What is compost and why is it important?

Compost is decomposed organic material, such as leaves, grass clippings, and kitchen waste. It provides many essential nutrients for plant growth and therefore is often used as fertilizer.

Understanding how to make and use compost is important as the problem of waste disposal continues to grow. One third of what New Yorkers throw away is yard waste and food scraps. When this material is sent to a landfill it contributes to NYCs disposal costs and can create greenhouse gas emissions. When composted, food scraps and other organic waste become a useful product that adds nutrients and improves the quality of soil for street trees, gardens and more.

organics recycling lifecycle

A few of the many benefits of compost are:

  • Reduction in garbage volume.
  • A rich, natural fertilizer cuts back on use of chemical fertilizers.
  • Improves soil aeration and drainage.
  • Helps control weeds.
  • Decreases the need for costly watering.

What food waste can be composted?

 Among others:

  • Raw or cooked fruit and vegetable peelings.
  • Pasta, rice and bread.
  • Dried and crushed egg shells.
  • Teabags and coffee grounds.
  • Dry fiber, such as torn-up egg crates and empty toilet rolls, to make up 25 percent of the contents.

What food CANNOT be composed?

Among others:

  • Meat, fish and animal fats — These materials may attract unwanted visitors to your compost pile.
  • Shredded newspapers or office paper — The paper may contain chemicals that are not good for your compost. Recycle them instead.
  • Ashes from your grill — Wood ashes can be very useful in small quantities, but BBQ grill ashes should NEVER go into your compost pile.
  • Dog and cat feces — These materials can add diseases to your compost, and they have an unpleasant odour. Use chicken, horse, cow, and rabbit manure instead.
  • Sawdust from treated lumber — Sometimes lumber is treated with harmful chemicals.

If you have a doubt about something, double check online before putting it in your compost !


How can you compost?

1- Freeze your food scraps and bring it to the farmer market close to you once a week

If you live in an apartment I understand that the idea of having a compost in your kitchen is not particularly appealing.

A good alternative is store items in the freezer or refrigerator and bring them to the closest farmer market later in the week.

GrowNYC offers food scrap collection at 60 Greenmarkets. 


2- Build your own compost

Some quick research online made it clear that there are lots of options when it comes to composting, some more complicated than others. If you are looking for an easy one see below the different steps:

Step 1: Recycle or buy a plastic bin with a tight fitting lid about 24 inches tall or taller (it needs a lid to keep the soil moist and to keep critters out). This one was purchased at Lowe’s for $7.


Step 2: Use a drill to make 8 to 10 small holes in the bottom of the container for aeration purposes and in the lid.


Step 3: Place some shredded newspaper or dry leaves on the bottom of your compost bin, filling it about 1/8 – 1/4 full.


Step 4: Place dirt on top of the leaves or newspaper until the container is 1/2 full.


Step 5: Now place any food scraps or paper products that you’d like to compost. Check out list above for a non-exhaustive run down of what you can and can’t compost. Surprisingly, things like lint and eggshells are compost friendly, while lime (too acidic) and dog “waste” are off-limits.


Step 6: Give your compost a little stir with a shovel or stick, making sure to cover your food scraps with dirt.


Step 7: Spray with water until moist, but not soaking wet. (Note: too much water can be the culprit if your compost starts to smell).

Step 8: Place the bin in a shady area away from the house (if you live in an apartment or have no backyard you can place your bin on the patio). Be sure that it’s not in full sun or your compost will dry out.

Step 9: Now you just have to wait 2 – 3 months before the compost is ready for your yard or garden. It can be used as mulch or potting soil and can also be sprinkled over grass as a lawn conditioner.

Step 10: Remember to save at least 1/3 of it so we can keep the composting process going !


With a small investment of time, you can contribute to the solution to a community waste disposal problem, while at the same time enriching the soil and improving the health of your yard and garden.




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