Composting in Washtenaw County


Composting Basics --
The What and the 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 shovelAs with recycling, composting is about reducing waste through closing loops. While materials such as paper and aluminum can be reprocessed into a "fresh" form 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 new fertilizer, providing a new input and closing the fertilizer loop! Compost is a high-quality form of organic fertilizer.

Composting is simple once you learn the basics, and anyone can do it, even those who don't garden. If you do garden, you will find composting to be a valuable source of quality fertilizer for your plants. If you don't garden, give your compost to a friend who does, and you will probably receive some fresh food or cut flowers in return. If you don't know anyone who gardens, you can easily find a taker for your compost using Craig's List, certain store bulletin boards, or other, similar means.

Whether or not you garden, composting provides a fairly simple opportunity to turn potential landfill waste into an environmentally friendly and useful product.

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Getting Started Composting: Piles, bins, and tumblers

Composting can be done in bins or piles. Bins come in a variety of different shapes and forms, and are made from numerous different materials. Composting can also easily be done in simple, open-air piles, or even in rows. 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 decomposers such as worms. Special compost start is available in stores and is particularly useful when starting compost in a tumbler.

Compost bin types

We sell a simple compost bin, similar to the center bin in the above image, which includes an informative book titled "Backyard Composting" to help you get started, for just $12.

  • Sets up in minutes without tools -- all parts are included
  • Manufactured from post-consumer recycled plastic by the Presto Company
  • Adjustable; offers easy access to your materials for turning and harvesting
  • Extremely lightweight and easy to move

The Presto compost bins can be purchased at the 705 N. Zeeb Road service counter during regular business hours, 8:30am - 5:00pm. 

For more information on how to purchase a bin or books about composting, call (734) 222-6874.

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Getting Started Composting: Adding organic material

Compost materials are often categorized as either "greens" or "browns". They are also known as wet and dry materials, respectively. "Greens" are generally considered to provide nitrogen to your pile, while "browns" provide carbon. 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 (and mostly herbivorous) animals such as rabbits and chickens makes a great, nitrogenous addition to your pile.

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Composting Workshops

Workshops on various composting topics, such as backyard or worm composting, can be conducted free of charge by County staff. If you have a group of friends, neighboorhood groups, or co-workers interested, pick a date and time and contact the Solid Waste Program at (734) 222-6874.

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Links and Other Resources


  • "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.

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