As the ultimate form of recycling, the art of composting has been in practice the world over for centuries. In the most basic terms, composting involves the transformation of organic matter – such as grass clippings and food scraps – into a mineral-rich, soil-like material called compost. The organic material is naturally broken down by insects, earthworms, bacteria and fungi for an important renewed purpose – rather than serving out its purpose by taking up space in your local landfill. Compost acts as a natural fertilizer in potted plants, gardens, landscaping, and farms, as well as around trees and shrubs – reducing the need for commercial chemical fertilizers. In addition to being eco-friendly, composting is cost-effective. The “recipe” for good compost is a simple one – typically consisting of:

  • “Brown” Organic Materials – including items like tree branches, twigs, dead leaves, dried grasses, sawdust, straw and shredded newspaper. These provide carbon for your compost.
  • “Green” Organic Materials – comprised of elements like grass clippings, plant trimmings, waste from fruits and vegetables, coffee grounds, and tea bags.. These provide nitrogen for your compost.
  • Water – Moisture is a key ingredient to getting the materials in your compost system to break down. Wherever you place your compost pile or bin, make sure it’s easy to access a water source nearby.
  • Air – Just as you would stir the batter to make a great cake, it’s necessary to stir your compost with a pitchfork or spade to introduce air throughout and aid decomposition.

How to Start Your Own Backyard Composting System

  1. Select a dry, shady area of your backyard for your compost pile, bin or tumbler. Make sure that it can be accessed easily with a garden hose or rainwater collection system. If you choose to go with a compost pile, you may want to cover it with a tarp to keep it moist. If you’d rather use a more visually appealing compost bin or tumbler, you can find one for purchase at most lawn and garden shops or home improvement retailers.
  2. Begin adding organic material, making certain to chop or shred larger pieces so they’ll decompose faster.
  3. Moisten dry materials as they are added to your compost pile, bin or tumbler.
  4. Once established, you’ll want to begin the process of turning your compost material – so the newer grass clippings and food waste is under the older compost material. This can be more difficult to do with a pile or bin, but compost tumblers are conveniently designed with this step in mind. If you do opt for a pile or bin, a pitchfork or spade makes a handy turning tool.
  5. When it’s time to add fertilizer to your potted plants or landscaping, simply remove what you need from the composting system.

How to Start Your Own Indoor Composting System

Indoor Composting is a terrific option for offices, classrooms and residents who live in apartments, townhomes or condominiums with no access to a “backyard”.

  1. Begin by either purchasing an indoor composting bin at a local gardening store or hardware shop, or building your own.
  2. To build your own, the Environmental Protection Agency suggests using two plastic garbage bins of varying sizes so that one can fit inside the other.
    1. Drill 1/2’” diameter holes in the sides and bottom of the smaller bin.
    2. In the larger bin, place a brick at the bottom and surround it with wood chips or soil.
    3. Place the smaller bin on top of the brick inside the larger bin.
    4. Wrap insulation around the outer bin to keep the compost warm, then place a lid on top.
  3. Regularly add organic materials to your compost bin, making sure to moisten dry materials as they are added.
  4. Some people opt to incorporate the aid of earthworms to break down the organic materials faster – a great educational option for classroom composting.
  5. Once established, when it’s time to add fertilizer to your potted plants or landscaping, simply remove what you need from the composting system.

What to Place in Your Composting System

  • Food scraps (mainly fruits, vegetables, egg shells and coffee grounds)
  • Tea bags
  • Nutshells
  • Leaves
  • Dead houseplants (except for those you suspect might be diseased or insect-ridden)
  • Grass clippings
  • Yard trimmings (branches, twigs, and weeds)
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Non-recyclable paper (such as coffee filters, paper towels and napkins)
  • Cotton and wool rags
  • Fireplace ashes
  • Sawdust
  • Dryer and vacuum lint
  • Hair and fur

Important Note: We do NOT recommend composting meats, dairy products and grease in a backyard composting system, as this may attract vermin and other unwanted pests. You should also not compost pet waste.

Additional Helpful Links

Keep America Beautiful – Composting

Environmental Protection Agency – Composting at Home

U.S. Composting Council ®