There are lots of composting facts that show just how valuable composting is when it comes to sustainable living. It’s good for the planet, saves us money, and provides a chemical-free solution for nourishing the plants we eat (and even the ones we don’t). But there’s more! Composting brings with it so many benefits, insights, and potential which in some cases are still being explored. Did I mention it’s good for the planet too?
Interesting facts about composting
1. You can compost indoors
Yes, it's actually a thing! If you cannot start an outdoor composting, it is possible to help reduce your waste to landfills and your environmental footprint by composting. Consider composting indoors using indoor, urban compost bins & kitchen compost systems. They work especially well for those who want to compost in an apartment.
2. Composts don’t have to be stinky!
That’s right! Compost piles don’t necessarily smell like what some might imagine. If a compost pile is giving off any strong, intolerable odors it likely contains animal products and/or is too wet.
To avoid this, steer clear of large amounts of dairy and animal-based food waste like cheese, meat, and fish scraps. If the heap does not contain any animal-based products it may be too wet, in which case you may want to look into what to do if your compost is too wet.
3. Composting captures Greenhouse Gasses (GHGs)
Composting can sequester (or capture) carbon in the soil! Like trees do! This is one of the best facts about composting because not only can composting be used to reduce emissions linked to sending waste to landfills, but it can actually help trap carbon that might otherwise wind up in the atmosphere. A big deal when considering the climate crisis we are currently experiencing.
4. It gets quite hot in there
One of the most important facts about composting (and the source of some of its most awesome benefits) is that composting can generate quite a bit of heat! Though commercial composts get a lot warmer than home composting systems, compost piles can reach temperatures of 120-170 degrees Fahrenheit (or 49-77 degrees Celsius).
It can also get too hot in there too! That means the loss of beneficial bacteria which can slow the decomposition process. Compost piles can even spontaneously burst into flames! Yep, full-on catching fire when it gets too hot. But no need to worry, that usually only happens with very big compost heaps.
If you happen to have one of those very big compost piles, no need to worry either. Just be sure to check in on it during very hot summers and to make sure it is moist enough not to catch fire.
5. Compost can be used to heat hot tubs
With all that heat you can actually warm up a hot tub using the heat generated by a compost pile! Taking a load off by relaxing in a hot tub heated by the sheer power of worms and microorganisms feasting on organic matter?! Sounds like a win-win to us!
The thing is composting can actually be used to fuel a water heater since temperatures get so high in there. Such a great low-tech solution! Kind of like passive solar heating systems, just a little more wormy (if you’re lucky)!
6. Composting can be used to heat entire homes and greenhouses too!
The heat produced from a good compost heap can be harnessed to heat homes and greenhouses too. For a self-sufficient solution to cooking fuel, you can even set up composting to generate methane. Kind of like how biodigesters are used.
7. The heat in compost can kill some unwanted pathogens
One of the most interesting facts about composting is that composting can actually kill pathogens rather than breed them. At 55°C and above, lots of microorganisms that are harmful to plants and humans are neutralized.
8. Animals make compost too
Although for different reasons, the Australian Brush-turkey creates a compost pile to incubate its eggs! It does so by taking decaying materials like leaves and branches and piling them up to form a mound that will generate the heat needed to incubate its eggs.
Because nature is ever so full of wonders and marvels, this species does not need a thermometer to check the temperature of the heap. Using its beak it can tell if the heap is too warm or too cool, and adds and removes materials as needed.
9. There are BILLIONS of microorganisms in compost
That’s billions PER GRAM of compost!! The smallest and most common among them are bacteria. They are responsible for the largest part of the decomposition process and the heat generated in compost heaps. As temperatures rise different types of bacteria thrive and take over the process.
10. Worms can help kill off some bacteria too
If you’ve ever wondered ‘what do worms eat?’ they go bananas in a healthy compost pile and eat about their body weight’s worth every day. By being in your compost heap, worms are not only super effective at helping turn your pile into usable compost. They also help with eliminating harmful bacteria like e-coli so no need to worry about any of that winding up on your lovely vegetables and fruits.
Worms are so awesome for composting that Cleopatra herself is reported to have made them sacred all the way back in 50 BC!
11. You can use cockroaches instead of worms
Though not nearly as exciting as worms (and potentially triggering), composting with cockroaches is a thing. Apparently, they are good at helping to break down tough matter like bones and shells, and you can even buy cockroaches that can’t climb to avoid them escaping.
13. Human remains are compostable
Composting human remains, also known as ‘natural organic reduction’, is possible and more eco-friendly than burial and cremation. The process is complete in 30 days and turns the remains into usable compost.
13. Explosives are compostable too!
The US army successfully composted TNT (an organic compound containing nitrogen and carbon among other things). This was done in the hopes of reducing the army’s environmental impact. But it also saved them millions of dollars.
14. George Washington loved a good manure-based compost
George Washington, one of America’s Founding Fathers and one of the country’s first Presidents, was super into composting. He even performed his own experiments on how best to transform animal waste into compost. Other well-known US Presidents like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were also fans.
15. Composting is an old concept
Archeological findings suggest that composting has been around since Neolithic times. The process is naturally occurring but early farmers were found to create compost piles of their own, though their application methods were different than the ones used today.
What is compost?
Before we dive into all of the fun facts about composting, let’s talk about what is compost. Compost is a nutrient-rich mixture of decomposed organic matter also known as humus. It can be used to enrich soils and feed plants and is dearly beloved by many savvy gardeners and farmers alike. To make compost, we need two key components: green matter and brown matter.
The green (or nitrogen-rich) matter includes things like grass clippings, veggie scraps, coffee grounds, loose leaf tea, and spoiled leftovers. Brown (or carbon-rich) matter on the hand tends to be on the dryer side and includes things like dried leaves, twigs, nail clippings, cardboard-based cotton swabs, cut up natural textiles like cotton and wool, broken up cardboard, brown paper napkins, and bags, crushed eggshells, peanut shells, seeds, nuts (not walnuts), dried rice and dried pasta.
The recommended blend for balanced compost is a 2:1 ratio of green matter to brown matter. If you are concerned about maintaining the perfect ratio, don’t worry about it too much.
A great tip is to keep a pile of brown matter at the ready so you are not scrambling for some when you need it.
The same principle is used with composting toilets where the need for brown matter is much more immediate and sawdust is used not only to help with the composting process but also to stave off any unpleasant odors.
If you want to start your own compost heap, consider starting by getting to know what is compostable and what is not compostable. You might even make a handy list that you (and your family) can refer to when you are ready to dispose of household waste. Place it near your waste bins so everyone can see it when they are going to throw something away.
How composting works
Composting is basically a decomposition process aided by microorganisms in soil–in the presence of oxygen. This is also known as aerobic fermentation and there are 4 key factors that create the ideal conditions for this fermentation or decomposition to happen. They are moisture content, carbon to nitrogen ratio, temperature, and oxygen.
If moisture content falls below a certain point, decomposition slows and the microorganisms will go dormant. If the moisture content is too high, decomposition also slows and anaerobic decomposition will begin (which may result in a strong smell). Kind of like what happens with dead ponds and rivers.
The carbon to nitrogen ratio affects the ability of the microorganisms to grow and reproduce as well. If the carbon (or brown matter) ratio is too high, the rate of decomposition slows down. The same thing happens if the nitrogen (or green matter) ratio is too high.
Bacteria and other microorganisms give off heat when they are active so the temperature is a good indicator of how well a compost heap is doing. The temperature outside will affect decomposition too, where composting in the winter is slower than in warmer months.
Aeration is also important for decomposition since microorganisms need oxygen too. This can be done in a number of ways and will depend on several factors. For a compost tumbler, a good place to start is to turn the heap every 3 to 4 days. And for a compost pile, every 3 to 7 days.
Why composting is important
Composting is a great way of recycling food waste. It takes something that would otherwise go on to pollute or strain our environment and turns it into homemade plant fertilizer.
That said, composting also reduces the amount of waste we send to landfills which is beneficial on several fronts. It means less waste going on to sit in a landfill producing methane (a greenhouse gas). It means fewer trash bags (and plastics where applicable) and less of the resources involved in making the bags. It also means less money spent on trash bags and in some cases on trash disposal. Where trash is incinerated, it means fewer emissions and pollution all around.
Composting can also save money in the garden. No need to purchase fertilizers and even pesticides (where healthy soils naturally prevent certain plant diseases and pests).
Compost is a great soil amendment for sandy soils too. It promotes drainage which also means less watering. It can even help with balancing soil pH where the soil is too alkaline or too acidic. The benefits of composting are many.
If you want to go ahead with your own compost and are looking into compost bags to line your compost bin with, make sure they are certified by a reputable organization before adding them to your pile. And remember that they may take longer to break down compared to organic waste.
Final thoughts on composting facts!
Who knew there was so much to love about compositing?! Not only is it a great way of reducing our carbon footprint but it’s also good for a lot more than feeding plants! I hope this has inspired you to start your own compost or maybe to add it to your future plans? No worries if you cannot go ahead and start one now, anything you are doing helps. If you want to learn more about composting check out the many articles we have on composting including this one on the difference between biodegradable vs. compostable.
We've got a ton of guides (and lots more to come) on The Eco Hub to help you compost the right way including:
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