Composting is nature’s way of recycling. It happens naturally, and with just a few pointers it can be done very simply in your backyard. Tompkins County residents may also choose to recycle food scraps at one of the County’s Food Scrap Recycling drop spots. Composting helps cut down on one of the major sources of waste we send to landfills, saves money and gives us in return rich soil for gardening.

For all your composting questions, call the “Rotline” at 272-2292.

Who should compost?

Everyone can compost.

  1. Have space? Try backyard composting with any number of bins, or no bin at all.

  2. No space? Try composting indoors with a worm bin, participate in the Food Scrap Recycling program, or hire Gibson Compost to pick up your compost at home (Ithaca only).

Many workplaces have composting set ups. If yours doesn’t, contact the Tompkins County Recycling & Materials Management’s Rebusiness Partners Program.

Compost at Home?

While you can compost just by chucking all your food scraps and yard waste in a pile in your backyard, if you want to produce quality compost in a relatively short amount of time with little odors you want to keep three principles in mind:

  1. Materials - the microbes that break down the scraps into soil work best with a proper ratio of high-carbon materials (“browns”) and high-nitrogen materials (“greens”). For good results, follow the “lasagna method” [pdf] and alternate layers of greens like food scraps and grass clippings with browns like fallen leaves or old shredded newsprint.

  2. Size - try to build a pile that is at least three feet cubed (picture a short washing machine). Build a bin this size with welded wire [pdf], which is inexpensive and easy to set up. You can also purchase an “Earth Machine” bin from the TC Solid Waste facility for $40, which is $60 off the regular retail price (discount only for Tompkins County residents).

  3. Moisture & Aeration - Lasagna composting [pdf] [video] will ensure a good balance of moisture and aeration. Throw in twigs now and then to create air passages. If your pile gets occasional rain and you add the proper mix of browns and greens you should have enough moisture for an optimal composting environment.


Find much more detailed guidance about composting on the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County website. There you can learn about ongoing classes and workshops (including composting with worms), and about becoming a trained Master Composter.

John Milich calculates he saves over $100 just by composting his leaves each year. Photo: Iris Milich

John Milich calculates he saves over $100 just by composting his leaves each year. Photo: Iris Milich

Food Scrap Recycling Drop Off

If you can’t set up a home composting bin, you can still compost easily:

  1. Drop Off Spots - There are currently fourteen Drop Spots around the county where you can take your food scraps.

  2. Containers - Caddies, bags and transportation containers are available free of charge from the Recycling & Materials Management office or at any Drop Spot.

  3. What to compost? All your food scraps (including meat, bones, and dairy); food soiled paper napkins and towels; and coffee grounds, filters and tea bags. For a complete list of what can be composted, visit the Food Scraps Recycling website.

Or contact Gibson Compost to pick up your compost at home for a small fee.

Costs & Savings

You can start compost for no or little cost, and easily save $100 or more each year from avoided trash tag and pick up fees. By composting you have less trash, and have to take the trash out less often as you no longer have stinky, rotting food waste in your can.

Got Questions and/or Ideas?