Chicago Recycling Coalition

How to Compost

In our opinion, there are two main reasons why people don’t take up composting. One is that people feel daunted by the “complexity” of the subject. Composting is “scientific,” and seems too difficult to “master.” The second reason is sometimes called the “ick factor.” People are simply squeamish about handling their wet garbage. 


Composting is EASY

First and foremost, keep in mind that composting is a natural process. People are often reluctant to try composting because they believe it is difficult. Nothing could be further from the truth. You can’t fail at composting, because all organic materials will rot – in fact, you can’t stop this process if you try. 


It’s true that there is a large volume of scientific research and practical wisdom connected to composting, which can lead to information overload. But don’t let this deter you! As an analogy, consider cooking eggs. Pretty much everyone can boil or fry one up. Accomplished cooks can create fluffy omelets or soufflés. But the important common denominator is serving edible food. 


The different outcomes are related to the amount of time and energy put into learning, as well as preparing the raw materials involved. So it is with composting. You can be a “better” composter with an investment of significant time and research. But you can also do fine with just the basic information and a minimum of effort. 


Many “right ways” to compost

There’s a common fallacy is that there is a single "right" way to compost. Actually, there are many “right” ways. Effective composting requires: (1) an understanding that the process you use should be consistent with the amount of time and energy you plan to devote to composting, and (2) a system that is appropriate for the amount and type of waste that is generated.


Time and energy

It’s especially important to assess how much effort you want to put into composting. Producing finished compost quickly requires preparation of the raw materials and maintaining the optimal balance of air and moisture for the microbes to do their processing. If you don’t provide this maintenance, the composting process will continue, but more slowly. If you don’t want to invest a lot of time and energy in composting, that’s perfectly fine, too. 


So remember that no composting system is perfect; each has its benefits and drawbacks. Click here for a chart reprinted from the composting classic Let It Rot, which details different methods – and the advantages and disadvantages of each.


Amount and type of waste

Along with your available time and energy, look at the amount of organic waste you generate to determine what system you are going to use. For city dwellers, available space is a major consideration. If you have a back yard, and especially if you garden, you can compost in the traditional manner, using a bin structure, making a pile of your organic wastes, or burying them. Manufactured bins at various price levels are available from garden supply stores or by mail order, but the simple homemade varieties work just as well.


If the only organic waste you have are food remains, such as coffee grounds and vegetable trimmings, the composting process you use will be on a much smaller scale and require different techniques. The most common method of small-scale indoor composting is to use special worms. See the section on “Vermicomposting” for more.