile is too wet, doesn’t have enough air flow, or doesn’t have the right ratio of greens (wet, nitrogen rich materials) and browns (dry, carbon rich materials). To fix this you can try a couple of methods: make sure you are turning your pile often enough, add more structured ingredients that will cultivate aeration, and/or add more browns. 

5. I live in a cold climate. Can I still compost? 

Absolutely! Depending on how cold it is where you live, you can either live with a slower composting process in the winter, keep your scraps in the freezer until it is warm enough for decomposition, or use an alternative method that doesn’t depend on climate.

6. Who can I give my mature compost to if I don’t have a use for it?

Many places have curbside composting programs or local composting facilities that will accept home compost. This map shows local composting facilities across the nation, including what kinds of compost they accept.