Are you composting your household waste?

What is composting?

Let’s start with the basics. We know that the onion peel or the orange rind in our waste bin will eventually decompose, as will many other forms of organic matter. With composting, we simply speed up this natural decay process by providing ideal conditions for the helpful microorganisms to thrive so that they can do their thing.

In more scientific terms, composting is a microbial process that converts organic materials to an organic soil amendment or mulch, improving soil’s physical properties. 

Why should we compost?

We consider composting to be an essential part of reducing household waste. The major goal of composting is to reduce the amount of solid waste we generate. If we reduce solid waste, we can send less to landfills. If you are an avid gardener, the compost can be a useful fertilizer that is a lot more environmentally friendly than synthetic fertilizers. Moreover, it can be done inexpensively by every household. As it is a natural process (with a slight advantage that you will provide), it is not even difficult!

So, the question really is – why haven’t you been composting yet? 

How to compost?

If the process of composting daunts you, we are here to help. Everything you need to know is right here!

You will need

  • Organic waste – dried leaves, grass clippings, kitchen waste (in any form: scraps, peels, raw, cooked, or even rotten), newspaper, cardboard cartons, wood dust, etc.
  • Some soil – source of microorganisms 
  • A bit of moisture (plenty of that in Thailand!)
  • Lastly, air as a source of oxygen

Let’s go through the step-by-step process now.

Step 1: Select a place for the compost  

If you live in a house, find a spot discretely away from the main house. If you live in an apartment, find a spot on your balcony that you don’t use as much. It would be a good idea to select a place downwind from your living area as even a well-managed compost bin may occasionally smell a bit foul. The area should not be enclosed, as we need air for that all-important oxygen! However, too much wind can dry the material too fast. Also, try to find a spot that gets some light. 

Step 2: Find a suitable container

The choice depends entirely on the effort and expense that you wish to devote to the project, as well as the amount of compost that you wish to make. 

If you have large enough space outside your house, you can simply pile all of the ingredients and let nature take its course. It is slower but gets the job done with practically no effort! 

Most of us, though, might not have that luxury or would want something more discreet. But, even then, you don’t need anything fancy. The container could be as simple as plastic bins (with holes for aeration) stacked on top of each other. At HappyLyfe’s founders’ home, for example, they have stacked large earthen pots. The clay naturally provides aeration and looks cool on their small balcony. Don’t forget to cover the top container. 

If you have not placed this structure directly on the soil, then we highly recommend placing a plate to collect the liquid that might seep out of the container. And, keep that liquid – it is an extremely beneficial fertilizer for your plants.

Step 3: Now, add the organic matter

A good compost pile contains nitrogen-rich (greens) and carbon-rich (browns) organic matter. 

What are greens?

  • grass clippings or weeds
  • vegetable and fruit peels/rinds
  • eggshells, crushed into small bits or ground into powder
  • coffee grounds, including filter paper
  • teabags, etc.

And, what are browns?  

  • dead leaves
  • twigs and branches
  • cardboard cartons, torn into small pieces
  • newspaper
  • straw, or hay
  • wood dust and chips, etc.

You can also add biodegradable products like this cool laundry detergent substitute, dishwashing sponges, or even these panty liners. HappyLyfe has loads of products that come in compostable packaging as well!

Mix these two types of ingredients to create the ideal conditions for quick decay. Whenever you add more organic matter to the compost bin, sprinkle in some soil too. 

For home composting, we highly recommend not to add these to the compost bin/pile:

  • human waste or pet litter 
  • plants that died of pest attack or were treated with pesticide
  • invasive plants/weeds 

Now, you just wait for a few weeks/months and you will have the compost ready! 

Let’s come back to the example of how HappyLyfe’s founders compost for a moment. In a household of 3 people and 2 pets, they fill up a 10-liter compost bin (their earthen pot) in 4-6 weeks. When full, it gets moved to the bottom of the stack. By the time the other two pots fill up, the organic matter in the first pot has decomposed into something that looks like dark, crumbly soil.

What else do you need to know?

If there is too much carbon (remember the browns?!) in your compost, it will decompose at a slower pace. On the other hand, if there is excess nitrogen (the greens, especially grass clippings), it can produce ammonia gas, which has a foul smell. 

Make sure to maintain moisture to keep the bacteria active. In Thailand, most of your work is already done by humidity but it would be a good idea to mix your compost pile/bin once in a while to check whether it has enough moisture or not. 

Mixing your compost is a good idea anyway to ensure that enough oxygen is available in your pile. That is why it is also crucial to have aeration in your containers – through the holes.

Pay attention to the temperature of the area where your compost pile/bin is located. Microorganisms are more active in warm temperatures, but too much heat kills them. 

Lastly, if you are up for some adventure, introduce worms, especially earthworms, to your compost! Worms can reduce composting times by as much as 50%. But if that’s not your thing, you can always add Worm fertilizer or Worm tea to your homemade compost to increase the nutrient count.

How to use compost?

The end product of this wonderfully easy and sustainable process is nutrient-rich compost that can boost the growth of your edible plants, ornamental plants, as well as trees. So, use it liberally in your garden! We top the soil of our pots every month with our homemade compost.