(User-friendly URL: This webpage can be reached at www.charlottesville.org/composting)
Composting is an excellent way to recycle kitchen and garden waste. It is very easy to build your own compost bin and use the compost to help your garden grow, without resorting to the use of additional fertilizers which can have a detrimental effect on the environment.
Always wanted to start composting but...
... don’t have the space?
... don’t know how to get started?
... worried about the smell?
... not sure what you can compost?
Local composting drop-off programs and our 'Composting at Home' guide are here to help!
Where to Compost
If you have access to a garden or yard, you can backyard compost at home. If you don't have outdoor space or don't want to create your own compost pile/bin, curbside pick-up services are available in the Charlottesville area. You could also participate in any of the drop-off programs listed below.
Drop-Off Program at the City Market (2015 Pilot Program)
Drop-Off Program at McIntire Recycling Center (Short Program: January-March 2016)
Composting at Home Guide
Tips on how to collect compostable materials at home, what materials to collect, and whether backyard composting or a drop-off program are best for you.
For backyard composting, you can buy a compost bin or build your own. There are numerous containers on the market for making a compost heap, although perfectly satisfactory ones can be constructed from scrap timber, bricks or wire mesh, although do try and use a bin with a lid to keep out the rain. Improve drainage by breaking up the soil underneath the compost bin.
The compost bin should be placed in a well-lit and well-drained area of the garden, preferably out of the wind.
What to add to your backyard compost pile:
- Raw fruit and vegetable trimmings
- Shredded paper
- Straw and hay
- Animal bedding and sawdust
- Crushed egg shells (these help to control acidity, so are great for your compost pile)
- Hair and fur
- Horse manure
- Coffee grounds and teabags
What to avoid adding to your backyard compost pile:
- Meat, fish or dairy products (these will all putrefy, causing odors and attracting flies)
- Charcoal ash
- Animal waste (dog and cat feces will encourage parasites)
- Colored or treated paper
- Chemically treated wood
- Diseased plants
- Persistent weeds
- Grass in large quantities (grass heats up and gives off ammonia, which can kill worms)
All that is left to do is turn the compost regularly with a pitch fork or a spade (or if you're willing to wait longer, just wait), and look forward to using your natural organic compost!
How Composting Works
Composting is the decomposition of materials that originated from animals and plants. These organic materials can be things such as plant trimmings, vegetable cuttings, eggshells and teabags.
The end result of composting is a dark, crumbly organic matter that can be used as fertilizer in garden soil.
The composting is performed by various bacteria, fungi and insects which naturally inhabit soil - they break down the material in aerobic conditions, which means it is a process which occurs with little oxygen present. These organisms generate heat as they decompose the organic matter you have added, and break it into fine particles. Composting is nature's own method of waste disposal and soil fertilization.
Applying compost to soils provides an excellent conditioner and mulch, which fertilizes and provides soil structure, retains moisture and can restrict weed growth. Making your own compost from organic waste is a cheaper and more environmentally friendly alternative to the peat based compost extracted from wildlife sites. Composting also saves food waste from going into the landfill, or from going into the waste disposal.
The stages of composting:
- Firstly, add organic materials to your compost bin - see above for a list of recommended (and not recommended!) items.
- The various bacteria and fungi quickly work to break down the soft material.
- This process causes the inside of compost pile to heat up - to around 140oF (60°C).
- Once a lot of the initial work is done by these micro organisms, the compost pile will cool down, to around 80oF.
- Small creatures such as worms then break down the tougher material.
- The whole composting process usually takes between 3 – 9 months, and results in a nutrient-rich fertilizer to use in your yard.
- The compost that is ready to use is best taken from the bottom of the pile, which allows the rest of the pile to continue to be worked upon by the worms and other insects.