#Asked: How does composting work?

Compost. Photo: @pink_magpie
Compost. Photo: @pink_magpie

In February, we asked you what you wanted to know about Asheville, and we received over 100 questions, which we answer right here in AVLtoday (check out the check marks  + links next to the ones we’ve already tackled). Here’s another installation of #Asked+Answered where we tackle composting.

Asked: How does composting work in Asheville? What, exactly, is compostable? What are the rules around composting if you want to start doing it on your own? And what services exist in town that will help you with the process?

Answered: You can think of compost as food for your soil. Composting refers to the process of breaking down organic materials, like leaves, vegetables, fruits, coffee grounds, food boxes + more to produce a nutrient-dense, microbial-rich product (also sometimes called “Black Gold”) that can be used to enrich soil. After several years, the compost becomes humus, a dark, organic material that can no longer be broken down and helps soil retain moisture.

When you throw food scraps into the garbage (which then gets taken to the landfill), they decompose underground without access to oxygen and release the greenhouse gas methane, which is a greenhouse gas that has been linked to climate change. Above-ground decomposition in a composting bin allows for aerobic (or oxygenated) decomposition, which does not produce methane.   

Some states, including California, have actually made compost big business – Compost collected in San Francisco, for example, is sold to regional farms + wineries in bulk. Another product of composting is biogas, which can be used as an energy source.

Both examples are part of what’s known as a “circular economy,” where resources get repurposed and fed back into systems rather than wasted.

So what does that look like in Asheville? Each year, Asheville residents throw away over 12 million pounds of organic waste (according to a 2015 survey, so that number is likely larger now) that could be composted. One national study found that home composting reduces waste by 277 pounds a year per person. Why does that matter? The materials take up space in the landfill, and they could be put to good use–for gardening, farming + more. They could even feed back into the local economy if Asheville adopted a system like San Francisco and sold the compost to area farms.

The city has considered a composting program as part of its effort to reduce waste sent to landfills by 50% by 2035.

The 2015 study looked at the potential of a city + county-wide program, including benefits + cost. In the first phase of the multi-part study, the cost of a program like this was around $1 million after factoring in the sale of biogas produced by compost.

The second part of the study will more closely examine operating costs and procedures. Currently, there has been no decision made about a municipally-funded composting program. However, there are still several ways to compost in Asheville.

So while we’re waiting for that City-wide program, Asheville has a few companies you can get involved with now to start on your own + we put together some DIY tips for composting on your own at home.

🥕Private composting services lead the way

Although there’s no city- or county-wide public composting system, there are two companies in town that can make it very convenient to start composting, whether or not you have a garden. These businesses will pick up your food waste for a set fee, and they may give you compost back as part of the program if you do want to use it at home.

CompostNow | 📍Asheville | For home + office | Food scrap collection bin provided, doorstep pickup | Bi-weekly or weekly pickup |$19+/month for home plans | Compost can be returned to you, or you can donate to area community gardens. Your bin comes with a list of items that are ok to compost.

Danny’s Dumpster | 📍Asheville, Buncombe + Madison County | Commercial services + compost sales | Quotes available | Danny’s does pick up for businesses, events + more, and they’re currently working on starting a residential program. Email [email protected] with the subject line “Residential Composting” to learn more + receive updates on the program.

Food scraps. Photo: @super.greeny
Food scraps. Photo: @super.greeny

🥕How to compost on your own

You don’t have to ship off your food scraps to make compost, and if you have any interest in gardening or plants, you may want to keep your compost close by. Here are some options for composting tailored to your living + gardening situation:

Vermicomposting (composting with worms) | Small households + apartments | Yes, there are worms involved. Red wigglers, to be specific. They’re the ones who do all the work of breaking your food scraps down into that beautiful stuff you’re going to spread over your container garden later. Ideal for the person whose main scraps are from the kitchen. Find more tips about this method here. Bonus: It’s short notice, but Pack Memorial Library (67 Haywood St.) is hosting a vermicomposting workshop today, with all supplies provided. Space is limited, but you can call 828-250-4718 or email [email protected] to secure a spot.

Bokashi | Small households + apartments | This method uses a starter substance, like bran, that has been inoculated with microbes. This results in fermentation of your waste (basically, it gets pickled). Because of this fermentation process, the Bokashi method makes it safe to compost meat, bread, and cooked foods, which might otherwise attract visitors like bears and vermin to your compost.

Bin composting | Houses with yards | Collect your food scraps inside and then transfer them to your bin. Occasional stirring with a rake or shovel will keep the air circulating and your waste breaking down. Eventually you’ll have your compost, which you can spread over your garden.

And if you don’t garden, there are still ways to use your compost, like giving it to your gardener friends, spreading it on your potted plants, or donating it to a community or school garden.

Ready to get started on your own? Check out these local gardening stores.

Fifth Season Gardening Co. | 📍4 South Tunnel Rd. | 828-412-3200 | Everything for the home gardener or homesteader, plus occasional classes + workshops and online tutorials.

LOTUS Urban Farm and Garden Supply | 📍455-8 N. Louisiana Ave. | 828-505-3533 | Farm + garden supply store focused on sustainability and self-sufficiency that occasionally offers classes in composting and other topics.

🥕Feeling the local love

Want to support local restaurants + cafes that compost? There are around 100 of them in Asheville. Here are a few.

67 Biltmore | 📍67 Biltmore Ave. | Cafe serving breakfast + lunch, with prepare foods to go

Buxton Hall BBQ | 📍32 Banks Ave. | Award-winning BBQ + Southern food

Chai Pani | 📍22 Battery Park Ave. | Hip spot for Indian street food + thalis (platters)

Chestnut | 📍48 Biltmore Ave. | Upscale creative fare in downtown

Green Sage | 📍Various locations | Laid-back cafe with vegetarian-friendly menu

High Five Coffee | 📍Various locations | Long-time local coffee shop

Lexington Avenue Brewery | 📍39 N. Lexington Ave. | Brewery with a full food menu

Mellow Mushroom | 📍50 Broadway St. | Creative pizza joint

Posana | 📍1 Biltmore Ave. | Gluten-free menu for a meal out on the town

Strada Italiano | 📍27 Broadway | Homestyle Italian food

Sunny Point Cafe | 📍626 Haywood Rd. | West AVL staple famous for brunch

Wicked Weed | 📍91 Biltmore Ave. | Creative brewery + gastropub

I keep saying I’m going to start a garden, but things always get busy + I live on a working farm, which means I can just go buy vegetables from the farm stand anytime I want.

However, I still really want to compost as a way to reduce waste, and writing this has given me the motivation to actually start doing it. (Hold me to that, guys.)

Do you compost or use a composting service? What do you do with your compost? And what method do you use? Share your experiences with us by replying to this email, commenting on this post, or letting us know on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

Happy composting (and happy Wednesday)!

– Ali