The average American generates roughly four and a half pounds of waste – that’s about 1,600 pounds per year per person. Can you guess what the largest component of waste is? Food scraps. That’s right! The food from our dinner tables make up about 22% of solid waste at the landfill. The good news is that there is something we can do about it – composting!

Here’s why composting is so important:

  1. It reduces waste, makes us less dependent on landfills, and decreases greenhouse gas emissions.
  2. It strengthens the soil and promotes healthy plant growth by recycling essential nutrients back into the soil.
  3. It reduces the need for pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.
  4. Promotes a strong ecosystem.

Composting is nature’s way of recycling. It is one of the most powerful actions we can take to reduce our trash, address climate change, and build healthy soil.

So, let’s start from the beginning. What is composting?

Composting is a process that converts organic materials into mulch through natural decomposition. This process results in a dark, crumbly, earthy-smelling material. Microorganisms feed on the materials added to the compost pile during the composting process. They use carbon and nitrogen to grow and reproduce, water to digest materials, and oxygen to breathe.

Now sure how to get started? Don’t worry! It’s simple.

Composting involves minimal effort, equipment, money, and expertise, and can be fun. The best part? You can compost at home using food scraps from your kitchen and dry leaves and woody material from your yard.

All you need are:

  • Carbon-rich materials (“browns”) can include dry leaves, plant stalks, and twigs.
  • Nitrogen-rich materials (“greens”) include grass clippings and food scraps like vegetables, coffee grounds, paper tea bags and filters, and crushed eggshells.
  • Water (moisture).
  • Air (oxygen).

Here’s how to get started:

  1. Determine how you will collect and store your browns and greens.
    Collect and store your fruit and vegetable scraps in a closed container on your kitchen counter, under your sink, or in your fridge or freezer. For browns, set aside an area outside to store your steady supply of leaves, twigs, or other carbon-rich material (to mix with your food scraps).
  2. Set aside space for your compost pile and build or buy a bin. 
    Choose a space in your yard for your compost pile that is easily accessible year-round and has good drainage. Next, choose a type of bin for your pile (you can use wire, wood, or cinder blocks).
  3. Prepare your ingredients for composting.
    Before adding your browns and greens to the pile, try to chop and break them up into smaller pieces (e.g., corn cobs, broccoli stalks, and other tough food scraps). Doing so will help the materials in the pile break down faster.
  4. How to build your compost pile.
    Start your pile with a four- to six-inch layer of bulky browns such as twigs and wood chips. This layer will absorb extra liquids, elevate your pile, and allow air to circulate at the base of the pile. Then layer your greens and browns like lasagna. If needed, add a little water to dampen the pile.
  5. Maintain your compost pile.
    As the materials in your compost pile begin to decompose, the temperature of the pile will initially begin to rise, especially in the center. Turning and mixing your pile from time to time will help speed up the decomposition process and aerate the pile. Use a garden fork to turn the outside of the pile inward. Monitor your pile for moisture, odor, and temperature and make adjustments as needed.
  6. Harvest your finished compost.
    When your compost pile is no longer heating up after mixing, and when there are no visible food scraps, allow your pile to finish for at least four weeks.

Once your compost is complete, you can add it to your flower and vegetable beds, window boxes, and container gardens; incorporate it into tree beds; mix it with potting soil for indoor plants; or spread it on top of the soil on your lawn.

If you don’t have an outside space for composting, consider participating in a local community-based composting program, which may collect your food scraps or have a designated location where you can drop them off.