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Compost: From Food Scraps to Black Gold

Home composting reduces your household’s waste and carbon footprint. And with local classes, discounted bins and guides, it’s easy to get started.

Did you know that when you toss your apples cores, orange peels and leftovers in the trash, you’re contributing to global warming? Once in the landfill, food scraps produce methane – a powerful greenhouse gas that is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

You probably already know that composting is the most eco-friendly way to dispose of your food waste, but you may not know that turning your leftovers into a rich soil amendment is easier than you think.

Which Type of Composting is Right for You?

If you have a yard or garden, you can compost your food scraps with your yard clippings, equally mixing carbon-rich materials, known as “browns,” with nitrogen-rich materials, called “greens.” Browns include dry, woody materials like fallen leaves and pruned shrubs, while greens can be grass clippings, freshly cut weeds and food scraps except for meat and dairy.

But don’t feel left out if you live in an apartment or a home without a yard; worm composting will be your best option to “recycle” your food scraps. Just like backyard composting, you can’t place meat and dairy products in your worm bin, but worms will munch through your other leftovers, producing their own soil amendment called castings – a fancier name for worm poo. Give the worm castings to friends to use in their gardens, or use it to grow your own indoor potted plants.

Your worm bin will remain odor free – unless you are putting in more food than the worms can eat or the worms aren’t getting enough oxygen – so you can keep the bin indoors or outdoors.

Grossed out by worms and dirt, or don’t have time to maintain a home compost bin (not that it requires much time)? Many San Mateo County cities now collect food waste – including meat and dairy products – at the curb along with yard trimmings – including Redwood City, Belmont, Burlingame, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Menlo Park, San Mateo, Atherton and Hillsborough. 

Getting Started

Now that you’ve figured out which kind of composting works for your household, you’ll need to get a composting bin. San Mateo County’s RecycleWorks program offers a backyard composting bin and Wriggly Wranch worm bin to county residents at wholesale prices, but you can also build your own plastic or wooden worm bin following RecycleWorks’ directions.

To learn all the in’s and out’s of composting – what you can and can’t compost, troubleshooting advice and how to use the finished product – check out RecycleWork’s detailed online instructions.

But if you prefer learning in a classroom setting rather than reading online, RecycleWorks also offers free composting classes around the county year-round. The last and only workshop in Redwood City was on Aug. 24, but there are plenty of workshops in San Carlos and other neighboring cities.

Mastering the Art of Composting

But what if you want to go beyond being an amateur composter – someone who simply who wants to reduce her household’s waste, which is a noble cause in and of itself? If you want to learn the science behind composting and how it can improve your gardening, RecycleWorks’ Master Composter program is for you.

Held at the College of San Mateo, the Master Composter program is free but requires 50 hours of volunteer service including leading composting workshops, staffing a booth at the county fair and carrying out other educational activities.

The 2011 Master Composter program wrapped up in June, but the 2012 program starts in next spring.

On a personal note, I want to let readers know this is my last “Green Views from the Peninsula” column for the Patch sites, as my responsibilities with Earth911 are increasing. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this column as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it, and keep up the green great work in your daily lives!

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