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The benefits of composting can range from saving money on your trash bill to creating useful natural fertilizer for your plants and garden to combating climate change.

Composting is the process in which food scraps (like orange peels, apple cores, coffee grounds, etc.) and other organic material (anything that comes from an animal or plant), are broken down into a mix of soil and nutrient-dense decayed matter (and sometimes energy).

Composting & Organics Processing

The below items are considered organic waste and can be composted, depending on the type of composting process or service you have.

Click below on the type of organic waste you are trying to get rid of in order to see what curbside or drop-off compost services are available to you!

Food Waste

Yard Waste

Compostable Packaging

Is Drop-Off or Curbside Service Not for You?

Give one of these Do-It-Yourself options a try!

Indoor Compost Bin

Most compost services won’t provide an indoor bin (in addition to a curbside cart) and many DIY backyard composters find that having a bucket or bin to collect compost items until they are ready to be buried in the compost pile or be picked-up can be handy.

  • RecycleBoxBin provides the tiered bin systems present at the Department of Public Works facilities, including the Recycling Center that works well for public places but could also be used in a residential setting
  • We also have the Hot Frog Vermicompost Bin (with worms!) in our Recycling & Education Center
  • Big box stores and businesses like Amazon, Lowes, Home Depot, and Menards do provide some options for under the sink or interior compost bins
  • A quick internet search can also help you find the right model(s) for your home.
  • You can give a go at a DIY Indoor Compost bin as well.

Labeling your bins is also essential! Find out more about our S.O.R.T. program and what FREE waste labels and diversion signs you could get for your school, restaurant, organization, place of worship, or business by clicking here.

Build Your Own Indoor Bin

1. Drill 1/2-inch diameter holes in the bottom and sides of a plastic garbage can.

2. Place a brick in the bottom of a larger garbage can, surround the brick with a layer of wood chips or soil, and place the smaller can inside on top of the brick.

3. Wrap insulation around the outer can to keep the compost warm and cover the cans with a lid.

If you’re looking to build your own indoor bin, vermicomposting (composting with worms) may be a better option because they accelerate the composting process with little to no odor.

Backyard Compost Bin(s) or Pile(s)

*** Please check with your local City or Township ordinances about composting in your backyard before starting

  • Do-It-Yourself Compost Bin or Pile
  • Compost Tumbler

Instructions for how to build your own compost bin or pile in your yard:

There are a variety of composting bins out on the market, but any “compost bin” is not simply a compost bin. They are not all created equally, and choosing a bin depends on the location of your bin, how large you want it to be, and personal preferences such as whether you want to rotate it in a tumbling bin or turn it over with a pitchfork. This can seem a bit overwhelming at first, but here are a few recommendations for building your own bin.

  • If the chances of rodents and other unwanted animals such as deer, dogs, or even bears accessing your pile are pretty high, an enclosed container is recommended.
  • It is also important to have a multi-bin system (two will do for most cases) because adding more organic materials to more organic materials will result in various stages of decomposition which will not be an efficient way to use the compost. When you use your compost you don’t want to have a half-rotting banana peel next to your tulips. Ideally, you should add enough material to one bin and allow it to “cook” while adding organic materials to a second bin or pile. An untouched pile will still decompose eventually, but that can take many years.

There are hundreds of diagrams available online to build your own, but here are a few options to consider with various advantages and disadvantages associated with each.

This plan is definitely for the do-it-yourself-er as it requires a lot of woodworking. The result is a nice-looking raised bin that prevents the intrusion of animals. It cost about $350.00 which is a little pricey, but worth the investment if you want something this substantial. The slats in the front are removable which make for easy turning. Since this bin is raised off the ground, air can get underneath the compost, further helping the process. Whenever you add natural soil to your compost pile, there are millions of microorganisms and worms that will be ready to get to work on your compost, so don’t worry if your bin isn’t directly on the ground.

Rotating barrels are useful if you don’t want to have to turn over the pile every time you add new materials.

Simple compost piles made with posts and chicken wire are really all you need to keep the larger animals out. Some examples of homemade bins are:

Composting FAQs

How do I start composting (at my home, business, school, etc.)?

Resources on how you can start composting at your home, business, office, school, place of worship and more can be found above either through a drop-off or curbside compost service OR through a DIY approach.

Click on the type of organic waste you are producing to see what services are on our Composting page.

What can and can't I put into my compost?

If you have curbside or industrial compost services that you've subscribed to, be sure to check with your curbside compost provider as they will have the correct list of what is and what is not acceptable to place in your compost bin depending on the type of breakdown process they use (aerobic, anaerobic, windrow, pile, digestion, etc.).

What's In. What's Out.

Below is a general list of what is should and should not be placed in your compost:

What to Compost - The IN List

Typical brown (dry) materials include:

  • Brown, dry leaves
  • Dried grass
  • Cornstalks (shredded)
  • Straw
  • Sawdust (in moderation)
  • Cardboard rolls
  • Clean paper
  • Cotton rags
  • Dryer and vacuum cleaner lint
  • Hair and fur
  • Hay and straw
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Wood chips
  • Wool rags
  • Nut shells
  • Fireplace ashes

Typical green materials are:

  • Fresh (green) Grass clippings
  • Fresh manure (horse, chicken, rabbit, cow)
  • Weeds
  • Green leaves
  • Leftover fruits from the garden
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Eggshells
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Houseplants
  • Leaves
  • Tea bags
  • Yard trimmings

You'll notice that the materials are broken into two categories "browns" and "greens" -- “greens” are high in nitrogen and “browns” are high in carbon. Composting requires the proper ratio of "brown" and "green" materials in order for the microorganisms breaking down those materials into compost to be happy, productive, and energetic. As a general rule, you want to have approximately four parts “brown” to one part “green”. This is an approximation, usually too much “green” is the problem as it is difficult to have too much “brown”. You can find more information via The Basics Of Composting (EPA, 2010)

What Not to Compost - The OUT List

Leave Out/Reason Why

  • Black walnut tree leaves or twigs - Releases substances that might be harmful to plants
  • Coal or charcoal ash - Might contain substances harmful to plants
  • Dairy products (e.g., butter, milk, sour cream, yogurt) and eggs - Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
  • Diseased or insect-ridden plants - Diseases or insects might survive and be transferred back to other plants
  • Fats, grease, lard, or oils - Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
  • Meat or fish, bones and scraps - Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
  • Pet wastes (e.g., dog or cat feces, soiled cat litter) - Might contain parasites, bacteria, germs, pathogens, and viruses harmful to humans
  • Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides - Might kill beneficial composting organisms

(EPA, 2010)

Why should I compost....doesn't my stuff just break down in the landfill?

Food waste (scraps and wasted food) accounts for 35% of waste (by weight) in our landfills -- that's a lot!

The Many Benefits of Composting

  • Saves money on your trash bill -- less stuff going into your trash bins means fewer tips and more dollars in your pocket.

  • It also helps extend the life of landfills since 26% of the waste stream is yard waste and food scraps that can be composted (EPA, 2009).

  • When you throw organic material into a landfill, it is not given the proper amount of oxygen to decompose. These materials start breaking down though an oxygen-less process and in turn release methane gas, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global climate change (more below).

  • Creates free high quality fertilizer for the garden

Our Trash Doesn't Breakdown.

With the way landfills are created, there are plastic layers and sheeting that covers the different "cells" or sections of the landfill to prevent that trash from polluting the environment -- land, air, and water. When that plastic layer is put in place when a cell or landfill reaches capacity, it closes off oxygen from reaching any organic materials switching the rotting or breakdown process from aerobic (with oxygen) to anaerobic (without oxygen). Not only is this the anaerobic breakdown process much slower than it's counter process (aerobic), it produces a different gas entirely because different microbes are supported by a low or no oxygen living space.

Typically, your compost pile would produce CO2, otherwise known as carbon dioxide, as the organic materials rot and decay since the compost pile is exposed to oxygen (depending on how often your turned your pile). We know that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas (meaning it holds heat in our Earth's atmosphere) too however when we compare it to anaerobic breakdown, we can see a big difference! Food waste and other organic materials that are trapped in our landfill aren't exposed to oxygen, meaning that breakdown anaerobically (without oxygen) producing CH4, methane, instead of carbon dioxide. Methane is also a greenhouse gas that holds heat in the Earth's atmosphere HOWEVER when comparing the two gases, methane holds about 25 times as much heat as carbon dioxide.

And while we do have a methane gas collection system at our landfill, methane gas collection system are only so efficient; BUT it will never capture all the methane that is being generated by the breakdown of organic matter in the landfill (under anaerobic conditions). Furthermore, a basic  methane capture system collects the landfill gas and is then flared (burned) or is converted for energy use by removing all contaminants. The US EPA Landfill Methane Outreach Program estimates that 60%-90% of the methane emitted from landfills can be captured dependent upon the system and its effectiveness. But if we recall, methane is 25 times worse than carbon dioxide and you need to collect about 95% of the landfill gas to simply break even in terms of detriment to the Earth.

What can you do? The idea of reducing food waste and wasted food first at the source is always best. Composting or other organics processing will remain a higher and better use with less environmental damage than collecting landfill gas for its energy potential.

Okay my compost stinks....what am I doing wrong?

Pass the smell test!

Keeping a good ratio of “greens” and “browns” helps encourage the decomposition process and keeps the pile from getting stinky.

  • “Greens” are high in nitrogen (such as shredded paper, dead leaves, used paper napkins, etc.)
  • "Browns” are high in carbon (lawn clippings, fruit and veggie peels, coffee grounds, etc.)

The microorganisms that break down your compost, need a good balance of these to be full and energetic. As a general rule, you want to have approximately four parts “brown” to one part “green”. This is an approximation, usually too much “green” is the problem as it is difficult to have too much “brown”. You can find more examples of "greens" and "browns" can be found in the FAQ above.

If you feel that your bin has the right ratios of greens and brown, heat, air circulation, and moisture may also be affecting the smell....and err, productivity of your compost!

  • Place your compost bin or pile in a place where it is well lit or warm. If you’re placing your bin outside, putting it in a sunny area will help the center of the pile heat up which is what is necessary for the breakdown of the materials inside.
  • Be sure that the microorganisms breaking your compost down are getting plenty of air by turning the pile or stirring the bin a little more often.
  • Also, if it starts to get a little dry add enough water to it to keep it moist.
What is the final product of my compost? What does all my food scraps break down into?

The Dirt - Breaking it Down

Compost is slightly and eventually completely broken down organic matter, referred to by some as “humus”. Yes, it is often found in a pile in your yard, but it doesn’t necessarily have an odor. Compost is created every single day in nature by the breakdown of natural materials such as leaves, grass clippings, animal poop – it’s all part of the nutrient cycle. This process is caused by tiny microorganisms in the soil (tiny bugs like bacteria and fungi) and other insects such as earthworms that munch on the organic material.

The benefits of composting range from saving money on your trash bill to creating useful natural fertilizer for your plants. Since it is already a natural process, fiddling with your heap of compost will help create good conditions for the decomposition process, effectively producing useful “fertilizer” in as little as several weeks. 

Additional Resources

What a heap of… compost!

After successfully cooking the compost into beautiful nutrient rich “humus”, what should you do with it?

Relax and have a cup of tea!

Ever heard of compost tea? I know you’re envisioning handfuls of compost steeping in your tea pot, which really isn’t that far from the truth! Once you’ve created your nutrient-rich compost, take advantage of the yummy nutrients hanging out in the soil water by creating your very own compost tea. This can be used as a natural fertilizer to water your garden with. Don’t worry, all of the nutrients will not be lost in your compost, it’ll still be a great application to your garden all on its own.

Simpler methods involve filling up a bucket about 1/3 with compost then 2/3 water and letting it sit for a few days (4-5). Give it a stir once or twice each day and when it’s good and ready let the compost settle and pour the water off the top or strain it into another bucket through cheesecloth. This solution can be diluted and put into a sprayer or watering can to add to the soil or leaves immediately! The remaining material can go straight into the soil or back into the compost pile.

What if you have worms?

Water that is caught from moistening your vermicomposting bin can be used directly from the bin to water plants. This water has run through the soil and worms so it contains some of the nutrients left inbetween soil particles.

Another method is steeping a handful of compost in a few gallons of water for an extended period of time (at least 12 hours, but preferably two weeks). Make sure you remove your worms first or they’ll drown!

Stick a fork in it, it’s done!

Your completed compost can be added directly into the soil of your garden if you don’t have special red composting worms. In case of worms, make sure you remove them before adding them to your garden. They might not be able to survive if they are scattered amongst your garden since they thrive in organic material, not in the soil. Plus, you don’t want to get your population too low!

What is Vermicomposting/Worm Composting?


An alternative to the traditional outdoor bin is composting with worms. They are extremely low maintenance and there are an abundance of places online where you can order them. A less expensive option if you know someone that already composts with worms is to borrow a population from them. Don’t go digging worms out of your yard to put them in a box, there are specific worms (typically called red worms or red wigglers, Eisenia fetida) recommended for the compost process. Building a worm composting bin is simple, it only requires a small, opaque container that has holes in it so the worms can breathe. Usually these are smaller and cost less to construct. Make sure there’s some kind of screen around the holes you drill in the bottom so they don’t go finding their way into your living room.

These articles have some good information on getting started:

Here at the DPW office we have our very own pet worms that help us get rid of food scraps from our break room. Happy compost comes from happy worms, and we certainly give ours the nutrition they need!

How do I get rid of yard waste?
Yard waste is banned from disposal in Michigan landfills and waste to energy facilities. Contact your waste hauler to sign up for curbside yard waste pickup, visit our online waste guide for locations to bring your yard waste or compost your yard waste at home.
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Did you know that food waste (scraps and wasted food) accounts for 35% of waste (by weight) in our landfills?