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- Brad Wolbert
Composting in Wisconsin
Composted yard waste and food scraps can be used in home and community gardens.
Compost is an environmentally friendly way to create healthy soil for Wisconsin's landscape. Compost made from yard materials and other organics, like food scraps, can replenish soil with microorganisms and nutrients. Compost production also keeps yard materials and other organics out of Wisconsin's landfills, putting them instead to productive use.
Wisconsin law prohibits disposal of yard materials in landfills. Yard materials (also called "yard waste") include leaves, grass clippings, brush and any pieces of wood (branches, sticks, etc.) under 6 inches in diameter. Composting is an easy, inexpensive alternative to landfills that puts these resources to use instead of simply throwing them away.
What is compost?
Keeping compost on hand is a great way to replenish soils and gardens.
Compost is a soil-like material rich in stabilized carbon produced from the breakdown of organic materials. It is considered a "soil amendment" rather than a fertilizer because it usually contains smaller amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium than mineral-based commercial fertilizer products.
Benefits of applying compost include:
- restoring or enhancing the ability of sandy soil to hold moisture and clay soils to drain;
- repairing or preventing damage caused by erosion; and
- aiding plant growth – e.g., in residential gardens, public landscapes or after construction and mining projects are completed.
Wisconsin's composting landscape
Today, more than 200 state-licensed composting facilities manage some 200,000 tons of yard materials each year, and hundreds of thousands more tons of yard materials are managed through home composting and mulching in place.
Wisconsin also generates an additional 500,000 tons of other compostable materials – including food scraps – each year that could be composted and made into useful products. DNR staff are working with nonprofits, local governments and businesses to help them build and expand composting operations in Wisconsin.
Composting can be done at home or on a large scale. More details about home composting are below. For detailed information on state regulations for large-scale composting, see the following resources.
- Composting rules and regulations in Wisconsin
- Farms and composting
- Compost use, quality and marketing
How to compost at home
Home composting bins are purchasable in many shapes and sizes.
By composting yard waste and certain food scraps at home, Wisconsin residents can make their own compost for garden and landscape projects while reducing costs for off-site composting or disposal.
Composting is also a preferred alternative to burning yard materials, and burning is banned in many communities.
Home composters can make compost in bins or in a heap, though bins are generally a better way to manage the materials. There are a number of home composting containers available commercially, and it is also fairly simple to create your own. The DNR's home composting brochure provides all the information you'll need to get started and tips for experienced composters who want to improve their composting systems.
Small-scale composters can also collect compostable materials like coffee grounds and food scraps at the office or work place.
There are no current state regulations on small-scale, home composting operations of fewer than 50 cubic yards, but all composting should be done in a nuisance-free and environmentally sound manner. This includes minimizing odors, not attracting excessive numbers of pests and not placing compost piles in wetlands or other sensitive areas. Check with your community to find out if any local regulations apply.
What to compost
Along with yard materials, certain food scraps can also be easily composted at home. Be sure to follow recommendations on what types of food scraps can be composted at home in order to prevent odors and avoid attracting animals and other pests.
|What to compost||What not to compost|
- Home Composting: The Complete Composter (WA-182)
- Home Composting Materials (WA-1785)
- Home Composting: Reap a Heap of Benefits (WA-072) English Version
- Home Composting: Compostaje casero Obtenga un montón de beneficios (Reap a Heap of Benefits) (WA-1480) Spanish Version
- Home Composting: Ua chiv tom vaj tom tsev muaj nuj nqis ntawm kev muab txiav, zom los xyaw ua ke (Reap a Heap of Benefits) (WA-1481) Hmong Version
- Garbage to Gardens: Compost Grows poster(WA-1528)
Other publications and resources
- UW-Extension master composter resources
- EPA website on composting
- Cornell composting website
- U.S. Composting Council
- U.S. Department of Agriculature composting information
- Washington State University Extension composting resources
- Results from 2012 Survey of Wisconsin Compost Facilities
- Leaf and Yard Material Collection Practices in Wisconsin