When I tell you to place food scraps and other used materials into a pile and wait for them to rot for you to use them, you probably think no way. There are many reasons people are not keen on composting. However, composting is awesome! It not only reduces the amount of waste in landfills, but you are also preserving the nutrients and putting them back into the earth. You can use compost to fertilize your garden. If you do not have a garden and it does not interest you, the very act of tossing your completed compost in your yard is a significant way to help the environment.
There are many different kinds of composters. Mine is a barrel composter. I like this because my backyard is mainly rock and clay and not conducive to a compost pile. With this composter, you can turn it often to make sure the pile gets mixed and aerated to speed up the process. There are also static or "stationary" composters that attach to the ground and begin to break down right on top of the soil that is already there. If you are tight on space you could also just compost right on your deck in a smaller container.
If you live in a city and do not have space, look into the municipal composting programs your city might offer. Most big cities have companies making this possible for city dwellers. When visiting my friends in Brooklyn a few weeks ago, I came across one of these collection sites. They were set up next to the subway so people could just drop their compostable materials on their way to work on specific days of the week.
What can you compost:
The general rule of thumb is anything that was once living or came from something living can be composted. It will decompose and break down returning its nutrients to the soil.
Carbon-rich "Brown" vs. Nitrogen-rich "Green"
Brown: Leaves, twigs, straw, corn stalks, sawdust, dryer lint, newspaper, printer paper, coffee filters, toothpicks, pencil shavings, paper cupcake wrappers, hair from your hairbrush, toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls, wrapping paper rolls, paper plates, paper bags, etc. If you are adding paper, its best to shred or tear it into small pieces, this will speed up the process.
Green: Grass clippings, eggshells, dead plants (not diseased), tea bags, coffee grounds, vegetable peels, fruit scraps, stale or moldy bread, pizza crust, etc.
I typically keep a bowl in my kitchen for me to collect any materials I wish to compost and will toss them at the end of the day. I always have a surplus of "green" material due to the large amount of fruit and veggies we eat. I have a much harder time finding the brown materials since we do not have any trees on our property. Thanks to my father in law who is still an avid newspaper reader, he kindly gives them to me when he is finished. I tear them into small pieces and use them as the majority of my "brown" material.
Depending on the temperature compost can take anywhere from 3 weeks-6 months. The smell of the pile should be nice and earthy, not stinky. You want the pile to be moist, not wet. If its too dry add some water, if it's too wet, turn it more often. Your compost pile will attract some critters, this is normal. These bugs and worms are helping your compost decompose, so be kind to them!