What is compost?

Compost is a decayed mixture of plant waste that is used to improve the soil in gardens and yards. You can make compost from yard waste, food waste or both.
Any time of year it’s important to remember that most of what you throw away can instead be recycled, reused or composted. And your yard and food waste are no exceptions. They account for about 30 percent of your household’s waste stream.
 

What’s the problem with yard and food waste?

Food and yard waste account for about 30 percent of your household’s waste stream. When this large volume of materials ends up in the trash (landfill), it uses up valuable space and creates air and water pollution. Additionally, yard waste is banned from landfills in many parts of the Kansas City region.

Burning yard waste at home is also an unhealthy disposal method; it causes air pollution by releasing carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide, poses fire hazards and is a nuisance for neighbors.

Dumping lawn refuse into the street causes a number of problems, as well. Piles of leaves purposely blown into roads can clog storm drains, contributing to street flooding risks. And when grass clippings and yard trimmings treated with chemical fertilizers enter storm drains, they are deposited directly into our streams and rivers, posing health risks to people, wildlife and the environment.

If you have a yard, set up a backyard compost bin

  1. Select suitable space and size - Select a dry, shady, or partly shady spot near a water source and preferably out of neighbors’ sight. Ideally, the compost area should be at least one cubic yard in size.
  2. Get a bin or start a pile - A pile works great for just leaves and grass clippings, but when you want to incorporate food waste, it’s time to use a bin to prevent rodents and pets from invading. You can build your own bin or purchase one online or at retail locations. You’ll also need a kitchen compost bin so you can collect and store your food waste before taking it to your backyard pile.
  3. Mix it right - There are four types of ingredients you need to make great compost: browns for carbon, greens for nitrogen, air for organisms, and water for moisture. See “What can go in my compost bin?” for a list of green and brown materials you can use. Mix as follows:
    • a. Add your brown and green materials (generally three parts browns to one part greens), making sure larger pieces are chopped or shredded.
    • b. Every time you add to the pile, turnover and fluff it with a pitchfork or shovel to provide aeration, unless your bin has a turner.
    • c. During dry weather, add water to keep the pile moist. A good rule-of-thumb is the sponge test: your compost should have the consistency and moisture content of a wrung-out sponge when you squeeze it.

If you don’t have a yard, set up an indoor compost bin

  1. Get a bin – Two options for indoor composting are vermicomposting and bokashi composting. Vermicomposting uses earthworms to convert food waste into compost. Bokashi composting involves fermenting food waste.
  2. Use it – If you don’t have an outdoor space to use your compost, use it for houseplants, give it to friends and family members, or contact a nearby community garden.

What can go in my compost bin?

Yes* No
  • Raw or cooked fruits and vegetables
  • Bread and grains
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Grass clippings
  • Paper tea bags
  • Hair and fur
  • Chicken, rabbit, cow, horse manure
  • Cotton or wool rags
  • Dryer and vacuum cleaner lint
  • Eggshells
  • Nut shells
  • Fireplace ashes (from wood burning)
  • Sawdust
  • Hay and straw
  • Yard trimmings (e.g., leaves, branches, twigs)
  • Houseplants
  • Used potting soil
  • Wood chips
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Cardboard rolls
  • Clean paper
 

*Vermicomposting and bokashi composting accept limited types of materials. Use only materials recommended.

  • Metal
  • Glass
  • Plastic
  • Dairy products
  • Fats, grease, lard, or oils
  • Greasy or oily foods
  • Meat or seafood scraps
  • Bones and shells
  • Pet wastes (e.g., dog or cat feces, soiled cat litter)
  • Soiled diapers
  • Stickers from fruits or vegetables
  • Black walnut tree leaves or twigs
  • Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides
  • Roots of perennial weeds
  • Coal or charcoal ash
  • Firestarter logs
  • Treated, stained or painted wood

 
Mulch your grass & leaves

The best food for your lawn is your lawn and leaves! When you mow your yard, mulch your grass and leaves instead of collecting them for disposal. When done properly, mulched grass and leaves quickly decompose and return nutrients to the soil naturally.
 

How to mulch your grass:
  • Cut grass with sharp blade, mulching blade is ideal
  • Cut grass when it's dry
  • Take grass catcher off mower
  • Cut no more than 1/3 of the grass height at any one time
How to mulch your leaves:
  • Cut leaves with sharp blade, mulching blade is ideal
  • Mulch leaves when they are dry
  • Take grass catcher off mower
  • Set front wheels on highest level (this allows leaves in, but not out)
  • Mow over leaves 1-2 times or until leaf clutter is reduced to dime-size pieces

Benefits of mulching:
• Provides a natural lawn fertilizer
• Saves time and effort bagging
• Saves money on water, fertilizer, bags and disposal costs
• Helps prevent weed growth
• Conserves water and protects waterways from runoff pollution
• Conserves landfill space
 

Send it off-site

  • Food Waste - You can take your food scraps to Kansas City’s Residential Composting Program at URBAVORE and they’ll compost it for you.

  • Collection Facilities - Bringing your lawn and garden refuse to a community collection center is another way to divert useful organic material from landfills. Some yard waste drop-off facilities also offer residents opportunities to obtain mulch or compost at low cost. And after the holiday season, many sites also accept old holiday trees. Search RecycleSpot to find a center near you.

  • Curbside Pick-Up - A number of communities offer curbside yard waste collection in addition to regular trash and recycling services. Search by community in RecycleSpot to see if your city is one of them (and call to verify). If you don't have municipal leaf and brush curbside collection, there are private companies that also manage lawn refuse. RecycleSpot includes a list of many providers; contact them to find out about the costs and procedures.