Dishing the dirt on compost

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FORT WAYNE — The Allen County Department of Environmental Management invites residents to learn to compost at a series of free workshops. ACDEM celebrated International Compost Awareness Week with its first compost workshop May 8 at Salomon Farm Park’s Learning Center in partnership with the U.S. Compost Council.

The workshops are a part of ACDEM’s efforts to help the community reduce its environmental footprint.

Food scraps and yard waste together make up about 30% of what we throw away in U.S. landfills, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“A lot of people think that when you put something in the trash that is food that eventually it will biodegrade in the landfill,” said Aiste Manfredini, communications and outreach coordinator for ACDEM.

However, items that decompose in the anaerobic conditions of a landfill could take years to break down. Additionally, food waste in landfills release methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Landfills accounted for 16% of U.S. methane emissions in 2017, according to the EPA.

Other benefits of composting
Food waste can be diverted from landfills to create compost, an organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow. Compost improves soil health by returning nutrients to the soil.

Composting can also save money and resources. Gardeners can use free, nutrient rich compost to fertilize their plants instead of buying fertilizer.

Compost also saves water because it requires less watering, a quality that makes it very popular with golf courses, said Gowri Somasundaram, a member of the U.S. Compost Council who talked about composting methods at the May 8 workshop. She conducts compost and soil testing at A & L Great Lakes Laboratories for the company’s clients, compost manufacturers.

Different methods
The workshop’s key takeaway was that there’s many different composting options depending on the space you have, the time and effort you want to devote and the money you want to invest.

“Anybody can do composting,” Somasundaram said. It can be customized whether you’re “super active or super lazy,” she said.

Residents learn about the different kinds of composting from Bokashi, a fermentation-based method developed in Japan, to a simple compost heap. She also talked about using red wigglers and black soldier flies to help breakdown food waste.

Somasundaram also offered a tip if you want to harvest your compost sooner: If you’re chopping cucumbers and discarding the peels, roughly chop them before tossing them in your compost pile to help it break down faster.

Learning the basics
Composting at home can be low maintenance, but there are some basic guidelines to follow to maintain a compost pile.

Some food scraps should not be composted, including meat and dairy products, which create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies.

When it comes to what can be composted, balancing “greens and browns” is also important. Greens include things like produce scraps, grass clippings and coffee grounds. Browns include things like dead leaves, woodchips, paper and cardboard.

Moisture is also important. Compost should feel like a “wrung-out sponge,” Manfredini said.

Oxygen is also a main component of composting. Turning the compost pile with a shovel or pitchfork often will accelerate the compost process and prevent foul odors.

In addition to composting methods, the workshop also covers local regulations for residents and businesses.

To learn more about composting, visit epa.gov/recycle/composting-home.

ACDEM’s next open workshop will be held 2-3 p.m. Tuesday, July 23 at the Allen County Fairground. No registration is required and all ages are welcome. Additional workshop dates to be determined. For more information, visit acwastewatcher.org or follow ACDEM on social media.

For questions, residents can contact Allen County Department of Environmental Management at 260-449-7878 or info@acwastewatcher.org.