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How to Start a Compost Pile

A person holds a handful of compost.

In a world where environmental consciousness is taking center stage, starting a compost pile in your own backyard is a commendable endeavor.

There are a plethora of benefits to creating compost at home. Not only does composting significantly reduce household waste, but it also enriches your soil, promotes healthier plant growth, and contributes to the global effort of sustainability.

If you’re ready to embark on a journey of turning food scraps and yard waste into “black gold,” let’s dive into the world of composting and learn how to start a compost pile on your own.

What Are Composting’s Benefits

Compost with egg shells
Anna Hoychuk/Shutterstock.com

Beginning composting can provide a variety of benefits. Composting is nature’s recycling system so not only does it help you keep your home more sustainable, but you can save money by reducing your yard maintenance costs.

Firstly, composting helps you reduce your waste. The kitchen and yard produce a significant amount of organic waste—anything from orange peels to egg shells to fallen leaves and sticks. Composting diverts this waste away from landfills, where it would otherwise contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

Composting also enhances your soil quality since it acts as a natural fertilizer. Compost enhances soil structure, moisture retention, and aeration. It also adds essential nutrients to the soil, fostering healthier plant growth.

By producing your own compost, you reduce the need for store-bought fertilizers and soil amendments, saving you money in the long run. You also reduce your trash load, so you can spend less on trash bags and trips to the dump.

Compost helps reduce soil erosion since it enhances the quality of your soil, so it can help you improve your storm management strategies in your yard. Composting also reduces the demand for landfill space and the need for chemical fertilizers, promoting a more sustainable and eco-friendly way of living.

All in all, composting is a great step you can take to help the planet, save some money, and make your yard a happier, healthier place.

iTouchless Stainless Steel Compost Bin

You can't go wrong with a classic compost bin.

What Can Be Composted?

A person scrapes food scraps into a compost bin.

Typically, composting is a process that involves balancing “browns” (carbon-rich materials) and “greens” (nitrogen-rich materials). Here’s a breakdown of what you can compost as well as what you should avoid:


These carbon-rich materials break down naturally and tend to be a brown color (easy, right?).

Browns include dry leaves and sticks, straw, cardboard (without any glue or tape stuck on it), sawdust, untreated wood chips, small branches, and even shredded paper that’s non-glossy and not colored.

These materials provide carbon, aiding in the decomposition process of your pile.


While not everything in this category is green, a lot of them are.

For this category, You’re looking for nitrogen-rich materials such as food scraps and even grass clippings. Things you can include from this category are fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and even paper filters, used tea leaves (or used paper tea bags as long as the staples are removed), grass clippings, plant trimmings, and crushed egg shells.

These items supply nitrogen, which is essential for microbial activity.

Things Not to Compost

There are some kitchen, yard, and used household items that you do not want to include in your compost and instead want to place directly in the trash.

Never compost any meats, fish, dairy, oil, or bones. Don’t compost fruit stickers, invasive weeds, any type of pet waste, or compostable materials that have been painted, glued, or treated with chemicals.

By keeping to these guidelines, you can keep your compost bin from spreading disease, attracting unwanted pests, and damaging the environment rather than helping it.

Miracle-Gro Large Dual Chamber Compost Tumbler

A tumbler compost bin makes turning and stirring almost effortless.

How to Start a Compost Pile

A compost pile full of lawn cuttings.

Keep in mind that there are a lot of different ways to compost depending on what you intend to compost and how easy you want it to be. Here is one of the easiest ways to start your own compost bin or pile in your outdoor space:

Clear a Space

You want to clear a place in your yard for your compost pile. It should be easily accessible but not close to your windows and doors. Ideally, it should be near a water source if possible.

Build Your Base

Your compost pile needs a good base. While you can purchase a compost bin to make this process easier, you can also start your compost pile on the ground. You may want to use pallets or wood to create a container for your compost so it doesn’t spread out everywhere.

Build your base layer out of sticks, straw, or leaves. This will help provide good drainage for your pile.

Add Your Layers

Now you can begin adding layers of compost. Layer some browns then layer some greens. Make sure you alternate between these material types as you build your compost pile. The mix of nitrogen and carbon will help ensure an even decomposition process.

Maintain Moisture

Keep the compost pile consistently moist, similar to a wrung-out sponge. Watering helps the microbes break down the materials. Use a hose or a watering can to add moisture as needed.

Turn and Mix

Aerate the pile by turning it with a pitchfork or shovel every few weeks. Mixing helps distribute oxygen, encouraging the decomposition process. If you don’t want to mix your compost pile, you may want to invest in a tumbler compost bin.


Composting takes time, usually a few months to a year, depending on factors like temperature and the materials used. Be patient and watch as nature works its magic.

Tiyafuro 2.4 Gallon Kitchen Compost Bin for Counter Top or Under Sink

Make composting easier with a compost bin that fits in your kitchen.

When you’re beginning composting, it may feel a little outside your comfort zone but rest assured this is a rewarding journey. As you divert organic waste from landfills and witness the transformation of scraps into nutrient-rich compost, you’ll contribute to a healthier environment and support a healthy, happy garden.

Abbey Ryan Abbey Ryan
Abbey Ryan is a storyteller, preferably of stories in written form. Across the 5 years of her professional writing career, her work has been featured in The Chicago Tribune, Amazon, The Medical News Today, and more. When she's not writing (which is rare), she's likely traveling, painting, or on the hunt for a good snack. Read Full Bio »
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