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  • Writer's pictureTeam Backcountry

Love Your Mother Earth: Composting

Composting earns double points: Less in the landfill and a healthier home garden!

It's Earth Day week! We're highlighting easy ways to change your impact on the climate, waste, and our environment. Today, we're filling you in on composting so you can stop filling your trash with food scraps.

One of the best ways to minimize your “footprint” is to reduce your food waste and divert it from landfills, where it is hard to decompose. And yard projects are the best kind of projects right now—to get you out of your house and get some sunshine on your face. Combine the two, and it makes starting a compost bin a no brainer!

Choosing a composter

Installing a backyard composter is not very expensive and it’s an easy project to do. If you’re industrious and looking to save money you can build your own bin (here are a few cool ideas). Otherwise, it’s as simple as choosing a bin and a location in your yard to put it.

Tumblers and bins take up the same amount of ground space, but there are a few differences. Tumblers tend to be very durable. Compost needs to be turned to facilitate decomposition, and tumblers make this process easy. All you need to do is spin the drum a few times a week. Tumblers are designed to speed up the composting process, finishing compost in about half the time of a normal bin.

Bins—which can be wood or plasticare often cheaper, and typically have a larger capacity than tumblers. They require you to turn the compost with a pitchfork every once in a while, so pay attention to the design of the bin--some bins do not make it easy to turn the compost over.

If you'd rather collect your compost but don't want to complete the process at home, there are a few local compost collection options. Scraps offers a program where you can drop off your compost at Dirt Coffee Bar in Downtown Littleton and Compost Colorado offers a weekly compost pickup program throughout the Denver metro area—including Highlands Ranch!

What can be composted?

Virtually all food can be composted in your backyard: fruits, vegetables, pasta, bread, rice, coffee grounds and filters, cheese, eggshells, dairy, processed foods, tea bags, and even moldy food. Yard waste—grass clippings, sticks, leaves—can also go in the compost. There are many household non-food items you can also divert from the landfill by composting including greasy pizza boxes, paper towels, cotton balls, tissue paper, wax paper, and popsicle sticks. Here is a helpful guide to what non-food items are compostable.

How does it impact the Earth?

Composting is one of the best—and easiest—ways you can lower your carbon footprint.   Composting reduces the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. The average U.S. family wastes 250 pounds of food every year. And, most of this ends up in the landfill.

By weight, food waste is one of the largest streams of municipal solid waste that enters landfills. In a landfill, the lack of sunlight, oxygen, and decomposers limits the decomposition that takes place. In this dark, anaerobic environment, decomposition happens extremely slowly by methane-producing bacteria. The landfill gasses produced are primarily made up of methane. All greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, fluorinated gases—when released into the atmosphere, act like a heat-trapping blanket around the Earth. The more greenhouse gasses added, the thicker the blanket. 

Methane is a particularly potent greenhouse gas, about 30 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the U.S. So, by composting you help the Earth ditch extra methane

Composting creates nutrient-rich soil, which is great for your garden. 

Looking for the best—and one of the easiest—ways to help your garden thrive? Compost! When mixed into your garden, compost increases the quality of soil by increasing the nutrients in the soil, helps stabilize soil's pH, increases water retention, and helps suppress plant diseases and pests. Additionally, compost helps provide habitat for beneficial soil organisms, from bacteria to earthworms. By adding nutrients from compost to the soil, it will also reduce your need for chemical fertilizers, both saving you money and preventing unnecessary chemicals from entering the environment and the food you eat. 


AnnaKate Hein is the Backcountry Wilderness Area Programs Supervisor. She is a Georgia alum—once a dawg, always a dawg—where she was a member of the marching band and on the crew team. She worked for Save the Bay in Rhode Island before moving to Colorado. She and her husband can be found in the mountains or the desert chasing their next big adventure—mountain biking, skiing, hiking, climbing, camping, and, most notably, living the river rat life on their SUPs all summer.

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