Green Glossary | Composting


Composting, also known at nature's process of recycling, is a biological process where organic materials are broken down and nutrients and minerals are released. This process can be expressed as an equation: air + water + carbon + nitrogen = compost. The right amount of water and air are needed for decomposition to occur. Carbon is used for the energy source. The microbes need nitrogen for the proteins that build their bodies. These four elements develop a synergy for composting to happen. Accompanied by this equation are other important factors for composting to occur. Microorganisms much colonize in the compost pile. The temperature and moisture conditions must be controlled.

There are three types of composting: aerobic, anaerobic, and vermicomposting.

Aerobic composting involves air. Waste with high nitrogen levels will grow bacteria resulting in the creation of high temperatures. This is a very high maintenance process because the compost pile needs to be turned every couple days to ensure air is kept in the system and the temperature is up.

Anaerobic composting is done without air. This process is very low maintenance and just requires debris to be thrown into a pile. The debris will pack down to the point where there is no air available for beneficial organisms, but instead will harbor an environment for slow working bacteria to grow. This results in a slow process and may take years to break down.

The last type, vermicomposting, is the most beneficial for composting food waste. This process involves red worms, bacteria, fungi, insects, and other bugs. These guests break down organic materials for the rest to eat. The red worms eat the bacteria, fungi, and food waste, and then deposit their castings.

Composting is a relatively simple process and can be done on a small scale or a large scale. Small scale is done at home in small piles with low temperatures and less than optimum humidity. Large scale is done commercially where materials are shredded, mixed and maintained at 140 degrees Fahrenheit.