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How To Start Composting at Home

I’m excited to share that I finally crossed something off our household to-do list that has been on there for WAY too long: we have officially started composting at home! 

I wanted to share a blog post about it so you guys can start composting at home, too, without spending hours researching everything online. So here’s a how to start composting at home guide for your reading/actionable pleasure!

I hope some of you will join me in this mission to do what we can personally to help protect our environment. 

how to start composting at home

I was feeling really intimidated with getting our composting system up and running, so a couple months ago I texted my friend Sarah to see if she might be willing to help.

Sarah, a fellow dietitian and also co-owner of local Gathering Springs Farm, is a very passionate composting advocate and expert. It’s the farm off-season right now, so it was good timing for her to come by and walk me through how to start composting at home. 

A huge thank you to her for helping me out yesterday – as it turns out, starting your own composting system at home is really easy!

What is composting?

Composting is the process of saving organic (meaning, organic matter – not in the sense of organic vs. conventional farming) material such as vegetable/fruit scraps and leaves and recycling them into soil. 

To do this at home, this simply means saving these food scraps (more details below on what you can and can’t compost) in a container, then either dumping them into a larger bin outside to decompose, or transporting them to a drop off location near you. 

how to start composting at home easy guide

Why compost?

About 95 percent of food scraps in the U.S. are thrown away, ending up in landfills. (source)

Recycling this organic matter rather than throwing it away saves it from ending up in landfills, where it will take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas. (Hi, global warming.)

According to the EPA, food scraps and yard waste together make up more than 28% of what we throw away – but it can be composted instead! 

If you care about the environment and want to do something personally to help with climate change, composting is a great way to do your part, and it’s very easy and does not require much effort, I promise. 

best outdoor container to compost at home

How do I start composting at home?

It’s easy! 

First step: buy a small bin (<- affiliate link for the one I got, only $22) to store the compostable-items in indoors before you transport them out to your large outdoor bin. 

I like the bin I got because the lid has a little filter to help with any smell. I haven’t noticed any smell at all yet, but I’ll keep you guys posted.

If you are worried about the bucket getting super gross, you can buy some of these compostable bin liners – they can go right into your larger compost/outdoor bin (more on that next) with everything else. 

best bucket to compost at home

Second step, if you have a backyard (if not, see the next question!): buy an outdoor bin to dump the scraps in every couple days when your indoor bin gets full. 

Here’s an affiliate link to the outdoor bin that I have (you want the single $71 version) – the lid is very secure and there are no open areas, so wild animals getting into it should not be a concern. I like that the bottom has an area you can lift up to get out the soil once you get your compost really going!

Another bin recommended by my friend Sarah is this bin (affiliate link) – it’s different from mine in that it’s up on a stand and you can turn the entire thing to stir your contents without manually stirring it with a shovel. So, another good option!

Can I compost without a backyard? 

Yes! Many areas offer composting pick up services, or have drop off locations available (like at farmer’s markets).

If you don’t have access to an outdoor space to place a larger compost bin, check out this list to find composting options near you. Or just Google “compost service in…” your city! 

What exactly can I compost?

More than you think!

Here are the basics of what to compost: vegetable waste, fruit scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells, tea bags (remove the staple!), shredded paper (not glossy), paper towels (so long as they don’t have any chemicals/oils on them), leaves, branches, and twigs. 

Matt and I started filling our compost bucket just one day before Sarah and I planned to get together to officially kick things off, and the bucket was already about half full in just one day. It’s amazing how quickly all the odds and ends add up!

I’m really happy all this waste of ours will no longer end up in a landfill.

start composting at home

What should not be composted?

You want to avoid adding any meat, dairy, and fat to your compost.

So, nothing with lots of oil/butter/etc. – usually fully cooked dinner leftovers are not great for composting unless they are super plain (like plain rice), but the leftover scraps and raw materials that went into the cooking – those leftover kale stems, or the ends of the veggies you cut off, etc. – are! 

Should I bother composting if I don’t cook much?

Yes!

If you eat any fruits/veggies at home, drink coffee or tea, eat eggs, or rake leaves in your yard, you likely have waste that you can add into your compost bin. 

Even a little bit makes a difference!

Does the compost bin require any upkeep?

A bit, but not much!

Sarah said it’s helpful to add a little water in there every few weeks, and that you should also stir everything a couple times a month with a large shovel of some sort. 

In the winter, it’s not as necessary to stir the compost since everything will be frozen/not breaking down anyway, but once it’s hot out you definitely want to stir it every couple weeks. If you want a bin that you can turn so it basically stirs itself, Sarah recommended this bin (affiliate link).

Be sure to add in some yard waste – leaves, etc. – to your compost pile in addition to food scraps. There’s more information on the EPA website regarding how to manage your compost bin properly in terms of what balance of yard waste vs. food waste to include. 

A properly managed compost bin should not smell bad, and should not attract pests or rodents. 

outdoor composting container best

And that’s all I have for you today!

Clearly I’m hardly an expert on composting, so feel free to share tips/corrections in the comments section! But I figure this will hopefully serve as a helpful very basic how to start composting at home guide for those of you who are interested but intimidated and not sure where to start.

Another huge thank you to my friend Sarah for her help getting me going! If you want more information on composting, check out her blog post: Food Waste Isn’t Trash. It includes some links to DC area composting resources (great for those of you locals without backyards), and also includes a link to a free downloadable PDF composting guide via her farm’s email list.

If you prefer listening vs. reading about composting, here’s a composting 101 podcast episode that Sarah recommended. 

And now, I’d love to hear from you guys:

Are you already composting? When did you start?

And if not, did this blog post encourage you to consider starting? I hope so!

Comments

  1. 1

    Thank you for this post! I’ve been considering composting as part of an effort to be more environmentally friendly, and this makes it seem much less intimidating.

    • 2

      Yay, I’m so happy to hear that! Let me know how your composting journey goes! :)

    • 3
      Charise Pettit says

      I was also coming to say the same as others – composting has been on my list to look into for a couple years now and your post makes it seem so accessible! I try to add one more sustainability/earth-friendly behavior per year – last year it was using mesh produce bags instead of the plastic ones at the store; the year before it was buying a big pile of microfiber cloths to clean messes with instead of using paper towels. Maybe this will be the year of composting!

      • 4

        The year of composting, I love it! So glad you found this post useful. What a great idea to add one sustainable behavior every year. We have been doing the same – slowly switching to reusable bags and lids, etc. Every bit helps!

  2. 5

    Very interesting. Maybe a “dumb” question, but do you just leave the compost in the bin forever? Or does the bin “fill up” and then MUST be taken to a facility or used in gardening? I am just curious if one must empty the compost bin or if the ground absorbs it. If you take it to a compost facility, do you need to use certain bags or just load up your full compost bin?

    • 6

      No dumb questions :) So you leave the compost in the bin and stir it up until it turns into a really rich soil, at which point you can use the soil for gardening! Or you could drop it off/have it picked up if you didn’t want to use it I bet. The bin I have has the little compartment at the bottom you can open to take out soil from the very bottom while still adding in compostable items at the top. I’m not sure how it works to drop off at a composting facility… it probably varies based on your location!

  3. 7

    Thank you for this! I’ve always been intimidated by the thought of actually doing this, although its something I’ve considered for a long time. It really is pretty simple and I think something my family can easily do. We all have to do our part in whatever ways we can!

  4. 9

    I forget that not all places compost! We just have a bin that goes out with the recycling and trash, and the city picks it up. This is in Portland, OR, but it worked the same when we lived in California.

    • 10

      California and Oregon are so far ahead of the rest of the country with this stuff – probably Washington state too! I wish every city/state was set up with composting services – I think people would be a lot more likely to do it if it was built in/the norm/convenient. Hopefully someday!

      • 11
        Carol Morton says

        Yep, having lived in CA and now WA, I can say Iā€™m impressed with how those states collect yard waste and domestic recyclables. Here in WA, there is one huge bin for plastic/cardboard/etc. and one huge bin for green waste. CA was the same. In CA, we occasionally picked up free mulch at specific locations – more twiggy than fully finished compost.

  5. 12

    Anne,
    Great post and I started composting a few years ago to recycle food waste to help with my yard. I have a similar bin to the one shown in this post in our kitchen. I bought 5-gallon painter buckets with lids to use as my bigger compost containers that I mix some topsoil in and add the food waste. The buckets are easy to roll and mix the contents with a little water. I use the compost in our flowerbeds, planters, and in my yard which is an inexpensive way to keep everything green.

    I found that topsoil helps with the breakdown and keeps reduce the smell, so far no signs of critters.

    • 13

      That’s a great tip re: the topsoil… thank you! Will try that. We have a ton of leaves to put in it too and apparently having those in the mix helps with the stink/critters as well… fingers crossed.

  6. 14

    We’ve been composting for years – currently have 3 large compost bins in our back yard. I have a similar stainless steel container for in the house. We’ve found leaves break down faster if they are mulched first, but certainly isn’t necessary. We get great compost to add to our raised garden beds.

  7. 16

    I’ve backyard composted for years but have really gotten into it in the past 2 or so years. It is so rewarding to pull the soil out of the bottom and use it for something! Tip: you don’t even need a compost bin! Years ago my dad just had a compost pile, and now I just throw compost in a “bin” created by some rolled wire fencing that was in place when I bought my house. Thanks for the links – I always want to learn more so I’m def checking those out!

    • 17

      Your compost pile sounds a lot easier to work with than a traditional container. Unfortunately, in my city, there are regulations that require compost to be stored in a covered/sealed bin. I assume these ordinances are in place to deter critters & wildlife in my fairly urban locale.

    • 18

      Glad to hear you are already on board! I’d be nervous to do it without a bin – it doesn’t attract animals/rodents?

      • 19

        Maybe some squirrels or neighborhood cats, which are out there anyway? I’m not sure about rodents, since I guess the cats would get them before we noticed them! We’ve never had a problem and live in a pretty densely populated suburb.

  8. 21

    What a great post!

    We also composted in our backyard for awhile but had to stop because of a rodent problem. Now our city has started a yard waste collection where you purchase a bin for a low fee and pay about $.50 per month for collection. And you can put vegetable scraps in the bin along with your organic yard waste. This is turned into organic “dyno dirt” that you can purchase for your gardens. Win/win!

  9. 23
    Roadrunner says

    This is great, Anne, thanks. We did that at home when I was a kid and we had a big vegetable garden, but in the absence of that now, had not been doing it. Will have to reassess and get with it! Any idea how long it takes to produce soil? Please give us an update in a month or so.

    • 24

      Definitely bring it back! Not sure how long it takes to produce soil… I don’t think we will get any until it warms up. I’ll keep you guys updated though!

  10. 25

    Love this post, Anne!! My best friend’s family and my parents always composted growing up, but I’m not sure why I haven’t thought to do it for my own family. Thanks for sharing this and getting me thinking about it.

  11. 27

    This is great, glad the information is getting sent out to so many folks! You may already know this, but you have to remove stickers on produce before composting the peels (bananas citrus avocados etc) as they are not compostable!

  12. 29

    I live in Minneapolis and we are fortunate to have an organics recycling program. So they pick that up weekly with our trash! We put biodegradable bags in our compost bin (we have one very similar to yours) as it makes it easier to take the compost out to the bin and keeps our bin from getting too disgusting! Our city program is more permissive than if you were going to backyard compost – like we can put meat and bones in our compost and compostable paper products, like pizza boxes and egg cartons. It’s awesome as we majorly cut down on how much we throw out. Most weeks we only generate one smallish bag of trash.

    I like the idea of a backyard compost because it would be nice to use the compost but my garden is at a community garden plot that is 1/2 mile away, so bringing the compost there would be kind of a pain… so for now we just stick with the city program.

  13. 31

    Whole foods give backyard compost bind for free from customer service. They are great bkz adjustable for size. I ask starbucks to save grounds (go in and ask in morning and pick up later… Don’t let them tell you they won’t do it bkz it is a stsrbucks policy to give grounds to composte.. I checked šŸ˜). Joe and the Juice will gladly give pulp as they empty juicer 4x dsy. Ask when you go in for a coffee or juice and take away a bag then or in a few hours. All these are great in the composte bin

  14. 33

    For anyone in metro DC area, check out if The Compost Crew http://compostcrew.com/ does curb-side pickup in your area! We are in Falls Church City and have been using them for several years now – it’s AWESOME. If they don’t do curb-side pickup, they also do pickup at several local community centers, so worth investigating that too. Backyard composting is fantastic but I’ve found that it can also be a great option for someone to just pick it up. AND, the amount of trash we generate weekly is way down – very cool.

  15. 35

    Like Lisa, I also live in Minneapolis and love our organics recycling program. I was part of the pilot program and was very excited when they rolled it out city-wide.

    I wanted to mention another counter top bin that I’ve been using the past few years: https://amzn.to/2S8FgZc. It’s made by OXO and while it may not be the prettiest, what I like is that there aren’t any hard-to-reach curves in the lid or base where bugs/smells can hang out and the bin is dishwasher-safe.

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