How to start composting – a beginner’s guide

As someone who care about the environment, I was looking composting, but with so many different methods and so much information out there, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. So, I decided to do my research and gather all the information a beginner like myself would need to start composting successfully. In this article, I will share my findings and provide step-by-step directions for starting composting, from selecting a method to using the finished compost. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or just starting out, composting is a simple and rewarding process that anyone can do. So let’s get started!

Why is composting good for climate change

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that food waste accounts for 21% of landfill waste, which generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas, as it decomposes. By composting food scraps and yard waste, you can keep them out of landfills where they would otherwise create methane, a harmful gas. Along with reducing waste, composting has several other benefits, including:

  1. Improves soil health – Compost enriches soil with nutrients, making it healthier for plants to grow. This means you can use less chemical fertilizers.
  2. Conserves resources – Making fertilizer requires a lot of energy and resources. By composting at home, you can use less commercial fertilizer and save energy.
  3. Promotes biodiversity – Compost creates a healthy environment for plants and animals to thrive, increasing the variety of species in your area.
  4. Supports local communities – By composting, you can help your community by reducing waste and promoting self-sufficiency.

Remember, composting is a simple process but may take time, patience, and a little effort to get the balance of materials and conditions right. Keep experimenting and have fun!

What to compost and what not to compost

I have been researching what can be composted and what can’t and I found this graph from Horticulture Magazine to be the simplest way to illustrate this list. I have also doubled the list below for you, which you can either save or print if you choose.

What to Compost:

  1. Kitchen Scraps: fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, eggshells
  2. Yard Waste: leaves, grass clippings, plant trimmings
  3. Garden Waste: plant trimmings, pruning waste
  4. Manure: horse, cow, chicken, rabbit
  5. Paper Products: shredded paper, paper towels, napkins

What NOT to Compost:

  1. Meat, fish, bones, or dairy products: These can attract pests and produce unpleasant odors.
  2. Fatty or greasy foods: They can break down slowly and attract pests.
  3. Pet waste: Can contain harmful pathogens.
  4. Diseased plants: To avoid spreading disease.
  5. Chemical or treated wood products: Can contain toxic substances that can harm plants.
Please note that some items like citrus peels, onions, and avocado skins can take longer to decompose and should be added in smaller amounts or balanced with other materials. It's also important to note that composting can take time, so patience is key.

How to compost in an apartment

As someone who lives in an apartment, I can tell you there are a few key differences between indoor and outdoor composting. Firstly, space is a consideration and I need to choose a smaller compost bin. Secondly, odors can sometimes be a challenge, so I make sure to choose a container with a tight-fitting lid and I monitor the compost regularly to prevent any unpleasant smells. Those of you who wish to start composting in an apartment but don’t have much space may find the following timeline helpful:

Choose a containerASAPChoose a compost bin or pail that fits the size of your apartment and your needs, such as a countertop compost bin, worm bin, or bokashi bin.
Gather materialsOngoingStart collecting “green” materials, such as kitchen scraps (vegetable and fruit peels, coffee grounds, eggshells), and “brown” materials, such as dried leaves, shredded paper, and cardboard.
Layer your materialsOngoingAlternately layer your compost materials in your container, starting and ending with brown materials.
Add a compost starterOngoingOptional, but adding a compost accelerator or bacteria can help speed up the composting process.
Moisten the materialsOngoingMoisten the compost materials to a damp-sponge consistency.
Aerate the compostRegularlyRegularly stir or turn your compost bin to add oxygen and keep the materials aerated.
Monitor the compostOngoingKeep an eye on your compost and make sure it’s not too wet or too dry. Add more green or brown materials as needed to maintain the balance.
Harvest the compost4-6 monthsThe compost should be fully decomposed and ready to use. Remove the finished compost from the bin and use it to enrich your indoor plants or potted herbs.

When compost is ready, how to use it?

On average, it can take anywhere from 4 to 6 months for compost to fully decompose and be ready to use. However, some factors, such as high temperatures, a balanced mix of materials, and regular aeration, can speed up the composting process. Conversely, factors like too much moisture or a lack of aeration can slow down the composting process. To determine when your compost is ready, look for a dark, crumbly, and earthy-smelling soil-like material that resembles rich soil. Now that it’s ready to use, what’s next?

You can use it to improve soil for indoor plants, grow herbs and vegetables in containers, provide nutrients for cut flowers and houseplants, make compost tea for a fertilizer, and even through vermicomposting. These methods allow you to take advantage of the compost’s nutrient-rich benefits while reducing food waste.


Composting is a valuable step in reducing waste and promoting sustainability.  Besides that, starting a compost bin or pile is a simple and accessible way for beginners to contribute to a healthier planet and make a positive impact. So why not start today and join the composting movement!