So you've lived your life according to environmentally responsible principles - you haul your cans and bottles to the curb, you reuse wrapping paper, you recycle your newspapers, and you try to buy products with the least amount of packaging. Proud of yourself, eh? But wipe that smug "greener-than-thou" look on your face and take a gander at your curb on yard waste collection day. Between food scraps, leaves, garden mulch and other organic material in your garbage, you're creating a tremendous amount of waste. Quick! Somebody call Greenpeace!

Have heart. You can help you save environmental face (and help your garden grow) by composting your waste. Yard and kitchen waste account for around 30% of the US waste stream. If everyone composted, landfills would be that much emptier. The world would be a greener place, a happier place, a shining ball of glee! You don't want to be responsible for de-glee-ifying the world, do you?


First of all, what is compost? Short answer: turning your garbage into garden fertilizer. Long answer: it's when you gather your yard mulch (leaves, grass, branches) and kitchen waste (banana peels, leftover scraps) and let the properly decompose instead of throwing all the stuff into a garbage can. Composting not only saves landfill space, but also serves as a great growth stimulant for your lawn or garden. You can make compost by piling it up in a bin in your yard, or by buying an indoor bin and filling it with worms. But we're getting ahead of ourselves; you'll learn all about this in step 2 and step 3.

Like most good things, the more effort you put into composting, the more pleasurable your experience will be. Ultimately, your goal is to create finished compost: a pile of organic material that's so decomposed, it has transformed into something way beyond "a bunch of rotted stuff" and into a useful commodity. If you have a use for that commodity (that is, if you have a vegetable garden, a lawn, or houseplants -- or if you want to get into the compost-supply racket to make some extra cash), you'll definitely want to do it right. However, if your needs are purely to save the environment, you don't have a lot of time, and you don't mind the smell, then you can invest less time into the process.

So before you begin your march down the righteous composting path, you'll need to ask yourself what you want out of it. Here are the main types:

  • Cold composting. Some of you out there are probably not interested in maintaining a full-fledged compost pile. In fact, you might just through your coffee grounds and banana peels on your leaf pile and leave it at that. Hey, more power to you. You can spend as much or as little time, energy, and money on your compost pile as you want. Throwing things together in a pile and ignoring them until they rot on their own means that you're engaging in passive cold composting. It's easier than hot composting, but it's also much smellier (hey, it is garbage).

  • Hot composting. Hot composting is when you take control of the process to maximize the potential of your pile -- you'll be able to keep your pile neat and decent-smelling, and come away faster with a finished product. This SYW will teach you how to make a hot compost pile.

Think of composting as controlled rotting. The more you control the process, the less you have to put up with the nasty rotting side effects, like having a pile of smelly rotten stuff in the middle of your yard attracting flies.

Go on to Step 2: