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How to Start Composting for Beginners

Composting is a great way to reduce your environmental impact in the face of climate change. When you compost, you turn your kitchen waste, food waste, and other types of organic waste into compost that would otherwise go to a landfill. Keeping organic waste out of landfills not only helps reduce the burden for your local municipality, but it reduces methane emissions which contribute to climate change. Plus, the resulting organic matter is excellent for your garden or potted plants.

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Composting can be daunting, but with this 7-step beginner’s guide to composting for beginners, you’ll be a pro at the composting process!

Compost Pail
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7-Steps for Composting for Beginners At Home

1) Find a Location

The first step to composting is finding a location for your compost bin or compost pile. If you have a backyard, you can put a compost bin, compost pile, or compost heap there. If you live in an apartment, you can compost in a compost bin on your balcony or porch, or you can use a closed compost bin for composting inside your home.

Just make sure that your compost bin or compost pile is in a place where it can be easily accessed for depositing food waste, kitchen waste, and other types of organic waste.

2) Choose a Container

While many compost bins are available for purchase, you can also make your own compost bin out of a trash can, milk crate, or other types of containers. If you’re composting in your backyard, you can build a compost bin out of wood pallets, or you can simply start piling your compost in your backyard without a bin!

Compost bins should have holes to allow air to circulate, so if you’re using a container that doesn’t have holes, make sure to drill some.

If you’re composting in an apartment or want the convenience of having a composter right in your kitchen, choose a countertop composter. These small containers prevent odors from escaping and make compost from your food scraps in hours instead of months.

Wood Compost Bin
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3) Get Associated with Carbon-Rich “Browns” and Nitrogen-Rich “Greens”

Now that you have a location for your composting efforts, it’s time to start thinking about what you’re going to compost. You’ll need two types of materials for composting: carbon-rich “browns” and nitrogen-rich “greens.”

While green materials give microorganisms nitrogen – a vital element that promotes microbial growth – the carbon-rich browns aerate the compost and provide a structure for the compost pile, ultimately allowing the microorganisms to do their job: decomposing the waste and turning it into nutrient-rich soil.

4) Find Green and Brown Items in your Home

Brown materials are dry items that include:

  • dead leaves
  • twigs and branches
  • shredded newspaper
  • shredded egg cartons
  • shredded cardboard

Green materials are wet items that include:

  • food scraps such as fruit and vegetable scraps
  • grass clippings
  • coffee grounds
  • egg shells

You shouldn’t compost any meat, bones, dairy, or fats because they attract pests and can create odors. You also shouldn’t compost any items that have been treated with chemicals, such as pressure-treated wood, charcoal, or colored paper. Finally, when choosing yard waste, be sure not to add any weeds or weed seeds.

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5) Create Layers

Now that you have your compost bin or compost pile set up, and you know the green and brown materials needed to compost, it’s time to start layering your compost. You’ll want to alternate layers of browns and greens in your compost bin or compost pile. For example, you might put a layer of green food scraps or grass clippings on top of a layer of brown newspaper shreds or shredded cardboard.

As you’re creating layers, make sure that each layer is moistened so that the composting process can occur.

You can moisten the layers by spraying them with water from a spray bottle or by adding water as you add each layer of material to your compost bin or compost pile.

A general rule of thumb for your compost layers is to have more browns in your compost than greens.

You should always have a layer of brown materials underneath a layer of green materials so that your brown materials can soak up the moisture from your green materials, provide structure to the compost pile and aerate the layers of compost.

6) Turn your Compost

Turning your compost helps aerate the compost material and speeds up the composting process.

You’ll want to turn your compost every few days to once a week.

To turn your compost, simply use a composting fork or other tools to mix and aerate the compost material.

As you’re turning your compost, make sure to add more moisture if the compost seems dry.

Pitchfork and Soil
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7) Wait and Collect the Finished Compost

The composting process can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the temperature and the type of materials you’re composting.

When your compost is finished, it should be dark brown or black, have a crumbly texture, and smell earthy.

You can use your finished compost in your garden or potted plants as an organic fertilizer, or you can donate it to a community garden.

What is Composting?

Composting is the process of breaking down organic matter into nutrient-rich soil. This process happens naturally, but composting speeds up the process by providing the ideal conditions for decomposition.

Why Should I Compost?

Composting is a great way to reduce your carbon emissions by reducing the amount of waste that gets stored in landfills. As the impacts of climate change continue to worsen, individual and communal composting will become a vital method of reducing the world’s carbon emissions.

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What Shouldn’t I Compost?

There are a few things you shouldn’t compost, such as meat or dairy products, which can attract pests or create unpleasant odors. You also shouldn’t compost items that have been treated with chemicals, such as pressure-treated wood.

How Long Does it Take for Compost to be Ready to Use?

The composting process is generally completed within six weeks to one year. However, if you turn your compost pile or mix your compost regularly, you can speed up the composting process.

Your compost is ready to use when it is dark and crumbly and has a pleasant earthy smell.


Composting is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint and provide nutrient-rich soil for your plants. By following these seven steps, you can successfully build a compost pile in your backyard or create compost in a container in your apartment. Thanks for reading this guide to composting for beginners!

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Jay Wilhite

About Jay

Jay Wilhite, founder of EcoFriendlyExplorers, is a passionate outdoor enthusiast and environmental advocate. Growing up in southern Idaho, he developed a deep love for nature, engaging in activities like hunting, fishing, camping, and hiking.
Jay’s background in computer engineering paired with experiences in the timber products industry and environmental consulting has strengthened his connection with nature and interest in climate change. Through his blog, he encourages sustainable enjoyment of the outdoors, sharing experiences from his numerous adventures across the U.S. and abroad.

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