Composting for Beginners: An Ultimate Guide

May 10, 2021

If you’re on the quest to live a greener, lower waste lifestyle, you might want to get familiar with the art of composting. This easy and beneficial task turns materials that would otherwise go straight to the landfill into nutrient-rich, usable soil that will help you grow more food and enrich your life and your landscape. But if you’re new to composting, the task can feel a bit overwhelming. Luckily, we’re here to help you dig into the composting lifestyle so you can feel even better about your impact on the planet. 

What Is Composting?

To put it simply, composting is the breakdown of organic material into soil that is rich in nutrients and microorganisms. To get specific, composting takes larger components — think: banana peels, lawn clippings, even your compostable phone case — and breaks them down to much smaller compounds which come together to form a dense, valuable soil. After a few months of decomposition, you can then add this new material into your garden or yard to grow more food and flowers.

Go Compostable: Choose a Case By Your Phone Type

How does it work, you ask? The breakdown process is made possible by hungry bacteria, fungi and insects that consume the materials and transform them into simpler organic matter that’s packed with beneficial plant nutrients. Once you start a compost pile, these microscopic little guys get to work producing dense, nutritious soil over time (usually about six to eight months when cold composting and sooner with other methods). 

This process is entirely natural and will happen without much intervention, but there are some great things you can do to improve and speed up the process.

Some Benefits of Composting

The Benefits of Composting

So why would you want to do this, anyway? As we’ve already covered, composting allows you to essentially produce your own soil, which you can use to plant vegetables, flowers and more, saving you money and improving your environment. However, there are some even broader environmental benefits to composting. Here’s a quick list of the many reasons to compost.

  • Composting can help prevent soil erosion (the wearing away of the top layer of soil) and reduce the effects of stormwater.
  • Composting lowers the number of greenhouse gas emissions in the environment by reducing methane production.
  • Composting can help reduce the amount of waste put into our landfills by putting materials straight back into the earth.
  • Compost conserves water because it is better at retaining and transferring water, making landscapes more resistant to drought.
  • Composting helps you save money on soil so you can grow vegetables and flowers for less.
  • Composting boosts soil health by adding rich, stable, nutritious components back into the earth for better growing.

Ways to Compost

There are many different ways of composting, all of which strive to break down organic material in the fastest, most efficient way possible. Regardless of which method you choose, composting involves a few simple steps: piling up organic materials, aerating them often and allowing nature to do its work in breaking down the components. Here are some specific ways to do it.

compost workers

  • Cold Composting — If you’re looking for a simple, easy way to get started making your own organic compost, we’d recommend this method. Cold composting is essentially just piling up your organic materials and letting nature do the work without much intervention from you. The biggest benefit of this method is that it’s super simple and quick. The biggest downfall is that it takes a lot longer (sometimes up to a year) to be fruitful.
  • Hot Composting — Hot composting is exactly what it sounds like — using heat to help speed up decomposition, resulting in a faster compost. To get your compost pile to the ideal temperature (141 to 155 degrees Fahrenheit), you’ll need to incorporate more high-nitrogen materials, which will cause the pile to naturally heat up. This requires a ratio of about two parts carbon to one part nitrogen, which means you’ll need twice as much brown carbon-rich material as green nitrogen-rich material (more on that below).
  • Tumble Composting — The tumbler method is a type of composting that involves using a specially designed rotating compost bin, also called a “compost tumbler,” to help ensure that the heat, moisture and nutrients are evenly distributed throughout the pile. While tumblers can certainly help speed up the process, they do have some drawbacks, like that they have a limited volume and are usually fairly small. Plus, they don’t come into contact with the ground, which means the pile can be less diverse in microbial life.
  • Worm Composting — Also known as vermicomposting, worm composting introduces our favorite fast-digesting insects — earthworms — into the mix to help speed up the aeration and decomposition process, helping to break down your organic matter faster and enrich the soil. Vermicomposting requires a special kind of bin with evenly spaced holes to ensure that the worms have enough air and don’t drown in moisture.
  • Indoor Composting — Apartment-dwellers and those who don’t have accessible green space often want to learn how to be more eco-friendly since they may be a bit more limited in terms of growing their own foods, and indoor composting is a relatively easy way to do so. Essentially, this form uses special plastic storage containers or crates designed specifically for indoor use to help control smell and contain the mess. This type of composting is great because it thrives year-round but, since it’s indoors, you’re limited in size and your pile may have less diversity in terms of nutrients and microorganisms. 

The team at Pela constantly strives to do more to create a happier, healthier planet. We know the many advantages of composting, so we’ve created a way to make composting easier for everyone. In addition to our compostable phone cases, we’ve created Lomi, a home compost container that is stylish, easy to use and turns your food waste into something more. Try indoor composting today with Lomi by Pela!

How to Compost

Regardless of which type of composting you prefer, the maintenance of your pile will be relatively similar. However, if you plan to use a more specialized method — such vermicomposting — then you’ll want to make sure you adjust the steps below to take those methods into account. With that being said, all compost piles work in basically the same way, so you can use this as a general guide.

  • Find a dry, shady spot near a water source.
  • Add your green and brown materials in alternating layers.
  • Make sure to keep the pile moist (but not wet).
  • Every couple of weeks, mix your compost pile with a shovel or rake to help ensure that the air is evenly distributed throughout the pile.
  • As the bacteria and insects begin to break down the compost, the pile will get warm and may even let off some steam.
  • Over time, the material will become dark in color with no visible signs of the large pieces of waste material you started with.
  • When the pile looks and smells like fresh dirt, you’re ready to use it in the garden or in your potted plants.

What You Need to Compost

Ready to get started? Luckily, you don’t need a ton of things to get started with your compost pile. You will need to invest in a compost bin and a few other simple tools, but most people find everything they need to feed their pile is automatically generated through cooking and other household waste.  

What You Need to Compost

  • A Compost Bin — Which kind of compost bin you choose depends on your preferred method of composting. When cold composting outdoors, a low, wide bin with direct ground access is preferred in order to help encourage even heat distribution and to help introduce a greater variety of microorganisms into your pile. We recommend choosing a compost bin with a lid or cover — even if it’s just some old newspaper or cardboard — to help prevent hungry animals from getting in and disrupting the process, as well as to help prevent your pile from getting too wet.
  • Compostable Materials — No matter which type of composting you choose, you’ll need some organic material to get started. Note that “organic material” doesn’t just mean lawn clippings and eggshells. It may also mean compostable consumer goods, like Pela phone cases or compostable single-use plates. Be sure you know the difference between biodegradable vs. compostable, as not all biodegradable materials are compostable. Below you will find a list of items you can compost, as well as some things you should keep out of your pile.
  • Other Tools and Supplies — In addition to your bin and organic materials, you will need a couple of handy tools and supplies which you probably already have lying around the house or in the garage. Make sure to have a good pair of gardening gloves as well as some lawn tools on hand. Garden hoes, rakes and shovels can be useful for your large-scale outdoor compost piles. A watering can is also useful in helping you keep your pile moist (but never wet).

Read About Biodegradable vs. Compostable Materials Here

What Materials Can You Compost?

When composting, you want to strike a balance between two types of materials — green materials (high in nitrogen) and brown materials (high in carbon). Variety is key, so make sure you add as many different types of materials as possible to create a natural balance and introduce the biggest variety of nutrients. Here’s what to compost for the best results.

pela phone case

Green Materials Your green compost items are the materials that are high in nitrogen, protein and moisture, all of which will help heat your pile. They will also supply the hungry microorganisms with food, which is necessary to help them quickly decompose the larger pieces of organic material. Some examples of green materials include: 

  • Fruit and veggie scraps
  • Table scraps
  • Eggshells
  • Flowers
  • Garden waste
  • Fresh leaves
  • Lawn and hedge clippings
  • Perennial and annual plant trimmings
  • Annual weeds that haven’t seeded
  • Horse, chicken and cow manure
  • Coffee grounds
  • Tea leaves (not bags)
  • Seaweed and kelp

Brown Materials — Brown materials are drier and higher in carbon and carbohydrates, serving as a good food source for the hungry organisms that will devour them. They help add bulk to your compost pile and allow air to filter through to encourage faster breakdown. Note that our compostable phone cases and watch bands are made from flax shive, which makes them a good source of brown material for your compost pile. Some examples of brown materials include:

  • Hay and straw 
  • Dead leaves
  • Pine leaves and pine cones
  • Wood ash
  • Branches and twigs
  • Newspaper
  • Brown paper bags
  • Wood clippings
  • Cardboard
  • Dead plants
  • Shredded paper
  • Dry plants and clippings
  • Corn cobs and corn stalks
  • Dryer lint made from natural fiber

What Can’t You Put in a Compost Bin?

Now that we’ve covered what to put in your compost, it’s time to cover what not to add to the pile. In general, you want to avoid adding anything that might attract unwanted guests (think: rats) or anything inorganic which could introduce toxic or harmful components back into the soil. Here’s a list of what to keep out.

  • Cooked food, raw meat, dairy products, oils, cooked eggs or bread, as these could attract rodents and cause bad odors
  • Diseased plants, as they could trigger an unwanted spread of disease
  • Any substance that may be harmful to plants, including coal, charcoal ash, black walnut trimmings and yard clippings treated with pesticides
  • Dog or cat waste, as it may contain harmful parasites or microorganisms that could damage plants
  • Glossy or coated paper, unless they are specifically labeled “compostable,” as they may be made with harmful plastic coatings
  • Anything that isn’t designed to break down over time, including plastic and metal

Living a Low-Waste Lifestyle

The world’s first 100 percent compostable phone case

By making the decision to compost, you’re deciding to live a low-waste lifestyle that’s better for the planet while also enriching the quality of your own life and landscape. At Pela, we strive to help give your daily life an eco-friendly upgrade, which is why we invented the world’s first 100 percent compostable phone case. Opting for compostable consumer goods rather than those that will end up in the landfill is a great way to lead a low- or even zero-waste lifestyle you can feel good about.


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