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10 things every Canadian should know about composting

Composting might be one of the simplest ways to respect our planet, but knowing what to compost, how to do it, and where to use it can get complicated. 

This is especially true because the guidelines and recommendations can differ widely depending on whether you have access to a curbside pickup program for food scraps, the rules for organics recycling where you live (if it is offered at all), and—if you’re keen to tackle composting at home—the design and size of your indoor or outdoor composter.  

Still, no matter your situation or level of expertise, here are ten useful things to keep in mind when it comes to composting. 

It can have a big impact

According to a recent study, 71 percent of Canadians have a curbside organics pickup program where they live. These organic recycling programs processed 4.83 million metric tons of organic waste in 2019, helping to divert this amount of material from landfills. 

Composting can help combat climate change

Every year, 60 percent of the food that’s produced in Canada goes to waste. At the landfill, this food waste creates methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 25 times more damaging to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, and can make the climate change crisis worse.

You can compost more than just food scraps

Beyond food scraps and yard waste, you can compost things like newspaper, coffee grounds and filters, cardboard, and even wood ash from your fireplace. In doing so, you’re helping divert and repurpose materials that would otherwise be taking up space in landfills.

Every organic waste collection program is different

You’ll want to familiarize yourself with the rules in your municipality or region so that you don’t accidentally cause problems or create contamination. For example, in Metro Vancouver, pet waste, diapers, and personal hygiene products do not go into the green bin, but all those items are accepted by the City of Toronto’s organics program.

Avoid animal products with at-home composting

While some curbside programs do accept things like meat, bones, shellfish, and dairy, these types of animal products are not recommended for backyard composting, as they may attract pests or create unwanted smells.

There are many ways to start outdoor composting.

Passive composting requires little to no intervention, but it often takes longer and can be a smellier or wetter process. Active composting methods, on the other hand, can produce finished compost in weeks, but you’ll have to manage the inputs—a mix of carbon, nitrogen, air, and water is required—and aerate or turn your compost pile often.

New countertop composters can work for small spaces

If you don’t have a backyard or access to a curbside organics program, it’s possible to invest in an indoor or countertop composter to break down food scraps. Some electric composters can break down organics in a matter of hours!

The process can take time

With backyard composting, it can take anywhere from a few months to two years for organic matter to break down. To speed up the process, it’s recommended that you turn your compost pile often, and make sure to add both green and brown materials.

Compost shouldn’t be used until it’s mature or finished

When it feels crumbly, is dark in colour, and has an earthy—and not sour or rotten—smell, your homemade compost is ready to be used! Unfinished compost can harm plants and attract pests.

As an amendment, compost can help create healthier soil

Compost can be used as mulch, added to potting soil or crop beds, and spread on lawns. The organic matter boost can encourage soil organisms and improve the soil’s productivity and capacity to retain water.