Composting in Washtenaw County

Composting Basics: The What & Why

Composting is nature's own recycling system. Leaves, grass, and other organic matter provide a home and food supply for nature's recyclers--bacteria, worms, and other microorganisms. These organisms feed on the plant material, breaking them down, and turning them into a dark, nutrient-rich organic product called compost.  

Compost bin and shovel

As with recycling, composting is about reducing waste through closing loops.  While materials such as paper and aluminum can be reprocessed into 'new' items available for re-use, composting is a natural process that allows for the reprocessing of organic waste.  Whether or not you grow your own food, what you eat is the product of a number of inputs including fertilizer (either organic or conventional), sunlight, and water. Food that is consumed, however, is only a portion of the product of those inputs. Waste products, including leftover food scraps as well as unharvested parts of plants and other yard waste, contain valuable nutrients that, through composting, can be turned into  fertilizer and close the loop! Compost is a high-quality form of organic fertilizer.

Composting is simple once you learn the basics and anyone can do it.  If you do garden, you will find composting to be a valuable source of quality fertilizer for your plants and lawn. If you don't garden, give your compost to a friend who does, or try to find an individual or local community group who may be able to use it in community gardens.  Either way, composting provides a fairly simple opportunity to turn potential landfill waste into an environmentally friendly and useful product.

 

Set Up: Piles, Bins, Tumblers & More

There are a variety of composting options which all accomplish the same task of breaking down organic material into a rich, soil amendment.  Composting can be done in bins, piles, tumblers, pits, trenches or through the use of worms, cover crops or sheet composting. Bins and/or tumblers come in a variety of different shapes and forms, and are made from numerous materials including pallets, chicken wire, snow fences, plastics, garbage cans, rain barrels, PVC, old lumber and/or any other material one has access to.  Bins are often preferred in urban settings, because they keep compost neat and tucked away while providing heat and moisture retention, but piles are generally easier to access and maintain. Compost tumblers are also available, and these overcome the potential maintenance challenges of bins, but are generally expensive and don't have the benefit of keeping your compost in contact with the ground, which is a source of useful organisms vital in the role or decomposition.

Compost bin types

 

Getting Started: Adding Organic Material

Compost materials are often categorized as either 'greens' which provide Nitrogen or 'browns' which provide Carbon. They are also known as wet and dry materials, respectively. Food scraps, green (as opposed to woody) plants, lawn clippings, and tea bags are all examples of 'greens'; while leaves, straw, and twigs are examples of 'browns'.   Manure from herbivorous animals, such as rabbits and chickens makes a great, nitrogenous addition to your pile, especially in winter when it can be used to jump start the process and heat up the pile during the cold months.  However, be sure to keep the standard ratios of 1:2, green:brown for best results and the quickest decomposition.  

Materials to Add: coffee grounds, corncobs and stalks, eggshells, grass clippings, hair, leaves, peanut shells, vegetable and fruit scraps, sawdust and wood chips, as well as straw and hay.  

Materials to Avoid: animal products, oils, invasive or diseased plants, coal and wood ash.

 

Washtenaw County Master Composter Certification classProject Grow.png

Become a CERTIFIED MASTER COMPOSTER in Washtenaw County! Learn all about composting, from backyard composting, vermiculture (worm composting!), compost tea, visit the Ann Arbor Municipal compost operation and more. This Master Composter class is organized by Project Grow through Washtenaw County and the Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) Rec & Ed Program. Class registration is available online at http://reced.aaps.k12.mi.us.  This 6-week class is held once per year in the fall (~September-November). 

Check back in August 2015 for an updated September 2015 Class Schedule! 

 

Links & Other Resources

  • Compost Education Center - The Compost Education Center (CEC) of Project Grow is charged with managing two composting-related activities, that of producing compost, and using this process for educational purposes - learning how to compost. This mission is based on the appreciation that composting is essential to community gardening.
  • www.mastercomposter.com - This site provides references on all aspects of home composting including building and maintaining compost piles, worm composting and other composting methods, equipment, compost ingredients, carbon to nitrogen ratio, and more.  
  • www.compostory.org collecting - digesting - composting organic material; learn from best practices & join the tribe!
  • Environmental Protection Agency's Composting Site - Provides composting and compost application information for compost facilities, businesses, industry and local governments.
  • HowtoCompost.org - From beginners to experts this web site is designed to be a hub for all composting information. 
  • US Composting Council - A national non-profit trade and professional organization promoting the recycling or organic materials through composting.  
  • A List of DEQ Registered Composting Facilities - Michigan facilities that collect material to produce compost.  May be openly available for drop-off or purchase by the public.

Books:

  • "Backyard Composting"
    by Harmonious Technologies.
    An easy to read how-to guide to composting.
  • "Rodale Book of Composting"
    by Deborah L. Martin and Grace Gershuny.
    A more in-depth approach to composting with the emphasis on the science behind composting.
  • "Worms Eat My Garbage"
    by Mary Appelhof
    How to set up and maintain a worm composting system.
     

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