If you recycle, you have made the first step to a greener home. Recycling lessens the amount of trash your family sends to the landfill, which is something you can feel good about. But, did you know that 20 to 30 percent of what we throw away is food scraps and yard waste? These items are not sent to your local recycling center and, if you are not composting, they go straight to the land fill where they create methane gas which can be hazardous if not controlled.

Composting for your garden creates a natural fertilizer that enriches the soil and slowly releases nutrients. If you don’t have a garden, you can use the compost for your indoor plants. No green thumb at all? You can donate your compost to friends, neighbors or even community gardens.

Starting and maintaining your compost is simple, as long as you keep in mind location, materials and knowing when the byproduct is ready for use.

Location: The compost pile should be conveniently located near a water source and needs to be in an area of the yard that is dry and shady.

Materials: Layer brown and green materials, making sure to chop and shred larger pieces. Brown materials like dead leaves, branches and twigs provide carbon, while green materials such as grass clippings, vegetables, fruit and coffee grounds supply nitrogen. Adding a little water and turning the pile regularly helps the carbon and nitrogen break down the materials.

Use: It can take anywhere from two months to two years for composted material to fully break down. When the bottom of your compost is dark and rich in color, it is a sure sign the compost is garden-ready.

What exactly goes in the compost and what do you avoid? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a full list of perfect, and not-so-perfect, materials for your home compost.

Compost Compatible
Fruits and vegetables
Coffee grounds and filters
Tea bags
Nut shells
Shredded newspaper
Yard timings
Grass clippings
Hay and straw
Wood chips
Cotton and Wool Rags
Dryer and vacuum cleaner lint
Hair and fur
Fireplace ashes

Heap Hazards
Black walnut tree leaves or twigs
Dairy products
Meat bones and scraps
Fish bones and scraps
Charcoal ash
Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides

Many of these “heap hazards” may be harmful to plants, create odor problems, kill composting organisms, attract pests or even spread germs, pathogens and viruses. Be sure to steer clear.

Minimal dedication and time are needed to create a successful compost pile. Do your environmental footprint a favor and add composting to your list of planet-improving actions. You know you have the waste for it, and now you have the tools to get started!