Whatever your eco-friendly goal, composting is the answer. With composting, you can turn your kitchen scraps and lawn scraps (read: your biodegradable garbage) into rich soil for your lawn—and here’s how to compost so you can get started immediately.

By Jennifer Benjamin
Updated May 28, 2019

Composting has become a big trend in the gardening and sustainability world, with earth-friendly folks taking their trash and turning it into treasure, moving toward a zero waste lifestyle and taking advantage of some zero waste disposal options in the process. Not only is it environmentally smart to make your own soil, but it also saves you the time and money spent at the gardening center. Plus, you’ll have less organic, biodegradable waste to drag to the curb on trash day.

Interested? Savvy Gardening’s Niki Jabbour, author of The Year Round Vegetable Gardener, breaks it all down.

What is compost?

Composting is the recycling of natural ingredients—think potato peels and carrot stems from your kitchen—and the trimmings from your lawn. The result is compost. “It can be as simple as piling up some leaves at the back of your garden and waiting a year or two for them to break down, or you can build a bin, adding specific ingredients in exact proportions to speed up decomposition and create a more balanced, finished compost,” Jabbour says. That pure, rich compost can then be used in perpetuity as food for your lawn and garden.

What are the benefits of composting?

First of all, making your own compost is free, so you never have to spend money on enriched soil again. It’s also a great way to reuse and recycle scraps from your kitchen and garden that would otherwise just wind up in the garbage—which is why zero wasters have adopted the practice. The biggest benefit may be to your green spaces, though. “Compost improves the quality of the soil, allowing it to retain nutrients and moisture better, with a better texture,” Jabbour says. “Finished compost is dark brown and crumbly, and while it can take months of years to create it, it’s well worth it.”

How should a newbie start composting?

The easiest thing to do is begin collecting compost ingredients (raked leaves, potato peelings and other kitchen scraps, disease-free garden waste, etc.) in a back corner of your yard. Build a big pile and wait for them to break down over time. This is called “cold composting.” If you want to get more involved, you can either buy or build a bin and more specifically measure out your ingredients. People who don’t have a sprawling yard can buy small, odorless compost containers that fit easily in kitchen spaces; when the containers fill up, they can be emptied at community gardens, local gardening shops, and other locations that offer composting.

“There are two main types of ingredients: the carbon suppliers and the nitrogen suppliers,” Jabbour says. “Carbon suppliers are ‘brown’ materials like leaves, shredded newspapers, or dried grass that are no longer living. Nitrogen suppliers are fresh, ‘green’ ingredients like vegetable peelings, garden plants, coffee grounds, or fresh grass clippings. Those have a high moisture content and are quick to decompose.”

Ideally, you want to aim for a carbon to nitrogen ratio of 30:1 for your compost pile, which is the perfect balance to decompose the materials. Either way, it doesn’t take much, so for any at-home gardener, it’s definitely worth the small effort. For apartment-dwellers, it can greatly reduce their waste production, moving them closer to a zero waste lifestyle.