(CNN)Toss the orange rinds, banana peels and other produce scraps into the compost bin. Mix, repeat.
For some, composting is done without a second thought. For others, it's a confusing process that may not seem worth the hassle.
Composting is one of many ways people can reduce their negative impact on the planet, but is it worth the effort?
In short, yes, but only if you do it right.
This food recycling process does not have as great an impact as other climate-saving measures such as throwing away less food, but it's still an important practice, said Dana Gunders, executive director at ReFED, a nonprofit that focuses on how to reduce food waste in the United States.
Food scraps produce harmful greenhouse gases in a landfill and little to none in a compost pile, Gunders said.
Food waste accounted for 24% of trash sent to landfills -- that volume is more than any other type of everyday garbage material, according to a 2018 report from the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
There will always be food scraps like banana peels, so you can prevent nutrients from being lost in the landfill by composting and using the soil in your backyard, Gunders said. When you compost, the nutrients return to the soil for further use. When it goes to a landfill, the nutrients are trapped among the trash and doesn't help anything grow.
"When you add up those scraps around the country, it's quite a lot of material," she said.
What is composting?
The art of composting involves mixing the correct ratios of organic matter like food and yard waste with nitrogen, carbon, moisture (like water), and air to accelerate the decomposition of unwanted scraps. That's according to Sally Brown, research associate professor in the School of Forest Resources at the University of Washington in Seattle.
This environment lets microbes eat the compost contents quickly, turning it into very fertile soil, she said.
It takes anywhere from four to six months for the matter to decompose. A compost pile needs to heat up to about 131 degrees Fahrenheit (55 degrees Celsius) to decompose properly, so in warmer climates like Florida it takes less time to break down than in colder climates like Seattle, according to Brown.
The soil can be used to grow new plants or to nourish plants already growing, which completes the food cycle, she said.
In her garden, she frequently uses homemade composted soil to feed her vegetable plants. "You never question it once you get your hands in that dirt, you see how beautiful it feels, see the worms squiggling around and then see how productive your soil is," Brown said.
Don't forget the oxygen
Composting has gotten a bad rap for smelling, but it shouldn't stink if done correctly, according to Brown. When a compost pile isn't properly aerated, it's because it's anaerobic, meaning oxygen isn't reaching the pile, she said.
The same phenomenon occurs with something everyone is familiar with -- farts. "Your intestinal tract is generally anaerobic, and the gases that come out when you fart are not dissimilar from the gases in a compost pile," she said.
If a compost pile is anaerobic, there are more serious consequences than the stench.
When a pile doesn't have oxygen, it emits methane, a harmful greenhouse gas, according to the United States Composting Council.
This is one of the reasons why landfills harm the environment. The waste in landfills is stored under anaerobic conditions because the trash is tightly compacted with little space for oxygen, so the organic material in them creates multiple gases, half of which is methane, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
Methane is an incredibly potent greenhouse that has around 80 times more warming power than carbon dioxide in its first couple of decades in the atmosphere. And it's responsible for about a third of the climate crisis, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. US landfills released about 109.3 million metrics tons of the carbon dioxide equivalent of methane in 2020, which is around 16.8% of US methane emissions created by humans, according to the EPA.
US landfills released about 109.3 million metrics tons of the carbon dioxide equivalent of methane in 2020, which is around 16.8% of US methane emissions created by humans, according to the EPA.
Luckily, it's easy to prevent com