Compostability 101: Why It Matters and How To Start
Jun 08, 2021, Updated Apr 25, 2022
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This post is sponsored by Matter™.
How much do you know about composting? You might be vaguely familiar with the concept, or you may just know that it has something to do with getting rid of waste. Maybe you have a neighbor who composts and are interested in trying it for the sake of your garden. Or perhaps you’ve run across the idea of compostability as you’ve tried to live a more sustainable lifestyle, but don’t quite know how to get started.
But what does compostability really mean? If you’ve ever asked yourself that question and didn’t find a good answer, don’t worry: we’ll share everything you need to know. We’ll explain what it is, what it isn’t, and why it matters. And if you want to go a step further and learn how to do it yourself, we’ll help you learn how. When you’re ready to get started, we’ll share some great everyday products from Matter™ that you can put to use in your kitchen, all of which are 100 percent compostable.
And what better way to kickstart your composting than with an exciting giveaway? Start your zero-waste journey with a Matter™ prize pack, featuring some of our favorite products! It’s the perfect way to stock up your kitchen as summer begins. You’ll find all the details below — but first, let’s break down the concept of compostability!
What does compostability mean?
To explain, let’s start with what it isn’t. Just because something is biodegradable does not mean it is compostable. Many people get these two terms confused or use them interchangeably. Given enough time, a material that is biodegradable will break down into smaller compounds through biological processes. These processes are made possible by organisms like microbes and fungi, which feed on the biological matter in that material.
If you set a paper coffee cup down in the woods and come back for it in a couple of years, it will most likely have been broken down by those microbes and fungi. The same can be said of a plastic cup. But to find the plastic cup broken down, you would have to wait significantly longer. All plastics are biodegradable in a technical sense, but it can take hundreds or even thousands of years for them to break down. Worse, they often introduce harmful chemicals into the environment as they deteriorate.
Compostable products are different: they’re biodegradable, but break down into non-toxic matter that enhances the quality of soil and supports plant growth. Food products are compostable, of course, as are those made of wood and paper.
Other products, like the ones available from Matter™, can fill the role of plastics and be engineered for compostability, too. Products like these are designed to break down under specific conditions — usually ones that are warm, moist, and dark, where microbes, fungi, and other decay-loving organisms like earthworms thrive. Compostability also indicates that the product will break down in a certain amount of time in those conditions, often a matter of months.
Why does composting matter?
As we explained, just because a product claims to be biodegradable doesn’t mean the materials it’s made of will break down quickly. It can also produce harmful substances along the way. Making things that are biodegradable isn’t the answer to solving our plastic crisis, since we’ve really been manufacturing biodegradable plastic since we started mass-producing plastic!
Instead, it’s time to turn to compostability. Every year in the United States alone, upwards of 60 billion pounds of mineral-rich food waste ends up in landfills while only five percent of food scraps are composted. Food scraps and other organic waste releases methane, a harmful greenhouse gas, as it breaks down in landfills.
Composting allows us to repurpose that waste into useful material, leading us closer to a zero-waste existence. Nutrient-filled compost helps farms grow healthier plants and more of them. Plants capture carbon in the air, so growing more of them helps to clean our atmosphere. And healthier plants produce healthier fruit, meaning less of it ends up as waste.
There are many steps we can all take to live more sustainable, Earth-friendly lifestyles, but few are more powerful or important than composting. Rather than just cutting out certain products, materials, or habits from your home or life, composting empowers you to give back to the planet. Most households can save almost a third of their household waste by composting!
How can I get started?
While DIY composting is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint and create rich soil, it can seem like a daunting task when you’re starting out. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be.
Start by identifying what waste you and your family produce that can be composted. Fruits and veggies are usually great for composting, as are things like coffee grounds, tea bags, and paper. Certain food scraps shouldn’t find their way into your compost, including meat and dairy products and oily foods. You should also avoid things like charcoal or pet waste. Some compostable bioplastics can only be composted at an industrial facility and will usually be labeled as such.
In general, if it originated from a plant it can usually be composted, but it’s always best to double check individual items to ensure compostability with a list like this. Once you’ve determined what can be composted, you’re not quite ready to start — a good compost mixture takes planning. Start by storing your food scraps in an airtight container somewhere out of the way. To avoid attracting insects, keep them in a container in your freezer or refrigerator.
When you have enough material to get started…
Choose a good place to create your compost. There are lots of ways to store it, and it doesn’t need to be fancy. In an outdoor space, most containers will do, but old trash bins may be the ones most commonly used. If you don’t have any outdoor space available, it’s still possible to compost using a lidded five-gallon bin.
Now you need to create a compost mixture. The general guidance for mixing compost is to balance “green” and “brown” material. Remember them like this: Wet materials are green while dry ones are brown. Most food scraps, like eggshells, fruits, vegetables, and coffee grounds fall under the green category and are rich in nitrogen. Things like paper, old leaves, sawdust, and hay are brown and filled with carbon. Every mix is different, but a common ratio is one part green and three parts brown material.
Now you just need to wait and aerate! Turn or stir the compost every 10 days or so. Compost can take anywhere from a couple of months to a year in extreme cases to fully break down depending on your climate and the amount of materials you’re using. The more material you use, the faster the process goes.
When it’s ready, good compost should feel fluffy and smell earthy and a little sweet, or sometimes a bit sour depending on the ingredients you used. If you run into unexpected problems or need more information about composting, check out this detailed guide from the experts.
If you can’t compost yourself, many US cities can provide you with green bins specifically for compostable materials. If these aren’t available in your area, you’re not out of luck! Check around your neighborhood and see if one of your neighbors can make use of your compostable material. You can also offer it to your nearest community garden.
Where do Matter™ products fit into my composting?
Sometimes it seems impossible to escape the plastic products that flood our kitchens. Bags, bins, straws, plates, bowls — single-use, disposable plastics are everywhere. What if you could find a plastic-free alternative that didn’t impact your lifestyle? You’ll find exactly what you’re looking for in Matter’s line of fully compostable products!
Every Matter™ product is designed with sustainability at its core. Their plates, bowls, straws, cups, forks, spoons, sandwich bags, kitchen bags, and other products are all made with natural, renewable fibers and resigns. While they may take different amounts of time to decompose (plates will break down faster than denser items like spoons and forks, for example), they are all specifically designed to break down in any composting environment.
Enter to Win Your Favorite Matter Products
Matter™ can help you create a zero-waste kitchen. With their help, you can do your part to preserve the environment by composting to reduce waste and create healthy, nutritious soil. And to get you started, here’s a free giveaway of some of Matter™’s top products!
This prize pack includes:
- 100 snack bags
- 100 sandwich bags
- 50 quart bags
- 20 gallon bags
- 15 freezer gallon bags
- 10 cups and lids (12 oz)
- 50 straws
- 24 forks, spoon, and knives
- 12 tall kitchen bags (13 gallon)
Each and every one of these Matter™ products is 100% compostable. Using what you’ve learned here, you can use these kitchen essentials to make your home plastic-free and environmentally-friendly.
The next time you need to stock your kitchen with essentials and utensils, make it Matter™! Head to your local Target to find their line of products engineered for compostability. It’s a step toward a sustainable kitchen and a zero-waste, Earth-friendly way of living.