Basics and Benefits of Composting

Composting in KnoxvilleAs we become more aware of environmental sustainability issues, we often seek to make small changes that benefit our planet. One easy way to “go green” is to rethink what items are going in your trashcan. A lot of the waste currently being sent to landfills could instead be composted and turned into fertilizer. Composting allows disposable items such as food scraps, leaves, paper products, and even animal fur to be repurposed and used in a variety of environmentally-conscious ways.

What is compost?

Before delving into the many benefits of composting, you may be thinking, “What is compost?” Compost is organic material that has decayed into a nutrient-dense, dirt-like substance. The goal of composting is to collect decaying organic waste into a pile. Once gathered, the materials will continue to decompose and create an all-natural fertilizer that is added to soil. While this may sound like the backdrop of a Febreeze commercial, when you adhere to the guidelines of what you can and cannot compost, odors are usually a non-issue. In addition, most indoor compost bins are self-contained and guests would not know they were present unless they asked. 

What can go into a compost pile?

The first thing that comes to mind for many when thinking about composting are apple cores and banana peels. These are some of the materials that we are familiar with and know will naturally break down in the environment. Some unexpected household items that can be composted are things such as coffee grounds, hair, fur, egg shells, dryer lint, and wood chips. These items provide carbon, nitrogen, and moisture to your compost that helps facilitate the break-down of organic matter. On the other hand, items such as dairy products, meat scraps or bones, and fats should not be composted. These items will cause odors and attract pests. It is also not recommended to compost anything that has been treated with lots of inorganic chemicals, as this could potentially harm the good bacteria necessary for the breakdown of compostables. 

Benefits of composting

There are several benefits of composting. When you collect and compost your organic waste instead of sending it to a landfill, you are significantly reducing your carbon footprint. First, by lowering the amount of matter you are sending to a landfill, fewer vehicles are needed for transport and less space is used in the landfill. In addition, when waste collects in a landfill, the organics break down anaerobically and produce methane gas. Methane gas is widely known as one of the most harmful greenhouse gases and is 84 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. Composting provides an aerobic environment where organic materials can break down quickly and produce small amounts of carbon dioxide rather than methane.

Another environmental benefit of composting is its impact on the soil. As the materials in compost break down, their nutrients are returned to the soil. These nutrients help keep the soil fertile and enriched, thus creating better plant yields. Compost is also a fantastic natural alternative to chemical fertilizers and does not pose the risk of harmful run-off into rivers or lakes (plus, compost is free!).

In East Tennessee, we are lucky to be surrounded by gorgeous mountains, lakes, rivers, and our own “Urban Wilderness.” Composting helps keep our landscapes beautiful and thriving while also supporting local farmers and greenhouses. When finished compost is added to soil, it restores precious nutrients that feed new plants and also helps protect against soil erosion–the leading cause of soil degradation.  

Composting made easy

If you have a yard, composting tends to be easy. However, you might not have a large yard or the time to compost at your home. Don’t worry, there are other options available. Many areas in the U.S. now have curbside compost pickup services like Green Heron Compost. At Green Heron, we provide compost collection bins and biodegradable bags for your convenience. Simply collect your organic waste in the bin, schedule a pickup date, and we will take your compostable material to a nearby farm to be reused. When you choose to begin composting with us, you are effortlessly incorporating environmentally friendly practices into your daily life. 


This article is written by Katie Young, a freelance writer located in Knoxville, TN

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