Composting Information

What is Composting?

Composting is the controlled decomposition of organic materials into a soil-like substance called compost. Organic materials, such as grass clippings, leaves, yard trimmings, food scraps, and non-recyclable paper products, can be composted at home in compost bins or piles. Backyard composting is an easy and economical way for individuals to convert their organic waste into a soil amendment that they can use to mulch landscaping, enhance plant growth, enrich topsoil, and provide other benefits to plants and soil.Composting image (1)

Nearly 40% of residential waste has composting potential

If everyone started composting, we could reduce the amount of waste hauled to landfills by almost one third while cutting back on fertilizers and soil amendments purchased annually. Using compost to condition your soil also reduces the harmful over use and runoff of chemical fertilizers into local streams and bodies of water. Over abundance of phosphates and nitrates from chemical fertilizers disturbs the aquatic environment by causing an over growth of algae.  The overgrowth of algae depletes oxygen in the water resulting in death for fish and other aquatic creatures.

If done correctly, composting in your own backyard is easy and not smelly. Anyone can compost easily in their own backyard and we’ve compiled some helpful resources to get you started.

Environmental Benefits
  • Composting helps to keep useful materials out of our rapidly filling landfills and the end product-compost-can be used as soil conditioner.
  • Reduces the cost of getting rid of your garbage–especially when you pay by the bag.
  •  Reduces the smell of your garbage bags. With all that wet stuff gone, your trash is lighter and less smell.
  • Reduce global warming.  Food decomposing in landfills produces methane, a supercharged greenhouse gas; in your backyard compost bin, it does not.
  • Saves space for longer-lived landfills.
  • Produces great soil amendment for your garden by returning nutrients to the soil such as phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, zinc, manganese, iron and boron.
  •  When added to the soil compost helps promote root development, enhances retention of water and nutrients, and makes the soil easier to cultivate.
  • When used on the surface of the soil as mulch, compost reduces rainfall run-off, decreases water evaporation from the soil, and helps to control weeds.
  • Backyard Composting is Easy – Composting is one of the few waste management techniques that can be performed without expensive technology or energy requirements. It can be accomplished by using methods ranging from simple stacked piles to boxed enclosures made of wood or brick.
Recipe for Composting

There are four basic ingredients for composting: nitrogen, carbon, water and air.
The easiest compost recipe calls for: Layering or mixing roughly equal parts of green material (which is high in nitrogen) and brown or dry material (which is high in carbon) in a pile or enclosure.

Greens (Nitrogen)

  • Yard trimmings
  • Green leaves
  • Manure
  • Kitchen waste: egg shells, coffee grounds, tea and tea bags, vegetables

Browns (Carbon)

  • Wood chips
  • Sawdust
  • Paper towels
  • Dried leaves
  • Shredded paper
  • Straw/hay
Please do not add meat, bones, milk, fat or cat or dog droppings!

Your compost heap must be moist. Moisture content should be 50 to 60 percent. It should be as moist as a wrung-out sponge. During dry weather, you may have to add water to your compost pile regularly.


Turn your pile often, perhaps once a week. The bacteria and fungus in your compost pile need air to breathe. When your pile is too wet, too compacted or too dense, the beneficial organisms will die; decomposition will slow down and your compost pile will begin to smell bad.


For optimal activity, the compost pile should be at least three feet wide, three feet deep and three feet tall. This size provides enough insulation for the organisms to remain warm and happy. However, piles can be larger or smaller.


It may take several weeks to several months to complete the process. It is finished when all the original material has been transformed into a dark brown, crumbly, earth-like material that has a pleasant aroma.

To learn more about the natural benefits of composting investigate the sources below.

Backyard Composting Guide (Greenscapes)

Increasing Soil Organic Matter

PSU Department of Agriculture Fact Sheet

Seasonal Planning Guide (Greenscapes)


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