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 nutrient-rich material that can be used to fertilize your garden. With some simple planning and maintenance, composting can be easy, affordable, and rewarding.

Why Compost?

There are many benefits to composting your food scraps and yard waste at home:

  • Reduces waste – Food scraps and yard waste make up 20-30% of what we throw away. Composting keeps these materials out of landfills.

  • Saves money – Buying compost and commercial fertilizers costs money. Making your own compost is free!

  • Improves soil – Compost contains nutrients plants need to grow. Adding compost to soil improves drainage and moisture retention.

  • Helps plants grow – Compost increases nutrient content and beneficial microbes in soil. Plants grown in compost-amended soil are healthier and more productive.

  • Good for the environment – Composting reduces greenhouse gas emissions from landfills and the need for chemical fertilizers.

Composting Basics

Composting relies on the natural process of decomposition. Microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi break down organic matter into simple nutrients that plants can use. Composting speeds up decomposition by providing ideal conditions for these microbes to thrive.

There are four basic ingredients needed:

Carbon-Rich “Browns”

  • Dry, woody materials provide carbon for microbes. Examples:
  • Dead leaves
  • Twigs and branches
  • Paper products
  • Straw

Nitrogen-Rich “Greens”

  • Fresh, moist materials provide nitrogen for microbes. Examples:
  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Fresh grass clippings
  • Manure


  • Turning the compost pile introduces oxygen, allowing aerobic bacteria to thrive.


  • Moisture is needed for microbes to grow and decompose organics. Compost should be damp but not saturated.

Composting Methods

There are several composting methods to suit different households, budgets and space allowances. The three main methods are:

Backyard Compost Pile

This simple, low-cost option involves piling yard waste and kitchen scraps in a heap. Turning the pile occasionally will speed decomposition.

– Very low cost to start
– Can be sized to suit available space

– Requires physical labor to build and turn the pile
– Can take 6 months to produce finished compost
– More prone to odors and pests without proper maintenance

Compost Bin or Enclosure

Compost bins are enclosed containers used to hold the composting materials. Many different bin styles are available.

– Contain and hide the compost pile
– Prevent access by pests
– Keep pile neat and tidy

– Can be expensive depending on style
– Smaller capacity than a pile
– Still requires turning or tumbling

Compost Tumbler

Tumblers are rotating drums turned by hand or motor to continuously mix and aerate the compost.

– Fast compost production – as little as 4-6 weeks
– No physical labor of turning piles
– No pest issues

– High cost of purchase
– Limited capacity

What to Compost

Many household wastes can be composted. Follow these guidelines for best results:


  • Fruits and vegetable scraps
  • Eggshells
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Tea bags
  • Nut shells
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Cardboard tubes
  • Yard trimmings
  • Grass clippings
  • Leaves
  • Weeds
  • Wood chips, sawdust
  • Straw
  • Natural fiber products (cotton, wool)


  • Meat, fish, bones
  • Dairy products
  • Fats, grease, oils
  • Pet waste
  • Diseased plant materials
  • Invasive weeds
  • Coal or charcoal ash

Composting Problems and Solutions

Composting is a natural process, but occasionally problems can arise:

Problem: Rotten odor

Solution: Odors indicate anaerobic conditions. Turn pile to add oxygen. Add coarse material like wood chips to improve aeration.

Problem: Ammonia smell

Solution: Too much nitrogen-rich material. Add carbon-rich browns like leaves or newspaper.

Problem: Pile won’t heat up

Solution: Add nitrogen sources. Make sure the pile is large enough – at least 3′ x 3′. Turn and mix the pile to aerate.

Problem: Pile attracting pests

Solution: Cover pile with a secure lid. Eliminate meat, dairy and oils from the pile which may attract pests.

Problem: Pile too dry/not decomposing

Solution: Water while turning pile until it feels like a wrung-out sponge. Add moist green material.

Using Compost

In 6-12 months your finished compost will look dark, crumbly, and earthy-smelling. Now just spread it in your garden and enjoy the benefits!

  • Till compost into soil 6-12 inches deep before planting gardens, trees, shrubs.

  • Top-dress existing plantings with a 1-3 inch layer yearly for healthy growth.

  • Make compost tea to use as a foliar spray by steeping compost in water.

  • Add 25% compost to container and potting soils for added nutrients.

Composting keeps waste out of landfills, nourishes your garden, and reduces your environmental footprint. Follow these guidelines to start enjoying the ease and benefits of composting your household waste today!