Everything You Need to Know About Getting Started with Composting

Paula James-Martinez

Everything You Need to Know About Getting Started with Composting

At Needed, we are deeply committed to environmental stewardship. We are proudly climate neutral, plastic neutral, are part of the 1% for the Planet initiative, and hold B Corp certification.

Our dedication extends to the very soil that sustains life. Unfortunately, modern farming practices have led to a decline in vital nutrients in our soil. Nitrogen levels have dropped by 42%, phosphorus by 27%, and sulfur by 33%. These nutrients are crucial for plant growth, supporting processes like photosynthesis, enzyme functions, and protein synthesis. It can seem daunting to initiate change in such a complex system.

Given these concerns, we collaborated with Elena Lopez from LA Compost, a California-based nonprofit. Together, we explore ways to reduce food waste and enhance soil quality through home composting, empowering individuals to make a positive impact on our planet's health.

Needed: What inspired you personally to start composting and tell me a bit about the non profit?

Elena: LA Compost is one of the first and largest community composting organizations in Los Angeles. Alongside community members, we work to make composting access and education available for all. 

I got involved with composting after working in a non-profit kitchen, where we had a partnership with LA Compost to divert all of the food scraps produced by the kitchen for local composting. I saw then how composting provided a solution to close the loop from our plate to return nutrients to the Earth, and haven’t looked back since!

Needed: Can you explain the benefits of composting and why it's important for the environment?

Elena: Composting is one of the single most important and impactful acts an individual can take to reduce the effects of climate change.  It reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills, which helps decrease harmful greenhouse gas emissions like methane. Plus, composting creates the nutrient-rich soil amendment of finished compost that improves soil health, retains moisture, and reduces the need for chemical fertilizers. Additionally, community composting, the kind of composting that LA Compost does, helps build and strengthen bonds between community members which we will need to build a healthier thriving LA.  

Needed: Can you explain why our soil is so depleted and how that affects our food quality?

Elena: What we find is that in urban areas like LA, soil is suffering due to a history of pollution, water scarcity, and soil erosion. This depletion directly impacts food quality, as plants grown in poor soil lack the vitamins and minerals our bodies need to thrive. Composting replenishes the soil with organic matter, restoring its fertility and enhancing the nutritional content of our food.

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Needed: What are some common misconceptions or challenges people face when starting to compost, and how do you address them?

Elena: This is a great question, the most common challenge or misconception that we hear is that people are hesitant about the ick factor. Which I get! Food scraps just left out on the countertop will turn gross and attract pests. So we say, don’t do that! The best practice I can recommend is storing your kitchen pail of food scraps in the freezer rather than the countertop. This way your food scraps will be tucked away and not attract any pests or generate smells! When you’re ready to take them to your green bin or community composting site, they’re ready to go! 

Needed: What are the basic steps someone should follow to start composting at home?

Elena: Take the time to understand the various options and the commitment they will take. There are a plethora of different systems to choose from ranging from wire bins to vermicomposting and tumblers. But once you’ve decided on your system the steps will be to add food scraps, layer with browns, water, and turn regularly. I highly recommend viewing our Composting at Home video tutorial that goes much more in depth on this process. 

Needed: What are some benefits to an individual garden of composting?

Elena: There are many! Composting enriches soil fertility, promotes healthier plant growth, reduces the need for chemical fertilizers, and increases water retention. Believe me your garden is going to love you for it. 

Needed: Can folks with only a patio or balcony compost?

Elena: Yes absolutely, options like vermicomposting (composting with worms) and bokashi compost bins are great for composting in small spaces. We have some tips for both of these in our Composting at Home video tutorial as well. 

Needed: Are there specific guidelines or regulations in Los Angeles regarding composting that people should be aware of?

Elena: California has implemented a statewide composting mandate that requires all cities across the state to provide options for residential and commercial composting. So this means that your city may have a new composting program that you can sign up for. Single-family homes in LA City already have this option. Get in touch with your waste hauler (usually the company listed on your bin) to find out more information. 

Needed: How can individuals or communities get involved with your nonprofit's initiatives to promote composting?

Elena: The two main ways individuals and communities can get involved is number one, by composting with us at a Compost Hub or Farmers’ Market Food Scrap Drop off. And number two, sign up to volunteer with us! We always have a great time with our volunteers getting to know each other around the compost pile, sharing compost tips/advice, and enjoying some of LA’s most beautiful green spaces. More info on getting involved is on our website 

Needed: What are some tips or advice you would give to someone who wants to make composting a regular part of their lifestyle?

Elena:  Make building the new habit as easy for you as possible, whether that’s keeping a small bowl by your cutting board as you cook for food scraps or using a mix of composting methods like both composting at home and using your city’s green bin. The most important thing is that you take some action steps towards reducing your food waste!

Needed: Have you seen any notable successes or impacts from your nonprofit's efforts in promoting composting so far?

Elena: Yes! We diverted 1.8 million pounds of food scraps in 2023 and 5 million since 2013 when we first started. We couldn’t have done it without our community of composters and supporters! 

Needed: Are there any upcoming events or projects related to composting that you'd like to share with the community?

Elena: Join us all month long during our Earth Month events, more info at 

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Paula James-Martinez, Filmmaker and Editorial Director

Paula James Martinez is a creative producer, filmmaker, and former fashion editor. She is the director and producer of film company Semi-Retired Productions, and in 2018, started working on her directorial debut on the documentary Born Free, which investigates the truth about birth and maternity in America. She has since founded a non-profit organization The Mother Lovers to raise awareness of the US maternal health crisis.