Published: April 22, 2021 By

In Boulder, we are lucky to have curbside pickup for industrial composting. However, this is not the case for most cities throughout America. Composting is so important to living a zero-waste lifestyle because not only does it produce a rich fertilizer, but it also keeps food waste out of landfills. Roughly 30-40% of food that is bought ends up being thrown away and sadly, due to being trapped without air, food waste cannot break down in landfills.

So without industrial composting in your neighborhood, how can we keep food waste out of landfills? The answer is backyard composting! There are multiple ways to do this but the most common are open pile composting and vermicomposting (worm compost).


Open pile composting steps

  1. Either build your own or buy a compost bin about one cubic yard in size (3 ft x 3 ft x 3 ft)

  • Note that size is important for the proper temperature!

  • Composting bins can be purchased from local hardware stores or even Costco!

  • Try building your pile in a shady spot to reduce the need to add water

  1. Mix two parts brown (small twigs, straw, dry leaves, etc) with one part green (grass clippings, kitchen scraps, etc.)

  • This 30:1 ratio provides a good mix of carbon from the brown materials to nitrogen from the green materials.

  • Make sure everything you add is relatively small since materials will break down at a quicker rate with an increased surface area

  1. Water your compost just enough to get it a bit moist

  • Ecocycle suggests keeping compost at the wetness of a “wrung-out sponge”

  1. Maintain the compost by adding fresh materials at least once a week. It is also important to mix the compost and water it weekly as well.

  • A good way to check the moisture levels is by picking up a handful of the mixture and feel its moisture.

  • If fruit flies begin to be a problem, keep a plastic sheet or a piece of old carpet on the surface of the compost bin. Also, bury fresh food scraps under bedding and even consider buying a bin with a lid!

  1. After adding to your compost pile for a few months, the resulting product should be rich, dark soil

  • Use end product for potted plants, filling in spots on your lawn, landscaping in gardens, etc!

NOTE: Do not add bones, meat, cheese, and other dairy products since these won’t break down in backyard compost piles

Worm compost (Vermicomposting)

  • Produces worm castings, an organic form of fertilizer produced by worms

    • Contains concentrated, highly bioavailable nutrients from the materials they eat


  1. Secure a large bin with a lid, this can be as simple as Tupperware but make sure it is non-transparent

  • Use a drill to create holes in the sides at the top of the bin

  • Find a nice home for this bin to live in a sheltered location preferably at a temperature of 55 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. (Keep in mind this bin can be located inside a shed or garage too, it won’t smell!)

  1. Use a combination of shredded newspaper and some native soil to start afresh bin.

  • Shredded cardboard, stray, dry leaves, and other scrap paper also works

  1. Add WORMS by digging a little hole in damp bedding

  • The most common worms for composting are Eisenia Fetida aka red wigglers

  • For a bin about 35 gallons big, about 1-2 pounds of worms should work (about 1,000-2,000 worms!)

  • Fun fact: worms can eat their body weight in food waste per day!

  1. Feed the worm bin your food scraps

  • All food scraps can be added except for meat and dairy products, animal manure, citrus, processed foods, moldy foods, spicy foods, and limited starchy foods such as bread and pasta

  • Feed weekly and carefully stir all contents of the worm bin… don’t kill the worms!

  • Always bury the food after adding it in!

  1. Make sure the bin is always slightly damp but never soggy

  2. Use the worm castings as fertilizers and soil boosters all around your yard and garden!

  3. Use the “worm juice” from the bottom of your bin to water your plants