What Is Compost?
Compost is a mixture of decaying organic matter, such as grass, tree and shrub trimmings, and leaves. It is useful as a soil amendment material (instead of peat moss) and as mulch.
What Can I Compost?
You can choose different types of materials from the YES list to use in your compost pile. This will provide a good carbon/nitrogen mix and allow the compost pile to decompose more readily.

From the Garden:

  • Dry grass
  • Tree/shrub trimmings
  • Garden Plants
  • Weeds
  • Old potting soil
  • Soft plant stems

From the Kitchen:

  • Fruit Scraps
  • Vegetable trimmings
  • Egg Shells (crushed)
  • Tea bags
  • Coffee grounds and filters


  • Shredded paper
  • Tissues
  • Paper towels
  • Shredded cardboard
  • Paperboard
  • Meat Scraps
  • Bones
  • Fish
  • Dairy Products
  • Oils, grease
  • Sauces
  • Plastics
  • Metals
  • Glass
  • Stone
  • Pet waste, kitty litter
  • Diseased plants
  • Weeds gone to seed
  • Painted or treated wood

(Some of these materials may create pest or odor problems)

How Does It Work?
By composting, you are creating conditions which speed up the natural process of decomposition. It’s easy because the real work is done by soil organisms, bacteria, mold, fungi, beetles, centipedes, and earthworms, to name a few. These “helpers” decompose complex organic compounds into simpler substances, making a rich, organic soil-like material called humus.
What do I do?
First, you must set up an outside area or “bin” for your compost to live. The type of compost system you use will depend on how quickly you want the material to decompose, how much material you can reasonably compost and use, and the amount of space and time you have.
Composting is not difficult once you set up and get into the habit. You can simply rake your ingredients into a mound. Compost bins are not necessary to make good compost, but they can help. If compost piles are not adequately contained, decomposition will not proceed quickly and your pile may invite unwanted pests.
There are many types of containers which are easy to build. A good rule is keep it simple. You can make a simple box or circular-shaped enclosure using chicken wire, scrap wood, hardware cloth, wooden pallets, bricks, concrete blocks, or even recycled plastic lumber. You can also use a metal or plastic bucket or trash can, drilling 1/4″ holes to increase the flow of air and moisture.
If you wish to purchase a compost bin, DSWA and the University of Delaware Extension Offices are selling backyard-composting bins for $20.00. The bin can be expanded to 3 feet in diameter.
Compost Recipe
  1. Find a spot with good drainage away from direct sunlight.
  2. Start with a layer of coarse material like twigs, straw, or leaves.
  3. Add a layer of dry grass clippings and leaves (preferably chopped), mixed with kitchen waste like egg shells, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, or tea bags.
  4. Cover with a one-inch layer of soil and enough water so the soil is as moist as a damp sponge.
  5. Add more materials as they become available, taking care not to make any one layer of the same type of material thicker than six inches.
  6. Turn the mixture on a regular basis (weekly or biweekly) to provide air space. You can also poke the mixture to create pores.
  7. Keep the pile moist but not soggy. Your compost pile will naturally heat up and decrease in volume as the material inside decomposes.
  8. Once the pile is established, you may want to add food scraps in the center of the pile, folding the scraps down and to the inside.
  9. When the material inside turns dark brown and crumbly, it is ready for use.
  10. Remove the material from the bottom of the pile. If you wish, screen the compost to remove items not totally decomposed and place these items back into the pile for a second try.
What Are the Benefits of Composting?
Composting enables you to recycle your yard waste, returning organic matter to the soil and providing some nutrients for healthy plant growth. The total volume of waste discards (or “garbage”) picked up by your garbage collection service every week can be reduced by almost 15% a year. In the long run, composting helps you exercise, reduces what you discard, improves your garden, and even saves money!
If I’m Not Composting, Where Does My Trash Go?
In the ordinary act of living, we produce many types of wastes, which can provide benefits to you and the environment. As a homeowner, you can voluntarily recycle many items at a DSWA Recycling Drop-off Center in your community. You can also compost organic wastes, which is another form of recycling. By returning these wastes back to the soil, you are helping to replenish the earth. If you do not recycle or compost, these wastes are often stored in modern landfills where materials decompose at a slow rate. By recycling at a DSWA Recycling Drop-off Center and composting what you reasonably can in your own backyard, you are continuing on the path of environmental responsibility – developing good habits, which serve future generations.