Living a zero-waste lifestyle has become quite popular in recent years. With the benefits it has on the environment, it’s easy to see why. One of the primary principles of this lifestyle is composting as much of your waste as possible.

A natural process in the wild, this is easily replicated in your home or garden and involves breaking down your waste. Once completed, it results in a material that helps your garden grow properly and look nice.

Composting at home can be a complicated process, however. Not only do you need to set everything up right, but also use the right system and materials. If you’re interested in living a zero-waste lifestyle, it’s worth diving into what you can do.

There’s a decent bit you might need to know.

What is Composting?

So, what actually is composting? In short, it’s the process of recycling organic matter so it can be reused and given back to the environment. The resulting material is used as a natural fertilizer that doesn’t contain any harmful chemicals.

The composting process itself involves combining various materials in a bin – or composting system – before mixing them and aerating them. Depending on the time of system you’re using, it could also involve heating the materials to help them break down faster.

Composting simply replicates the process seen in nature and speeds it up. Various tools and types of composting can be used for this, such as using heated compost bins. Even fungi and worms can be used during the process to create a nutrient-rich fertilizer. Composting at home involves using one of these systems either inside the home itself or in your garden.

It’s not uncommon to see the process take place on farms and put to other large-scale uses, however. In these cases, practitioners use the finished compost to fertilize their fields. Since compost is extremely nutrient-rich, it’s a much more appealing option compared to store-bought fertilizers, which usually contain harmful chemicals.

Why Compost?

Composting needs an investment when you start off, as well as some ongoing effort as you continue. You might want a reason to put this effort in, especially considering the space it could take up in your house or garden. As it turns out, there are quite a few benefits to composting at home.

Some of the more notable of these are:

  1. Reduced Waste – Probably the most obvious benefit of composting at home, you’ll remove almost all of the waste you generate from your kitchen. If you plan on living a zero-waste lifestyle, this is an integral component of it.
  2. Improved Soil Quality – Compost is seen as black gold in many circles, thanks to the fact it’s high in nutrients. These are great for soil, and using it in your garden or on any other land improves the soil quality. Because of that, flowers, plants, and crops will be much healthier. Your garden ends up looking nicer and healthier simply because you used compost. With farms, this leads to healthier, more nutritious crops being grown.
  3. Economic Benefits – Dealing with food waste costs a lot of money, with this projected to hit $375 billion in the United States alone by 2025. By cutting down on your food and kitchen waste, which comprises about 28% of all household waste, there’ll be plenty of savings and economic benefits.
  4. Environmental Benefits – Outside of reducing your waste, composting at home provides multiple environmental benefits. It lowers methane emissions and the impact these have on the planet. Composting also conserves water, as the farmland it’s used on needs much less water to encourage crop growth. By adding compost to farmlands, you could save as much as 20,000 gallons of water per year.

Anyone who wants to be sustainable and environmentally conscious should consider at home. It offers multiple environmental benefits and can even offer a few personal benefits. If you’re considering living a zero-waste lifestyle, it’s an essential area to focus on.

While it offers a few drawbacks, these are all minor on the grand scale of things. The benefits drastically outweigh them, and there’s no reason not to put the effort into composting at home.

What Can and Can't Be Composted

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Now that you can be convinced to start composting, you’ll want to actually get started. That doesn’t mean grabbing any waste from your kitchen and tossing it in a compost bin. Some foods and other waste are well-recommended for a compost pile, while others should be avoided at all costs.

A complete list of compostable waste includes:

  • 100% cotton and wool rags
  • Fruit peels, flesh, and pits
  • Dry grass clippings, yard trimmings, and other yard waste
  • Veggie scraps
  • Tea bags
  • Eggshells
  • Wood ash and wood chips
  • Paper bags
  • Kitchen scraps
  • Banana peels
  • Coffee grounds and coffee filters
  • Nutshells
  • Leaves
  • Hay and straw
  • Pine needles
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Sawdust
  • Fireplace ashes
  • Hair and fur
  • Cardboard
  • Paper
  • Corn stalks
  • Wine corks
  • Potted plants

Then there are the various bits of waste you can’t compost. Not only will some of these not break down, but they could be harmful to the compost pile itself. They could end up proving toxic. Diseased plants are the most obvious of these. As they break down, the disease they carry is passed on to the compost, spreading it more and more.

It’s worth noting, that though a hot composting system could eradicate this problem, you’d need to invest in the right system to achieve it. You’ll also need to make sure you can burn these plants in the hot compost system with your local authorities. If it’s allowed, it’s worth considering.

Colored newspapers also fall into a bit of a grey area. Some of these can be composted, but others are made using thin wax, which isn’t a compostable material. If the newspaper is coated in this, it’s not compostable. If it isn’t, it’s worth tossing it in the compost pile.

Meat scraps might seem like an obvious compostable material, but it’s far from it. These carry the risk of diseases that could spread to your compost pile, and their smell could attract pests and other animals. They’re more hassle than they’re worth, so it’s worth avoiding them.

Choosing the Right Composting Method for You

Hot composting and using worms or fungi in your compost pile were both mentioned above. These are two different types of composting, with there being multiple options to choose from. If you’re considering composting at home, it’s worth knowing which options you have so you can decide which is the right one for you.

The main types of composting include:

  • Cold Composting – Also called anaerobic composting, this is the easiest way of composting at home by starving the materials of oxygen. It doesn’t take much effort and you don’t need to worry about using the right amount of each material or mixing it up. You can simply toss in your organic waste as you generate it. It’ll take you quite a bit of time to break down your waste, though.
  • Hot Composting Mentioned already, this is much faster than cold composting and uses heat to break down the waste faster. You’ll need to put a decent amount of effort into it, however. Not only do you need to make sure it’s at the right temperature, but mixing and aerating the materials at the right times. Despite this, it remains the most effective way of composting at home.
  • Vermicomposting Vermicomposting is relatively similar to cold composting, except it uses earthworms to break down the materials for you. Because of that, it also means letting oxygen into your composting system so the earthworms have enough to survive on. Outside of that, the process is almost identical to cold composting.
  • Bokashi Composting Bokashi composting was invented in Asia and is one of the more unique ways of composting at home. It involves using microorganisms to break down your kitchen waste, with these being introduced through what’s known as a bokashi inoculant. You can buy this pre-made and simply add it to your compost pile so it can get to work.

Each of these ways of composting at home can seem appealing, but you’ll still need to figure out which one is best for you. Each offers its pros and cons, and you’ll need a way to choose the right one for your home. There are more than a few ways to do so, with your specific circumstances being the primary dictator of this.

Consider multiple factors when you’re doing this:

  • How much space you have available
  • How much time do you want to spend on the process?
  • How quickly do you want the finished material?
  • The organic waste you’ll be adding to your compost pile
  • How much organic waste do you throw out in an average week

Each of these plays a significant role in which type of composting at home you should pick. While it might take a bit of time to figure out, it’ll make the process much easier for yourself long-term.

How to Start Your Compost Pile or Bin

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If you want to start composting at home, you’ll need to take a few steps, but these are far from complicated. Below you will find some tips for composting at home. Naturally, picking the type of compost system you’ll use should be the first of these. After that, it’s as simple as:

  1. Selecting which materials you’ll use to compost.
  2. Storing your food scraps before adding them to your compost pile.
  3. Mixing and aerating your pile, if appropriate. Alternatively, add your earthworms.
  4. Continue adding your materials when appropriate.

In time, you’ll see your waste starting to break down and turn into compost. While the amount of time it takes to do this depends on which type of home composting you’re using, it shouldn’t take you too long.

Composting Tips and Troubleshooting

Composting at home can seem like a complicated process when you’re first getting started, but it doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Even when things go wrong, they can still be easily rectified. Some issues are more common to run into than others, and it’s worth looking at how you can fix them:

  • If your compost pile won’t heat up, it could be because it’s too dry. Add some moisture, and you should fix this.
  • If your pile is smelly, you could remove the smell by adding more carbon-based materials, such as leaves.
  • If the compost is too soggy, then there mightn’t be enough oxygen in the pile. Let it air out a little, and the smell should go away in time.

By being informed about the more common issues you could run into, you shouldn’t have to worry about anything going wrong. You’ll be back on the path to great compost before you know it.

Using Your Compost

At a certain point, your compost will finally be finished, and you’ll be able to use it. While how long it’ll take to get to this point depends on the type of composting you’re using, there are a few notable ways of telling if it’s ready to be used. The easiest of these is through what’s known as the bag test.

All you’ll need to do with this is place a small amount of the compost in a zip-lock bag and remove the air. In three days, open it up and give it a smell. If there’s a sour smell or if it smells like ammonia, then the compost isn’t ready. Give it another week or so before repeating it again.

Once it’s ready, you’ll need to consider how you should actually use your compost. This isn’t a complicated process, though it depends on exactly what outcome you want and what your goal is:

  • Growing Vegetables – Spread several inches of compost on your vegetable garden before tilling it. If you’re planting new vegetables, put an inch of compost in the hole before adding the plant.
  • Growing Flowers – During the Spring, loosen the first few inches of soil in your flower bed before mixing about an inch of compost into it.
  • Amending Soil – Loosen the first three to five inches of topsoil in your garden. Add between one and two inches of compost before mixing and leaving alone.

Once you have this done, you’ll just need to wait for the compost to have an effect.


There are multiple benefits of composting at home, both personally and for the environment at large. It’s a core component of living a zero-waste lifestyle and being an eco-conscious homeowner. While it has some drawbacks, these are minor compared to the benefits you’ll see.

It doesn’t even take much time or effort to get started and maintain. With the right materials, which you’ll already generate at home, and the right system for you, you won’t have a problem recycling your waste and benefiting the environment. What’s stopping you from living a more sustainable lifestyle?

How much space do I need to make compost?

The space required for composting depends on several factors, including the amount of waste you generate, the composting method you choose, and how quickly you want to produce finished compost. You can start with a small countertop compost bin (about 1 gallon) all the way up space needed for a 60 – 80 gallon drum.

How long does it take to make compost?

Depending on your compost method, it can take as little as 3 weeks to up to 2 years. Some compost methods include Cold (or Passive) Composting, Hot (or Active) Composting, and Vermicomposting (Worm Composting).

How do you compost at home without it smelling?

Balance green and brown materials, maintain proper moisture, turn the pile regularly, chop or shred materials, avoid meat and dairy, bury fresh additions, check pH levels, and use compost boosters.

How do you compost at home for beginners?

Choose your composting system, pick a spot, collect materials, build your pile, maintenance, harvesting.

What is the best way to compost at home?

The “best” way to compost at home largely depends on individual circumstances: the amount of space available, the volume of waste produced, personal preferences, and the climate. The most space-effective way to start composting is with:

Bokashi Bins

  • Advantages:
    • Ferments waste, breaking it down quickly.
    • Can handle some materials that other methods can't, such as cooked food.
    • Compact and suitable for small spaces.
  • How-to: Add kitchen waste to the bin and sprinkle with Bokashi bran. Once the bin is full, let it sit for a few weeks to ferment. The resulting material can then be buried in the garden or added to another composting system.