A beginner’s guide to composting

A beginner’s guide to composting

Composting is the fifth tier of the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy. It’s a great way to reduce food waste and build a circular ecosystem in your backyard. Composting, simply put, is the decomposition of food waste and other organic materials mixed into a repurposed fertilizer. It provides excellent nutrient benefits to the soil you combine it with, thus improving the quality of growth in the garden.

Don’t throw away food scraps like vegetable peels, egg shells or coffee grounds! Follow the tips below and compost them instead.

Benefits of composting for the planet

  • Reduces landfill waste—by turning your trash into organic treasure, you’re putting your waste to good use.
  • Lowers your carbon footprint—a study found that composting organic waste vs. sending it to the landfill can reduce more than 50 per cent of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Conserves water—composting retains moisture from the waste, which then (eventually) adds moisture to the garden.

How to start your own compost

The first step is finding the best compost bin for your lifestyle and where to place it. This designation also allows you to consider what composting method you will pursue. 


The main type of composting outdoors is called aerobic decomposition, which is the decomposition of organic materials in the presence of oxygen (and the most common type found in nature.) 

Hot or open air composting is a pile built up in your yard, ideally in a bin for maintenance. Usually, placing a compost bin in a farther corner of the yard where there is overall less foot traffic is best (because it will also attract the likes of bees and wasps.) And, of course, consider the odour that could waft from the compost bin. Find a location that is both convenient and tolerable. 

Another option is trench composting (also called in-ground or direct,) where you dig a deep hole in your yard and begin to dump food and yard waste into it. Simple, and no fuss beyond the initial dig, though having a covered bin is generally a little more manageable.

Vermicomposting leverages the power of earthworms, which speed up aerobic decomposition. This means they increase the amount of oxygen in the waste pile, which is what outdoor composting is all about. 

With an outdoor setup, it is recommended to “turn” the compost with a shovel or even your hands to increase the oxygen flow.


Balcony, patio, and rooftop gardeners, you can also rejoice! There are new indoor compost bins on the market that are suitable for all different types of living arrangements. 

Those who have compost/green bins in the kitchen can also dump their bins into the outdoor compost on a schedule, as you would take out the garbage.

Once you’ve determined the best bin and placement, indoors or outdoors, here are some ways to make your composting efforts effective. 

Compost by colour

Brown materials (eggshells, dry leaves, wood chips, etc.) create carbon, increasing oxygen flow in the pile.

Green (coffee grounds, fruit & veggie waste, weeds) supply the nutrients and are particularly high in nitrogen, all of which help plants, fruits and veggies thrive.

Knowing the basics and the environmental benefits of composting helps guide you toward this healthy habit to combat food waste.

How Japan reduces food waste

How Japan reduces food waste

Editor’s Note: Food waste isn’t just a Canadian problem – it’s a global issue with devastating impacts on climate change and hunger. All over the world, countries struggle to ensure good food ends up on plates instead of landfills, and many have developed unique strategies to face this crisis head-on.

In the next few months, The Harvest Journal will explore food waste policies around the world and highlight what different countries are doing to prevent and reduce waste, build more sustainable and resilient food systems, protect our planet and finally put an end to food waste.

In 2019, the Japanese government introduced the Act on Promotion of Food Loss and Waste Reduction to prevent still-edible food from being discarded. The law promotes understanding of food waste and stipulates a basic policy to reduce food loss and waste. All levels of government, businesses and consumers are encouraged to work together to tackle this challenge as a national movement. October is set as the Food Loss Reduction Month.

Some key initiatives include:

  • Extending the best before date on consumer products
  • Recycling food wastes into fertilizer and feed
  • Creating business incentives for those in the food supply chain
  • Support food bank activities

Japan also has a global reputation for its innovative and minimal lifestyle. The culture adopts the Mottainai mindset, meaning “don’t waste what is valuable.” The Act on Promotion of Food Loss and Waste Reduction supports the Mottainai way of being by promoting sustainability and repurposing of materials. From the home to public places, the act will have to evolve with the changes in demographics to fight climate change, reduce food waste and support an aging population. Japan is on the precipice of significant change. However, culturally, it is something they are prepared for.

In line with the government’s direction, many Japanese businesses have taken steps to reduce the amount of avoidable food waste. Lawson, one of the country’s largest convenience store operators, uses an AI software to inform its decision to discount a product based on a specific store’s sales, delivery times and weather conditions to improve its chances of being sold.

At an individual level, Matsumoto City in the Nagano Prefecture ran the “Let’s Eat Up Everything! 30/10” Campaign, which encourages people to reduce leftovers by remaining seated and enjoy eating for 30 minutes after a toast and 10 minutes before the end of a meal.

Even spending time auditing your food waste can help reduce the amount of food loss by about 20 per cent, according to findings from a project by The Consumer Affairs Agency in Tokushima Prefecture.

Elsewhere in Japan, there are also projects that have seen food scraps turned into concrete, lard from ramen used to power public transit and even furniture made from egg shells. Read more in this article from the Washington Post.