The Why's and How To's of Backyard Composting

Composting 101

Composting, the biological decomposition of food or plant waste, is an environmentally responsible way to dispose of coffee grinds. Composters love coffee grinds as they put valuable nutrients back into the soil via compost.  These innovations are one way of dealing with the eight million metric tons of single-use and other plastic entering the world’s oceans every year, their growing proliferation in the environment and the human health risks associated with chemicals used in food packaging plastics.

What is Composting?

At a very high level, we can describe composting as controlled biological decomposition of organic materials. Micro-organisms (primarily aerobic bacteria) consume organic material, utilizing carbon as a source of energy, and nitrogen as a source of protein that allows them to reproduce. By oxidizing organic material, the organic pile will “heat up”, increasing the rate at which organic materials decompose. It should be noted that there are many different types of aerobic bacteria, and certain environmental conditions need to be met to facilitate the composting process (levels of oxygen, temperature, etc.).

Whether it’s your garden compost, or one in a controlled composting facility, the process remains largely the same, with the latter occurring at a much larger scale, and with the ability to better control environmental factors.

It should be noted that macro-organisms (worms, ants, mites, centipedes, etc.) are also involved in physically transforming organic material into compost – breaking material into smaller pieces, making it more digestible for microorganisms.

To find a composter in your area, visit

Backyard Composting Tips

Depending on where you live, some households can indirectly compost by participating in curbside composting programs offered in some areas.

In Canada, Green Bin programs offered in some municipalities operate much like recyclable collection, collecting organic waste on a weekly or biweekly basis. That organic waste is then transported to a composting facility to be processed.

In the United States, there are some regional composters offering curbside composting programs.

Wherever you live, even if you live in a city that does not offer a composting program, setting up an at-home composting pile is a fairly straightforward exercise. To set up your own at-home / backyard composting system, follow these simple steps:

  1. Buy a large bin or container, making sure to drill holes at the bottom to allow for drainage. You can also find some bins designed specifically for composting with pre-made holes.
  2. Place the container on well-drained soil.
  3. Add a layer of “brown” carbon-based matter – cardboard, dead leaves and branches, paper cartons, etc.
  4. Follow with a layer of “green” nitrogen-based materials – vegetable and fruit scraps, fresh grass clippings, coffee grounds, etc. Note that it is not advised to put bones, animal waste or treated wood in a backyard compost as the pile temperature is often not hot enough to break down these materials.
  5. Add water to the mixture until moist.
  6. Turn the material regularly while consistently adding both “brown” and “green” organic matter.
  7. Once the compost resembles dark, healthy soil, it is ready to use!

Why is Composting Important?

Composting plays a pivotal role in encouraging sustainable behaviour, helping achieve preferable environmental outcomes by abating carbon, and promoting a circular economy when part of a curbside collection program.

Untreated organic matter decomposing in a landfill is a significant source of Green House Gases, and should be avoided where possible.

What are the key benefits of more people composting?

Composting helps divert organic material from landfills and subsequently reduces the carbon footprint associated with untreated organic waste. Perhaps a more important outcome is that it helps promote sustainable behavior and awareness in consumers that extends beyond “just recycling”. We all want to be good environmental citizens and care about keeping material out of landfills – composting is a relatively convenient way to participate.

~Contributed by Dr. Calvin Lakhan, Research Scientist, Faculty of Environmental Studies and Co-Investigator of the Waste Wiki Project at York University –

Where are the pods accepted for Commercial Composting?

Find out more about composting in your area by visiting the links below.

United States

Composter Manufacturing Alliance


Coaldale, Alberta

Cochrane, Alberta

Spruce Grove, Alberta

East Hants, Nova Scotia

Meaford, Ontario