About 61 million tons of food scraps, shredded paper, and yard trimmings are tossed into U.S. landfills each year. Rather than entombing that waste in plastic — which takes thousands of years to disintegrate — compost it into nutrient-rich material that when added to your lawn or garden will boost soil health, reduce water use, and fight off plant diseases. At-home composting is easier than you may think.

Start your own “pile”

  1. Purchase a compost bin (usually around $30 at hardware and home-improvement stores) and place it in a dry spot in your yard. Or use a mesh box if you live in an area free from wild animals.
  2. Feed your pile a 50/50 combo of nitrogen-rich “green” materials (food scraps, grass) and carbon-rich “brown” materials (dead leaves, shredded newspaper). See “Do Add,” below.

  3. Add water as needed; the pile should be moist, not sopping.

  4. Stir the bin contents regularly, allowing air to circulate, but don't mix it too often: As naturally present microbes work to decompose the materials, they gradually generate heat, which accelerates the decomposition process. For prime efficiency, the center of the pile must reach about 150 degrees.

  5. Wait for it. Compost can take as little as two weeks to form in hot climates and much longer in cold ones. Your compost is ready when the bottom of the pile resembles dark, rich dirt.

Do add:
Fruit and vegetable scraps, grass clippings, shredded newspaper, small twigs, coffee grounds, leaves, tea bags, grains, eggshells, potting soil.

Don't add:
Pressure-treated wood, dog or cat waste, diseased plants, charcoal ash, dairy or meat products (which attract pests and can transfer bad-for-humans bacteria), grease, large branches.

Using your compost

  • Mix it with potting soil and use for houseplants.
  • Top gardens and lawns with a 1-inch-thick layer.
  • Give it away: Contact your waste-disposal service or city recycling center to find local community gardens, farms, and neighborhood associations that accept donated compost.

DID YOU KNOW?

  • Organic waste doesn't compost in landfills because dumps don't offer the right balance of oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon.
  • You can do it inside. Compost in a small, enclosed bin with the help of red wiggler worms, which eat their weight in organic matter each day. For information on vermicomposting, go to howtocompost.org.
  • A binless compost pile placed in a dry, shady corner of your yard works just as well. It just doesn't look quite as tidy.
  • Compost won't attract pests or smell bad when done right.

LEARN MORE

For more information, check out composting101.com; compost-info-guide.com; and epa.gov/osw/conserve/rrr/composting/index.htm.