A Compost Professional Explains How It's Done

Jan 15, 2014

Composting can be complicated. But you should try it.
Credit Chion Wolf / WNPR

As we began working on a Colin McEnroe Show about composting, Colin made sure we included Susannah Castle, who runs Blue Earth Compost. She provides pails to subscribers in the Hartford area, and for a monthly fee, picks up the pails full of food scraps and other compostable materials from the household once a week. 

Periodically through out the year, Castle returns a portion of nutrient-rich soil back to the home. If you don't need it, she'll donate the bounty to a local garden.

Colin invited Castle over to look through some of the scraps in his kitchen, and talk more about what else goes into filling that blue pail:

Colin McEnroe: We’re standing in my kitchen right now. I’ve saved a little bit of waste. We just peeled some clementine, and we got a banana peel from this morning. Fruit peels I assume are really good. Right?

Susannah Castle of Blue Earth Compost: Fruit peels are really great, but before you throw that peel in the compost instead of the trash, you want to remember to remove the sticker.

That’s just because it won’t compost?


So labels have got to come off. We’ve got our little bag here that I’ve saved from last night’s stuff. I can already see some things that crept in there that probably shouldn’t. What is that? That was tied to some bread.

With a twist tie that has bits of metal and things that you don’t want to include in your compost pail.

Basically, we have a lot of green matter here, a lot of leftover tops of things and scallions. Somebody tossed last night’s salad in there. Is that okay? The salad that has dressing on it?

Yeah. Fats and oils are fine to include in smaller quantities, and you certainly don’t want them hot, because the compost pails that I provide are lined with a compostable bag. Hot liquids will actually melt that bag. It's made out of plant resins that are designed to break down a compost pile, and they will melt.

So don’t put anything hot in. So other than that, we’re pretty okay for compost, right?

Yeah; you got chick peas, tomatoes, apple peels -- all that can go.

I think we’re okay in here. Coffee grounds, I assume, are super compostable?

They are. They’re fantastic. They are a great input. They really speed up the processing of the compost pile itself.

Obviously, we don’t want staples and metal products. Are there other things that could be really bad for compost?

Anything that doesn’t belong in the compost pile gets pushed to the outside of the pile during the compost processing. That just happens naturally, and then the folks at Harvest will actually go through and hand pick anything that doesn’t belong. You don’t want to put in any metals, plastics; anything that can be recycled doesn’t belong in the pile.

In general, what are people telling you about why they are electing your service?

A lot of my subscribers are young families. They want to teach their kids about reducing their waste, and doing other things with their food scraps besides sending them into the trash. They want to do the right thing. They have tried composting before, and either it hasn’t worked, or they’ve attracted critters, or they just don’t have the time. Because the service really makes things easy, it’s something they really want to do.

Blue Earth Compost provides a four-gallon bin.
Credit Chion Wolf / WNPR

Bring the bucket over here, and let's get a feeling of what we’re dealing with in terms of the high-tech equipment we’d be using.  

It’s four gallons, and it’s got an airtight lid. It has a little card I provide [showing] what can be composted. That makes it easier for folks to track what belongs in the pail and what doesn’t.

No dental floss, Q-tips, baby wipes, cigarette butts, Styrofoam, wax paper -- those are all bad things.

All those are no-nos.   

And hair? Pet fur, pet waste, animal remains? None of that?


Alright. Because Ralph here could keel over at any moment and we don’t want to put him in the compost heap. But pizza boxes are okay? Wow, really?

Yeah, exactly. As long as they get shredded first. They’re that paper, that bulky waste that’s an okay carbon input to add to the pile.

And parchment or baking paper, not other kinds of paper. Soiled food paper.

Right, like muffin wrappers, and things like that.

Paper napkins and paper towels?

Those are okay. Obviously, if you’re running out of room in your compost pail, if they are clean enough and they are un-dyed, then they can probably be recycled. It gets back to creating a really high-quality finished product.

I’m just looking around this kitchen. There are more things around this kitchen than I would have guessed you could compost. I was thinking mainly in terms of things that go in my mouth, but it's more of these paper products that can be composted. That’s very cool.

Yeah, it's a great thing to put those things to compost instead of in the trash.


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