Kitchen Composting 101: How to Get Started

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles | February 24, 2016

The biggest contributor to our landfills comes from wasted foods. Only 3 percent of food is composted, a terribly low number when you realize we throw away over 1 billion tons of food each year. In the U.S., that equates to just shy of one third of all food purchased, worth over $48 billion.

Why throw away food when you can compost it? If you've every tried composting, you know it's a wonderful thing to do. It decreases methane gas production and keeps excess food out of landfills.

What is composting?

Composting is the process of treating all biodegradable, organic waste – things like food, food scraps, leaves, paper, feathers, grasses, and more – and turning it into a rich soil or fertilizer. This is done with the help of microorganisms that include bacteria, fungi, and worms. The end results is a quality soil you can use for gardening projects or for growing your own food at home.

Getting Started

Outdoor compost bins can be complex to build and sustain. They can take up a lot of space, they're not the most aesthetically pleasing, they often attract unwanted animal life, and, of course, we can't forget the smell. Skilled composters thrive through their use of outdoor compost bins, but for the average person, going that route can be a mess.

Cue kitchen composting! Kitchen composting was born as an altervative to messy outdoor composting, done at a smaller scale. It takes up less space and since it's easier to get to, more tends to get recycled. All you need is a large container and a place on your countertop or under your sink to place it.

Worm composting is the cleanest and neatest system to use. Worms pass the organic waste through their digestive systems, speeding the decomposition process and aerating the soil naturally. Purchase a ready-made kitchen composting kit and you can start right away. The worms eat away at each layer of composted material and speed up the composting process, leaving you with a dark, nutrient-rich soil for your garden or house plants. Don't have a garden? You can also drop off your compost at a local farmers' market or other compost drop-off site.

What you can compost:

  • Vegetable and fruit peelings
  • Tea leaves and ground coffee
  • Crushed egg shells
  • Paper, newspaper, and paper towels
  • Leaves from non-coniferous trees and shrubs
  • Vacuum dust
  • Wood ash
  • Avoid meat, cooked food, diapers, magazine print, and coal ash

Tips to stop the stink:

  • Keep your compost at room temperature or in the fridge with a lid on.
  • Temporarily stop adding moist food scraps and add only dry matter, such as newspaper.
  • Add some calcium carbonate or ground egg shells and cut back on citrus scraps to reduce acidity.
  • If you don't use it for your own garden, switch it out periodically, dropping off the soil at your local compost drop-off site.

Composting is going to become commonplace as we try to avoid overfilling landfills and work to make the planet greener and more sustainable. I encourage you to try and it and see if it's for you!


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Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles

Jenn Giles, R.D., C.S.S.D. is all about health and wellness. She has over 15 years’ experience, including a dual master’s degree in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Columbia University. She is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). She supplements all of this with her spin instructor certification and USATriathlon Level I Coach Certification.

Jennifer is passionate about (actually, obsessed with) the sport of triathlon. She has been personally participating in triathlons since 2000 and running road races since 1992. She is a two-time Ironman finisher and has completed countless numerous marathons. She has been a member of Power Bar Team Elite since 2006 and competed as a member of the 2006 Aquaphor/Active.com Sponsored Athlete Team. She was ranked as USAT All American Honorable mention in 2006 and 2011. Jennifer does all of this along side of her husband, Patrick, who is an equally accomplished triathlete and runner. They try as hard as they can to do all of their training and racing together.

She will tell you, however, that her most important, most rewarding and most challenging job is as a mother of four. She knows first hand the challenges of maintaining optimal fitness, overall good health and achieving goals while raising a family - of which good nutrition is the cornerstone.

Most importantly, she knows how to motivate, inspire and challenge athletes based on their own abilities, strengths and everyday lifestyles. She believes there is an athlete in everyone - no matter what their abilities are – and if those abilities are manifold, then there is an even better athlete in there!

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