How to Compost Your Household Waste

How to Compost Your Household Waste

Composting your household waste is an excellent way to reduce the amount of trash sent to landfills while creating a natural fertilizer for your garden. With some simple steps, a little effort, and the right conditions, you can turn your food scraps, yard clippings, and other organic materials into compost to nourish your plants.

Why Compost?

There are many benefits to composting your household waste:

  • Reduces landfill waste – Food scraps and yard waste make up over 30% of what we throw away. Composting this material keeps it out of landfills.

  • Creates a natural fertilizer – Compost contains nutrients plants need to grow. Using compost improves soil structure and provides nutrients for your garden.

  • Saves money – You’ll buy less commercial fertilizer and have lower waste collection fees when you compost.

  • Helps your plants – Compost boosts your soil’s ability to hold moisture and nutrients. Plants grown in compost-amended soil are heartier.

  • It’s easy to do – Composting can be as simple as putting plant-based kitchen and yard waste into a pile or bin.

Choosing a Compost System

There are several composting methods to choose from:

Backyard Compost Pile

This is the most basic composting method.

  • Pile yard trimmings and food waste in a 3′ by 3′ by 3′ wooden or wire bin or just directly on the ground.

  • Turn or mix the pile periodically to aerate it.

  • In 6-12 months, you’ll have finished compost.

Compost Tumbler

  • Compost tumblers are sealed drums that sit elevated on a frame.

  • Turning the drum mixes the contents to speed decomposition.

  • Compost can be ready in as little as 1-2 months.


  • In vermicomposting, red wiggler worms digest the organic material.

  • Worm bins can compost food waste in small spaces.

  • The resulting worm castings are an excellent fertilizer.

Electric Composters

  • These are fully-enclosed electrical units designed for indoor use.

  • An electric heater and fans accelerate decomposition.

  • Just add your waste, turn occasionally, and compost is ready in weeks.

Composting Basics

Follow these basic practices for a healthy compost pile:

Provide a Balance of Materials

Compost needs a blend of “greens” and “browns”:

  • “Browns” are materials high in carbon, such as dead leaves, sawdust, or shredded paper.

  • “Greens” are materials high in nitrogen, such as fresh grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, or coffee grounds.

  • The ideal balance is approximately 2 parts browns to 1 part greens.

Allow Air Flow

  • Oxygen is required for the organisms decomposing the waste.

  • Turn or stir the compost pile to introduce more air.

  • Rods can be inserted into piles to create permanent air channels.

Monitor Moisture Levels

  • Compost should be moist like a wrung-out sponge, not saturated.

  • Turning the pile will also control moisture.

  • If compost is too dry, add water while turning.

Size Matters

  • Piles smaller than 3’x3’x3′ may struggle to hold heat and break down.

  • Large piles over 5’x5’x5′ don’t allow enough air flow to the center.

  • Adjust pile size by adding more material or moving some to another bin.

What to Compost

Many household items can be composted:

Yard Waste

  • Leaves, grass clippings, plant prunings, and weeds.

  • Chop or shred large branches.

Food Scraps

Fruits, vegetables, eggshells, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags.

Other Organics

  • Sawdust, hay, shredded paper, cardboard, paper towels.

  • Cotton or wool rags, pet fur.

  • Wood ash, in moderation.

Do not compost: Meat, bones, fats, dairy, weeds with mature seed heads.

Troubleshooting Your Pile

Issue | Cause | Solution
— | — | —
Bad smell | Excess moisture, not enough air. | Turn the pile, add dry brown material.
Pile won’t heat up | Lack of nitrogen, too small, dry. | Add greens, make pile larger, add water while turning.
Pile heating too much | Too large, lack of air flow. | Reduce pile size, turn pile.
Pests | Exposed food scraps. | Bury scraps under 10+ inches of browns.

Using Your Finished Compost

  • Finished compost is dark, crumbly, and earthy-smelling.

  • Apply compost around plants, trees, and shrubs by mixing 1-3 inches into soil.

  • For lawns, apply up to 1/4 inch and rake through grass.

  • Compost improves all types of soil. Enrich potting mixes with up to 30% compost.

  • Replenish containers and gardens each season.

Composting yard waste and food scraps takes a little work, but the payoff is huge. Diverting organic waste from landfills, improving your soil, and growing stronger plants are great incentives to start composting your household waste. Follow these guidelines for composting success!