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Composting Resources

Outdoor Composting

On November 15, 2012, nationally observed as America Recycles Day, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that food is now the single largest type of waste going to America’s municipal landfills and incinerators. More than 33 million tons of food is wasted each year. When food is discarded in landfills, it produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Americans throw away up to 40 percent of their food, an average of 20 pounds per person a month. Much of this wasted food is actually surplus, wholesome and edible food that could have helped those in need. Food waste makes up about 12% of what is thrown away.

Composting is nature’s way of recycling. Composting converts organic materials, including food scraps (like fruits and vegetables) and yard waste trimmings (like leaves, grass and small tree branches) into a dark, earthy-smelling soil conditioner, thereby preserving valuable nutrient-rich organic resources. Additionally, composting can save money by lowering disposal costs and replacing store-bought fertilizers. Compost also saves water by helping the soil hold moisture, reducing water runoff. Composting can make a significant contribution to achieving waste reduction goals, especially if organic waste comprises a large proportion of your waste stream.

If you are interested in developing an onsite composting bin, first check with your local community or county waste and recycling coordinator to identify any restrictions on outdoor composting. A properly constructed compost pile is needed to minimize nuisances (such as odors) and achieve a quality finished compost.

Composting is easy with some basic guidelines. To learn more about backyard composting and tips for success, download the  pdf Compost Guidelines and Resources  and watch SWANCC’s composting video to the right.

Vermicomposting is the process of using “red wiggler” worms (a special type of earthworm) and microorganisms (like bacteria, protozoa, molds, and fungi) to convert organic waste into black, nutrient-rich humus, excellent for new plant growth. Whether you set up a small bin or invest in a large-scale vermi-digester system, food and paper waste can become fertilizer while reducing the amount of waste landfilled.

Worms feed on both the organic wastes and the bedding, converting all the organic materials into worm castings. How much you can feed the worms depends on the size of the bin. There are approximately 1,000 worms in a pound, and the worms can eat approximately half their weight in food scrap per day (e.g., 10 pounds of worms, or 10,000 worms, can eat approximately 5 pounds of organic waste per day). Worms also may double their population every few months.

Commercial worm bins can be purchased, or you can make your own worm bin from an 18-gallon storage box with holes, a lid, and a drainage tray. Figure 4 shows two options for indoor vermicomposting bins: an 18-gallon storage-tub-style bin and the commercially-available Can-O-Worms Bin. Starter worms can be purchased for your bin; refer to the list of resources at the end of this section.

Worm bins will remain odorless if you maintain the bin properly. The resources at the end of this section provide several tips and guidance documents to assist you to set up and maintain your worm bin.

Some helpful hints for small worm bin set up:

  • Create a bedding mixture of 2/3 coconut fiber (soak in a bucket to allow to expand, then crumble it up – it should be moist, not dripping wet) and 1/3 shredded paper (no bleached or colored paper, soy ink only)
  • Do not fill the bin more than 2/3 full
  • Use chlorine-free water to moisten materials
  • Start bin with one pound of red worms
  • Empty out the bag of worms onto the bedding. Gently spread any clumps of worms around the surface. They are light sensitive and will quickly retreat beneath the top layer.
  • Dig a hole, add the food scraps, and cover with bedding. Place the bin on the tray and put the lid on tightly. If the bin is too wet, simply add more shredded paper to absorb the excess moisture.
  • Worm “food” may include small pieces of brown corrugated cardboard; fruit and vegetable food scraps cut into small pieces (easier to process); coffee grounds and nonbleached filters; crushed eggshells
  • Bin mixture should only be 12” to 18” (30 to 54 cm) deep
  • Bury food to avoid attracting fruit flies
  • Avoid overloading the bin with any one food item – moderation is the key
  • Worms need protein; occasionally feed them cornmeal and crushed unsalted peanuts
  • Slowly increase from a couple of pounds of food the first week to 4-5 pounds by the fourth week, as worms mate and multiply
  • Excess water in the bottom tray can be used to spray on household plants


The Adventures of Vermi the Worm

Abundant Earth

Flowerfield Enterprises

Two-Way Microscopes
Item #5788900

Coconut Fiber
Item #36-080 – Gardener’s Supply

Wisconsin Redworms

Worms by the Pound
Dean Allen
(815) 483-6046
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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