5 Key Reasons Why Composting is Vital for the Environment

Composting provides a natural solution to so many of the environmental issues we face today. It reduces waste, eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers, conserves water, prevents soil erosion, and recycles nutrients back into the soil. The cycle of nutrients that composting creates is an essential part of a sustainable future.

Making compost is something anyone can do, whether you’re a city dweller with a small patio or a rural homesteader with acres of land. And the benefits start as soon as you begin gathering up those food scraps and fallen leaves. Here are five key reasons why composting is so vital for the health of the planet.

1. Composting Reduces Waste Going to Landfills

Food scraps and yard waste make up a massive amount of the waste produced by households and businesses. According to the EPA, food waste alone accounts for over 20% of what ends up in landfills. When organic materials like this end up in the landfill, they produce methane gas as they decompose without oxygen. Landfills are the third largest source of methane emissions in the United States.

Methane gas is over 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to trapping heat in the atmosphere. Reducing these emissions is crucial for mitigating climate change. Composting provides an easy alternative to sending organics to the landfill. By composting these materials instead, methane emissions are slashed.

Backyard composting by households can divert hundreds of pounds of waste per year from landfills. When expanded to a municipal scale, composting programs can divert an enormous amount of waste. For example, the city of San Francisco was able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 60,000 metric tons per year by instituting a city-wide composting program alongside their recycling program.

Composting organics leads to an incredible reduction in waste methane. Making compost is one of the most effective things individuals and communities can do to shrink their carbon footprint.

2. Compost Improves Soil Health

The benefits of adding compost to soil are endless. Compost introduces vital organic matter and nutrients to the soil that plants thrive on. The organic matter in compost serves as a food source for the billions of beneficial microbes that live in the soil. These microbes convert organic matter and minerals into plant-available nutrients. Compost also improves soil’s structure, increasing its ability to hold air, water and nutrients.

Healthy soil grows healthy plants. Plants grown in nutrient-rich compost amended soil are shown to be more resistant to disease and pests. Their root systems grow stronger and they are better able to uptake nutrients and moisture. Plants sequester carbon as they grow, pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere. So compost allows plants and soil to sequester more carbon.

The benefits of compost go beyond just carbon sequestration and plant health. Healthier soils retain water better, reducing irrigation needs. They resist erosion and runoff, keeping sediment out of waterways. When soil is rich in organic matter from compost, there is much less need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Composting provides a natural, sustainable solution.

Adding as little as 1 inch of compost to surface soil can provide incredible benefits. Most experts recommend incorporating 1-3 inches of compost into gardens and landscaping beds annually. For new gardens, mixing compost down to at least 8 inches depth is ideal. Even container plants and lawns benefit from light annual topdressings of compost.

When it comes to soil health, compost provides an amazing return on investment. The more compost you can incorporate, the healthier your soil will be.

3. Compost Conserves Water

As compost boosts soil health, one of the side benefits is water conservation. Soil with high organic matter has an increased ability to retain moisture. This means less water is needed to maintain vibrant, healthy plants.

Compost amended soils hold water better for several reasons. The organic matter acts like a sponge, able to soak up and retain more water. Improved soil structure allows better water infiltration and permeability. Healthy microbial communities help retain moisture as well.

Studies have shown compost’s dramatic effects on soil’s water holding capacity:

  • Compost amended soils can hold up to 18% more water than unamended soils.
  • For every 1% increase in organic matter, soils can hold an additional 20,000 gallons of water per acre.
  • Compost use can reduce water needs by up to 30% compared to conventional fertilizer practices.

These kinds of improvements in water retention can make an enormous difference in areas prone to droughts. During dry spells, compost keeps plants resilient even with less rain and irrigation. Across large agricultural areas and landscaping, the water savings really add up. This helps conserve limited freshwater supplies.

Using compost is a key practice in sustainable landscaping and agriculture. It’s a simple way to grow thriving gardens and crops while conserving precious water resources.

4. Compost Reduces Erosion

Another benefit of compost is reducing erosion, from both wind and heavy rain. Soil erosion occurs when soil particles are loosened and blown or washed away. Erosion removes valuable topsoil rich in organic matter and nutrients. It also leads to sedimentation, which clogs and pollutes rivers, lakes, and reefs.

Adding compost to soil significantly reduces erosion. The compost binds soil particles together, stabilizing the soil so it can resist erosion. It adds weight and bulk density to soil, making it harder for wind gusts to blow soil away. Compost also improves soil’s ability to absorb and infiltrate rainfall, preventing surface runoff.

Studies have shown:

  • Compost reduced erosion from rainfall by 86-99% compared to unamended soils.
  • Applying compost to slopes and embankments can reduce erosion by 75% or more.
  • Only 1/4 inch of compost cover can reduce erosion from high velocity rainfall by 65%.

Controlling erosion preserves valuable topsoil. It also keeps sediment from harming fragile aquatic ecosystems. Compost offers a simple, sustainable solution to reduce the billions of tons of topsoil lost each year to erosion. Both large-scale agriculture and small gardens benefit from compost’s erosion control.

5. Compost Recycles Nutrients

One of the most beautiful things about compost is how it recycles nutrients back into the soil. Composting relies on the natural cycle of nutrients being taken up by plants from the soil, then returned to the soil after the plants die. Fallen leaves in forests break down into humus to enrich the soil. Composting simply harnesses this cycle.

Kitchen scraps, yard waste, manure, and other organic matter is converted by beneficial microbes into a nutrient-rich compost for gardens. Compost releases vital nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and micronutrients in a slow-release, plant-available form. This means much less need for manufactured chemical fertilizers.

Without composting, all those food scraps and grass clippings may end up in landfills, wasting the precious nutrients. Or they can leach nutrients into waterways as polluting runoff. When added to gardens as compost instead, the nutrients are recycled.

Small backyard composting makes a surprisingly big difference. Turning 600 lbs of food scraps and yard waste into compost can provide $30-40 worth of fertilizer nutrients. That same amount kept out of landfills prevents 130 lbs of CO2 equivalent emissions.

Composting is the ultimate form of recycling. What once was discarded as “waste” is transformed into something priceless – black gold for enriching your garden soil.

How You Can Start Composting Today

After learning about all the amazing benefits composting provides, you’re probably inspired to start recycling your own food and yard waste. Composting is simple to do, and can be started on any scale. Here are some tips for how you can start composting:

Backyard composting – Dedicate a bin or pile in your yard to start composting garden and kitchen waste. Use a manufactured bin or make your own using wood pallets or wire fencing. Find a level, shady spot near a water source.

Vermicomposting – Compost with red wiggler worms right in your home! Worm composting bins are great for apartments or houses without outdoor space. The worms break down food waste into a nutrient-rich fertilizer.

Community composting – See if your neighborhood or community has a group composting program you can join. Some communities have drop-off sites where residents can leave yard and food waste to be composted.

Municipal composting – A growing number of cities offer municipal composting programs that collect food scraps and yard waste along with recycling pickup. Check if compost pickup is available in your city.

On-site composting – Start a compost pile or bin at your school, office, church or other organization. Composting is a great community project!

Slow-cook methods – For less hands-on composting, try trench, sheet mulching, or other no-stir methods. These require less maintenance but take more time.

How to Get Started Making Compost at Home

Making your own compost at home is simple and rewarding. Follow these steps to get started:

Choose a Composting Method

Compost Tumblers

Compost tumblers are enclosed drums that sit up off the ground. Turning the drum mixes and aerates the compost. Tumblers keep critters out and retain heat, speeding decomposition. They take up less space but have a smaller capacity than open piles or bins.

Popular brands: Envirocycle, Miracle-Gro, FCMP, Geobin, Yimby

Compost Bins

Compost bins contain compost in open-bottomed enclosures. They can be made from wood, plastic, or wire fencing. Turning the pile periodically promotes aeration. Bins keep piles tidy looking and deter pests.

DIY options: Wood pallets, hardware cloth, chicken wire, trash cans

Compost Piles

Open compost piles are the most basic (and cheapest!) option. They allow constant aeration and direct contact with soil organisms. Covering the pile retains heat and moisture. Turning frequently accelerates decomposition. Without containment, piles can look messy.


This fast, odor-free indoor method uses red wiggler worms to break down food waste. Worm bins come in many shapes but typically have layered bedding and drainage. Harvesting worm castings provides a nutrient-rich fertilizer.

Popular brands: Worm Factory, Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm, VermiHut, Worm Inn, Can-O-Worms

Pick a Spot

Find a level area in your yard that gets some shade during the hottest parts of the day. Near a water source and close to where waste is generated makes composting easier. Avoid trees with invasive roots or excessive leaves.

Layer in Browns and Greens

Chop or shred materials into smaller pieces to speed decomposition. Alternate brown and green ingredients in layers:

  • Browns (high carbon): dry leaves, straw, wood chips, sawdust, paper
  • Greens (high nitrogen): food scraps, grass clippings, coffee grounds, manure

Mix in a diversity of materials. Moisten dry layers as added.

Aerate the Pile

Turning the pile introduces air to aid decomposition microbes. Use a pitchfork or compost aeration tool to mix and toss materials. Turn every few days for fast compost, or less often for slower passive composting.

Monitor Moisture and Temps

Compost should feel moist like a wrung-out sponge, but not soggy. Use a thermometer to check interior temperatures, which should reach 100-140°F. Hotter temps indicate increased microbial activity.

Let it Cure

After several months of active composting, the pile will cool down and dark, crumbly compost will form. Let it cure for several weeks or months to allow final decomposition. Then screen out any large pieces to use.

Troubleshooting Your Compost

Having issues with your compost? Here are some common compost problems and how to fix them:

Problem: Rotten egg odor

Solution: Not enough oxygen. Turn the pile to aerate and add drier Browns.

Problem: Ammonia smell

Solution: Too much nitrogen. Mix in carbon-rich Browns like sawdust, dry leaves, straw.

Problem: Compost is staying cool

Solution: Add more Nitrogen-rich Greens and turn/mix the pile. May be too dry, add water while turning.

Problem: Mold growing

Solution: Increase aeration. Turn the pile and add coarse Browns like wood chips and straw.

Problem: Pile is damp and won’t heat up

Solution: Add more Browns to soak up excess moisture. Cover pile to retain heat.

Problem: Slow decomposition

Solution: Chop materials smaller, turn and aerate more frequently, monitor moisture levels. May need more Greens.

Problem: Pests like raccoons or rats

Solution: Eliminate meat, oils and sweets from the pile. Cover securely with soil, burlap or a lid. Use wire underneath.

Getting the right balance of air, moisture, and carbon-to-nitrogen ratio is key for fast, odor-free compost. Don’t hesitate to make adjustments until you find the system that works for your unique waste stream and climate!

Making Compost Tea

Compost tea is a nutritious fertilizer made by steeping mature compost in water. It harnesses the rich diversity of beneficial microbes in compost to create a probiotic boost for plants and soil.

Making and using compost tea has many benefits:

  • Inoculates soil and plant surfaces with beneficial microbes
  • Supplies soluble nutrients from the compost
  • Can reduce disease and boost plant immune systems
  • Increases nutrient availability and vitamin content in produce
  • Improves soil health and structure over time

Compost tea is most commonly applied as a foliar spray on plant leaves, or irrigated onto soil. Regular applications will build up microbial populations over time.

Two Methods for Brewing Compost Tea:

Passively Aerated Tea

  • Fill a 5-gallon bucket half full with finished compost
  • Top off bucket with non-chlorinated water
  • Add optional organic additives like molasses, kelp, fish hydrolysate, humic acid
  • Place a porous bag or screen over compost to filter finished tea
  • Steep for 1-2 weeks
  • Stir and agitate daily to aerate
  • Dilute if needed based on application
  • Use within a day

This simple, no-frills method harnesses the microbes already living in the mature compost.

Actively Aerated Tea

  • Fill a 5-gallon brewer with non-chlorinated water
  • Add a compost-filled mesh bag along with any organic additives
  • Use an aquarium pump and air stone to continuously aerate
  • Brew for 12-48 hours
  • Dilute finished tea with water if needed
  • Apply immediately after brewing

The continuous aeration proliferates microbial growth for a probiotic boost.

Whether you choose passive or active aeration, compost tea amplifies the living benefits of compost for your garden!

Case Study Examples of Compost’s Impact

Seeing real world examples of composting in action helps showcase the tangible benefits. Here are some case studies demonstrating compost’s positive impacts:

Organic Vineyard Saves Millions of Gallons of Water Annually

Cowhorn Vineyard in southern Oregon started applying one inch of compost annually to irrigated vineyards. This boosted soil organic matter from 0.5 percent to over 5 percent over a decade. As a result, soil water holding capacity greatly increased.

The compost application allows the vineyard to dry farm many acres that previously required irrigation. Overall annual irrigation needs were reduced by 50-80 percent, saving roughly 2-4 million gallons of water each year.

Urban Farm’s Soil Carbon Sequestration Equals 200 Cars

The Growing Home urban farm in Chicago’s South Side helps unemployed people transition to agricultural careers. They focus on regenerative practices including applying locally sourced compost annually.

A study by the Composting for Climate Action Initiative found the farm’s compost use sequesters 60 metric tons of carbon annually in the soil. This equates to the emissions from over 200 gasoline-powered cars.

Urban farms like Growing Home make cities part of the climate change solution. Compost is a simple way to boost soil carbon sequestration even in small spaces.

Compost Blankets Prevent Post-Fire Erosion

Following wildfires, bare or charred soil is highly prone to erosion during seasonal rains. Erosion can impact water quality and cause dangerous debris flows.

Applying compost blankets immediately after fires stabilizes soils and prevents erosion. The compost absorbs rainfall, binds soil particles, and stimulates vegetative regrowth.

Studies by the USDA Forest Service found a 2-inch compost blanket application reduced erosion by 96 percent compared to untreated soils after a fire. Compost is becoming a standard post-fire land treatment.

How Cities Can Make Composting More Accessible

For composting to work on a broad scale, cities need to make it accessible and convenient for all residents:

  • Free curbside collection of compostables – Provide curbside bins to collect food and yard waste alongside trash and recycling.
  • Drop-off composting sites – Have designated sites around the city where residents can drop off compost materials if they lack curbside pickup.
  • Compost service subsidies – Subsidize the cost of residential compost pickup services to make it affordable for all.
  • Apartment/condo composting – Require composting infrastructure for multifamily housing and apartments. Provide onsite bins.
  • Accessible public education – Create multilingual community composting guides. Offer free online and in-person composting workshops.
  • Workplace composting initiatives – Encourage offices, schools and businesses to provide composting bins and collection.
  • Partner with community organizations – Work with community gardens, universities, and nonprofit groups on composting programs.
  • Local processing infrastructure – Invest in facilities to handle increased compostable materials within the urban area and avoid long-distance hauling.

With the right municipal policies and investments, cities can make composting second nature. This maximizes the social, environmental, and economic benefits compost provides. Residents will breathe easier knowing their food scraps are creating a healthier climate and community.


Composting provides an incredible array of benefits to our planet and society. Turning organic waste into a resource creates healthier soils, plants and communities. The simple act of recycling food scraps and yard trimmings into compost has ripple effects across issues like climate change, biodiversity loss, resource depletion, and environmental justice.

On an individual level, backyard composting is empowering. Anyone can turn kitchen scraps and lawn clippings into black gold for their garden. When multiplied by neighborhoods, cities, and entire countries, compost starts to shift society’s relationship to waste and regeneration.

Composting is an act of hope. This circulating energy reminds us that decay leads to new life. What once seemed spent can be reborn. May the power of compost inspire each of us to be stewards nourishing the world anew.