Turning that unhappy plate into compost instead of garbage

"I have a happy plate!"

Our nieces are always pleased to announce when they clean their dinner plates, usually because it means some kind of treat --- food or not --- for them afterward.

As a kid, having a happy plate is good. How often do adults end up with a happy plate though? How often do we take too much food and then just scrape off the rest into the garbage?

In the world, about one-third of all food produced, worth around $1 trillion, gets lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems. In the U.S., organic waste is the second highest component of landfills, which are the largest source of methane emissions.

Instead of wasting much of what is left on our plates or is thrown out as scrap in food preparation, why not use that excess?

Composting is a great way to turn excess food waste into something valuable, fertilizer.

The new compost exhibit at the Dickinson County Nature Center in Kenue Park let's people interact with compost, making it fun and interesting even to kids. Check out the way red wiggler worms break down food scraps and paper in the Worm Factory compost bin. People are often amazed at the lack of smell that this compost bin has, even indoors.

Photo of dried food in compost binopens IMAGE file

Spin three stages of yard waste compost being broken down.

Photo of compost exhibitopens IMAGE file

Let your creative juices flow and draw in compost on the light box.

Photo of compost written in compostopens IMAGE file

Then take that compost inspiration home with you and start your own compost bin with your kids. It's actually pretty simple, and your children will be amazed at how they can reuse kitchen scraps and yard waste to turn it into something great for the garden.

Start with a variety of brown stuff --- dried plant parts or newspapers that offer carbon --- and green stuff --- like grass clippings, coffee grounds and kitchen vegetable scraps that are high in nitrogen. In a bin that can get air, such as a slatted wooden box or wired cage, layer the brown and green stuff.

To start out, it also helps to add soil or compost in the middle to get the microorganisms going. Also, wet each layer as you start your bin. In a compost bin, make sure not to include meat, fat, bones, milk, cheese and other fatty elements.

You can add worms to the bin, but you certainly don't need to. The microorganisms inside will begin to do their work. To speed up the process, make sure to stir up the layers every few weeks, allow air and heat to disperse through the compost pile, and as the layers break down, keep adding more green and brown parts.

There you have it, a project that teaches kids a variety of lessons, from the importance of cutting down on food waste, to how to recycle, to decomposition to the importance of natural fertilizer to plants.

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