How can I get started with composting?

Composting is easier than you think! First decide what form of composting you are interested in:

This is typically aerobic composting and is the easiest form of composting to get started. It relies on oxygen-breathing microorganisms to break down items. When done correctly, it generates heat of about 140 F which helps eliminate odor and kills most plant pathogens or seeds, resulting in good soil compost appropriate for home garden use. Usually this method uses a compost container to keep wildlife from being attracted to the food scraps. If you have a larger area of land, there are also compost variations that involve directly sowing food waste into trenches or holes. Products like compost tumblers are readily available, but using a tumbler tends not to get as hot as a traditional pile, so it will take longer for your food scraps to break down.

Want to learn more about backyard composting? Take advantage of these local programs:

  • This is typically vermicomposting and uses a particular species of worms (red wriggler or red earthworm) with a special container. The worms eat the food, creating the compost through their digestion waste. This form of composting has stricter moisture, temperature, and item requirements as a poor environment can kill the worms or create odors. 
  • Another indoor composting option is called bokashi. This type of composting is actually a form of fermentation done in an anaerobic environment. While convenient because it works quickly and can be done indoors, this form of composting takes some know-how, and the finished product does need to be buried or added to an outdoor compost pile to finish breaking down, so it may not be an ideal solution, particularly for beginners.

There are a few local services which provide curbside pickup of food scraps and compostable items from Pittsburgh residents.  Typically these services provide you with a bucket which you fill with your waste and then the service picks up weekly. These services may also offer you access to the finished compost for your garden!

Events, particularly events with food, are often a huge source of plastic trash. PRC provides a couple options for easily making your next event compost friendly.

For smaller events (under 500) you could also consider renting reusable dishes and cutlery:

If you have a larger area of land available, such as a farm or a community garden, you can create a larger aerobic composting setup or even compost variations that involve directly sowing food waste into trenches or holes. Grow Pittsburgh offers a Master Composting course that is designed to help folks get started with these larger-scale composting approaches.

  • Consider where you live, how much space you have (indoors and outdoors), and what level of commitment you are prepared to make. If you live in the City of Pittsburgh, you may have access to a high-quality curbside composting service, so you can take the easy route! Just check with the compost service about what kinds of items they accept and how/when they will pick up your scraps. 
  • If you live in a neighborhood or area that isn’t serviced, but you have some outdoor space, you can compost yourself! Make sure you’re adding both greens (kitchen scraps, yard clippings) and browns (dried leaves, straw, cardboard, or paper) and introducing oxygen by turning the pile. Make sure you are in compliance with your neighborhood or HOA’s rules (Pittsburgh’s city code can be found here), but as long as you are mindful about what you add to your pile and how close you put it to your neighbors’ property, you should have no problems.
  • Maybe you can’t get a composting service, but you live in an apartment or you don’t have available outdoor space. Community gardens will sometimes accept compostable organic material, but they may only take yard clippings, so you’ll have more luck with vermicomposting. If you’re interested in starting composting in your local community garden- Grow Pittsburgh has a Master Composter course to help individuals or groups succeed. You can buy vermicomposting starter kits online, and once you get the worms acclimated, they’ll become like friends that provide you with excellent, nutrient-dense soil for your houseplants and garden.