Remember in elementary school when you weren’t sure what that smell was by the side of the building? Chances are that your science department was composting. Compost is the organic (or living) material used to enrich the soil with more nutrients. It is made from food scraps consisting of produce, animal products, and tree and plant parts—anything derived from living organisms. Here are some organic material ideas recommended by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) that may be used in home-based composting:


Not recommended:

  1. Produce
  2. Fruit and vegetable peels
  3. Eggshells
  4. Coffee grinds
  5. Teabags and loose tea
  6. Uncoated paper
  7. Newspaper
  8. Wood pieces and sawdust
  9. Wood fireplace ash
  10. Nut shells
  11. Hair
  12. Fur
  13. Yard scraps
  14. Plants
  15. Trees
  1. Whole eggs (you’ll regret the smell)
  2. Milk products
  3. Meat
  4. Bones
  5. Fecal matter
  6. Cat litter
  7. Oils and fats
  8. Pesticide- or insecticide-laden plants
  9. Unhealthy plants

If you take a look at the items in the list, compost can be made mostly from everyday food remnants found in your home. The main reason why you shouldn’t use some food items such as whole eggs, dairy, or meat is to avoid attracting animals and to prevent odor. Fecal matter, cat litter, and pesticide- or insecticide-laden plants may have chemicals and pathogens that could be harmful.

There are several types of composting methods. Cold composting and hot composting are both done outdoors. Cold composting is basically composting on autopilot because you do not need to do anything aside from letting the ingredients sit. This method takes a very long time—anywhere from one to two years. Because of its low temperature, cold composting does not kill off bacteria and pathogens. Therefore, you must be careful as to what you place in the compost bin. Hot composting, if managed correctly, can reduce toxins and disease-causing pathogens in the compost material. This method requires optimal nitrogen and carbon levels, moisture and air circulation checkups, and constant supervision. There is a time commitment on your part required in this method; however, the compost can be ready within a year or even as soon as within a month.

Trench composting is a type of composting that requires relatively little management. It is done by digging a deep area in your yard away from deep-rooted plants, filling the hole with organic matter, covering it with one to two feet of soil, then leaving it to “bake.” Trench composting is generally a one-time fill because you cover it with dirt. The benefits of trench composting are no animal intrusion, little to no odor, the potential to use cooked food (due to it being underground), and very little management required.

Another type of composting is vermicomposting. This involves the use of a worm composter, and you can make the containers yourself or purchase them. A two-container system is prepared by making bedding out of uncoated paper, dry leaves, hay, or dry twigs. Add red wiggler worms and cover them with moist paper or cardboard. The worms feed on the food scraps you provide and put out odorless fecal matter known as castings. The benefits of this type of composting are that it requires less room than other methods, is done indoors, can be ready within three to six months, and requires little to no management.

As a former science teacher, I built my own compost bins and managed cold and hot composting with my classes. You may be motivated to do this as your next DIY project because, at the time of writing this article, we were in month eight of the global pandemic. You probably need new activities. Here are the necessary materials and a few logistical factors to consider in order to get started on your composting journey:

  1. Type: Decide on what type of composting you’ll be doing.
  2. Location and level of ease: Figure out the logistics of your space, time, and management ability.
  3. Compost bin: Depending upon the type of composting you choose, you may or may not need a container. Closed bins require you to manage the aeration, moisture, and possible odor, and they retain heat and moisture. You can use anything from plastic bins, metal containers, or wooden crates. Open bins are usually containers for outdoor composting made of wood frames with mesh or wired walls. These require minimal effort to manage, but small animals and insects may create a problem.
  4. Nitrogen components: These are found in fresh organic material such as food scraps, produce, leaves, plants, and coffee grinds.
  5. Carbon components: These are found in plant parts such as uncoated paper, tree bark, branches, and dead leaves.
  6. Air: Compost needs air circulation, and closed bins need to be aerated manually. You do not need to put your hands inside the bin; rather, you can turn and rotate the container as a whole.
  7. Hydration: Composting requires balanced moisture. Be sure to maintain a moisture level suitable for the amount of compost material used. Many times, there will be enough moisture from food scraps alone. However, if the mixture seems dry, add some more water.
  8. Optimal heat: In hot composting, the temperature is dependent upon the moisture, air, nitrogen, and carbon levels. Remember that hot composting is a faster process than cold composting.

Before using your homemade compost, be sure it has had enough time to mature. Mature compost should reduce down to one-third of the initial amount, be the color of dark chocolate, and, according to the NRDC, “smell like a forest on a rainy day.” The compost can be used as-is or mixed with soil. This can then be used for gardening or potting plants, added to flower beds and lawns, or added around trees for extra nutritious soil.

Composting may seem like a lot of work. However, depending on the method you choose, it can be done with minimal investment. The benefits of composting outweigh the work involved. The most obvious reason for doing it is to reduce food waste and minimize landfills. Imagine the amount of food you consume in a week. How many of those items are plants, eggshells, and coffee grinds? Now multiply that by fifty-two to get a sense of how much food you discard annually.

As Muslims, we believe in preventing food waste. There are several verses in the Quran that teach us the importance of not wasting food. Surah Al-An’am states, “He is the One Who produces gardens—both cultivated and wild—and palm trees, crops of different flavors, olives, and pomegranates—similar ˹in shape˺, but dissimilar ˹in taste˺. Eat of the fruit they bear and pay the dues at harvest, but do not waste. Surely He does not like the wasteful” (Quran 6:141). Food waste is again mentioned in Surah Al-A’raf: “O Children of Adam! Dress properly whenever you are at worship. Eat and drink, but do not waste. Surely He does not like the wasteful” (Quran 7:31).

Landfills are crowded. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, food accounts for the largest component of our landfills at 22%. You may scoff at the percentage and think it is not that high, but 22% of 139.6 million tons should stress you out (I’ll let you do the math). When compostable food ingredients are thrown into landfills and mixed with and covered with inorganic material, anaerobic decomposition (without optimal oxygen levels) occurs, emitting carbon dioxide and methane gas. Both of these are greenhouse gases that are detrimental to our environment because they absorb infrared radiation. Composting also improves soil quality by creating a nutrient-rich gardening environment. This also helps the soil maintain its moisture.

What if you are torn between wanting to save the planet but are not ready for the commitment of composting? No problem! You can either drop off your organic matter at a community compost or have a service pick up your organic matter for a fee. There are many options you can choose from to do your part to help heal and save our planet, and composting is just one of them. The earth does not belong to us; however, God has blessed us with its care for a specified amount of time. Therefore, we need to do our part to lessen food waste, prevent the greenhouse effect, lower pollution, and minimize our carbon footprint.

Husna T. Ghani has an MBA, an MSEd, and degrees in biology and chemistry. She has taught microbiology, as well as several laboratory sciences, and is currently a strategy consultant in the spheres of healthcare and communications. When she isn’t doing her day job, she focuses on dessert-making and saving the world, one pastry at a time.