Write up by Kasey Colligan, Training & Education at 3fe
As someone who goes out of her way to work for coffee companies with a sustainability initiative, I knew embarrassingly little about composting until Tuesday night when I spent my evening listening to an expert talk about it.
Stephen Alexander is a self-declared "composting hobbyist" who picks up chaff from our roastery to add to his own compost. He kindly agreed to come down to our Grand Canal shop to give us a great talk about the basics of composting, and gave us some ideas of how we can up our composting game! Stephen was clearly very passionate about composting and all his knowledge left my head spinning.
Here were my thoughts about composting before last night’s chat:
1. You can chuck anything in there
2. It’s going to smell / be kind of gross
3. It’s easy
4. It’s really not all that important
Well, let me tell you, not all that is strictly speaking true... let’s dissect this a little, shall we?
1. You can chuck anything in there.
So… you can chuck just about anything that used to be alive into a compost pile. However, there are 5 things that you need to consider when creating your compost pile. We call these the 5 essentials of composting.
First, you need somewhere to put it! The type of composter you use is going to depend on what you’re composting, and where you’re doing it. What we use at 3fe will be different than what you use at home.
Second, what is actually going into your compost. You need a mix of Green and Brown Materials. Basically, Green materials are things like grass and food waste that are nitrogen rich. Brown materials are things like brown leaves, cardboard, sawdust, or coffee chaff! You need a good mix of these things to compost correctly.
Third, the particle size. This also has to do with what actually goes into your compost. You want your particles to be small. The smaller the particle, the faster it breaks down.
The fourth and fifth element of composting are moisture and aeration. And these are two that I had NO idea about. Without getting too bogged down in the science, I’ll just tell you that it is really important for your compost to have water and aeration. Moisture and aeration are key to the survival of the organisms that are making your compost.
2. It’s going to smell / be kind of gross.
Alright, listen. The science-bits of composting actually get a little gross. If I delve into all of it, I’d have to tell you about bacteria, thermophilic organisms, fungi, and even worms. But there is good news! If you do composting right, it actually shouldn’t be all that gross for you and it shouldn’t smell!! If compost is really smelly it’s probably because the compost is too wet, or there is too much green material. And both of those things are easy fixes! You can turn your compost to help it dry out or add more brown materials. So, I was half right here. Science-wise, compost might be kind of gross. But it shouldn’t smell, or even be gross in a way I need to interact with.
3. It’s easy.
Nope. Wrong. Definitely not easy. As you probably figured out from the 5 essentials of composting that I listed above, it’s more of a science than it initially seems. Plus, the right amount of moisture has to be maintained, and your compost must be aerated. Now, all that being said-- you should still do it if you have a garden! As my next point will illustrate….
4. It’s really not all that important.
Oh, boy was I wrong about this! So beyond the obvious - that composting prevents waste and conserves resources - there are so many other reasons to compost! Did you know composting helps reduce the production of methane in landfills? And that has an impact tackling climate change! Plus an added benefit for anyone looking to compost at home is that it creates fertile, moist, nutrient rich soil in which you can grow new plants!
So that is by far not all there is to know about composting. But those are the takeaways I got from last night’s talk as a complete novice. I’m sure I’ll have more to say after I spend the weekend perusing the reading materials we were provided. And I just want to say a huge thank you to Stephen for coming to teach us about composting!
Want more info? Check out stopfoodwaste.ie or get your hands on “Composting: A Household Guide” which was put out by the EPA.
Also keep an eye out for future blog posts on our composting adventures!