Compost International
Saving the earth one compost heap at a time



By now I hope that you can appreciate the benefits of compost, and realize that compost can indeed solve many environmental problems.  I also hope to convince you that there is a way to take care of the mountains of garbage and refuse that we produce, a way that is infinitely better than trucking it all to the nearest landfill.

 Every scrap of matter that goes into the landfill costs us – three times over.

 First, and most obviously, is the cost of collecting the stuff and hauling it to the dump, not to mention the tipping fee, which in Steuben and Chemung counties, New York, is at least $40 per ton.  More elsewhere.

 Second is the cost of replacing what was dumped.  These costs include the raw materials, many of which are becoming increasingly scarce, the energy for production from sources that are becoming increasingly scarce, manpower and transportation, also using energy sources that are becoming increasingly scarce.

 The third cost is less tangible, but every scrap of organic material that goes the landfill route is robbing the soil.  By dumping organic matter we are literally throwing away Nature’s most valuable resource.  All the nutrients pulled from the soil by growing plants are being discarded, and the price of that is compaction, erosion, less fertility, poorer crops or excessive use of fertilizer, less healthy plants and greater use of pesticides, pollution and general environmental degradation.

 To repeat what Sir Albert Howard said:

“Although our towns are fed from the countryside, little or no return of urban wastes to the land takes place.  The towns are, therefore, parasitic on the country.  This will have to stop.”

 So in a way I am trying to carry on where Sir Albert left off – trying to get organic matter back into the soil.  However, we regularly produce vast amounts of trash that cannot be composted. I must, therefore, address the rest of the stuff cluttering our landfills – the inorganic, non-biodegradable stuff.

 That’s where the three R’s come in – REDUCE, REUSE and, if you must, RECYCLE.  I say “if you must” because recycling can use as much energy and resources such as water as the original production.  Recycling organic material, however, requires no energy other than a little sweat, and no extra resources.

 The USA is often described in superlatives – “the greatest this” or “the most that” that the world has ever known, which may or may not be true.  One title that is undoubtedly earned is the most wasteful, and I HATE WASTE.

 Actually, before I piled into compost, so to speak, I was thinking about waging a campaign called War on Waste or WOW.  It could still happen, starting right here.


So reduce. Reducing waste doesn’t necessarily mean reducing consumption.  Most waste comes from  excessive packaging, excessive transportation, and, yes, excessive consumption, but in that case you spell it WAIST.

 There are hundreds of ways in which very minor lifestyle changes can significantly reduce consumption of water, gasoline, electricity, paper and so on.  Whole books have been written on the subject and everyone has his or her favorite tip.

 In the area where I live, we have abundant water, but even here there is a cost incurred by its use – it has to be treated.  So, while extreme drought-induced measures may not be necessary, judicious use of water is definitely good for the community.  Rain barrel anyone?

 Other “reduce” strategies include what I call TYOC (well, you’ve got to have an acronym somewhere).  As well as re-useable grocery bags, you can TAKE YOUR OWN CONTAINER.  Imagine how much Styrofoam and other plastics you could avoid if you always kept your own mug in the car for use wherever you stop for coffee.  Take your own re-useable plastic containers for deli items, or a plate for take out.  (We can live with the small amount of saran wrap).

 You can spend money on fancy lunch boxes, or you can improvise your own from whatever you have at home. 

 These are very minor lifestyle changes, easy to manage, although they may get you some strange looks, and minor panic, at the supermarket check-out.  But they will soon become habit, and will in no way “reduce” your quality of life.  Rather, I see some real improvements.  I prefer to drink coffee out of a ceramic mug rather than Styrofoam, and I would rather drink water out of anything but plastic.

 An aside here on the subject of drinking water, which  is perhaps the world’s most pressing problem.  My sister once went to Timbuktu for the New Year.  It was, I think, one of her more challenging trips even with several locals travelling with them as porters and cooks and so on.  One little boy attached himself to them and decided that is was his duty to carry Sue’s water bottle.  At one point they stopped by a muddy pool and the little boy crouched down to lap water from this highly unsanitary source.  Sue suddenly realized that the boy had never seen clean water, and had no idea that that was what was in her bottle.

 What a shocking reminder that we are incredibly well-off compared to most parts of the world.


Now this is a difficult one.  I, for example, have a whole house full of stuff that I am going to use one day for some really useful project.  And, sometimes I do. I guess you need to be selective in what you keep and to work on the idea that you don’t have to re-use it all yourself. If, realistically, you are not going to use it in the foreseeable future, get rid of it – sell it, dismantle it and recycle the parts, give it away. 

 I re-use coffee filters to cover the drainage holes in flower pots. (Dryer sheets work well, too).  I re-use up-side-down cat-food cans and packing peanuts to fill the bottom of large planters.  Old book shelves became raised beds for my vegetables. I regularly contribute goods to the Salvation Army and I frequently offer items on FreeCycle (  Somebody, somewhere has a use for your discards.

 It really bothers me that so much construction debris goes to the landfill.  All timber can be reused or ground up for mulch or compost.  It can also be burned for heat. Nails and other metal elements could be melted down and made into other products.  Dry wall could be crushed and the gypsum re-used.  Concrete can be used to build retaining walls or crushed for pathways or road foundations.

 These are not necessarily things you can do at home, but you can agitate and persuade companies and municipalities to adopt more earth-friendly systems.  There are even business opportunities in intercepting trash on its way to the landfill.

 For example, Malcolm Beck – a mega-composter in Texas  took on a most unusual challenge when the city of Dallas gave rebates to citizens who exchanges their water-wasting toilets for more efficient ones. What do you do with thousands of porcelain toilets? Obviously they can’t be composted, but he ground them up in some monster “slow-speed grinder” to reduce them to the size of gravel or sand and he sold them to landscapers. Now that is what I call re-using!

 Beck started out as a farmer and so his book “The Secret Life of Compost (The "How-To" & "Why" Guide to Composting - Lawn, Garden. Feedlot and Farm) contains much information gained firsthand.  He now runs an enormous composting facility which could be an inspiration for many a future entrepreneur.

It is worth noting that in the poorer rural parts of the world, there is no trash.  Everything is re-used in one way or another.  Of course cities present greater disposal problems but at the same time they provide a livelihood for many scavengers.

 In essence, I am begging you to think twice before throwing something away.


Recycling is not the same as re-using. Recycling is the process whereby suitable material is sent to be processed into new material, in the place of raw materials. For man-made materials, this is the last resort.  If you are conscientious about the first two R’s there won’t be that much to recycle.  There is a danger, I think, in the mindset that says it’s OK to buy or use this because it is recyclable.

 Plastic is the most glaring example.  Plastic is made from two sources of energy – ethane and propane.  It takes energy to make the plastic products in the first place, energy  to transport them to market, energy to collect them again, energy to transport them to a recycler, and energy to make a new product.

 Paper can be recycled in several ways: it can, of course be put out on the curb and it can be composted. But it can also be recycled into very attractive handmade paper which can be used as journals, writing paper or scrapbooks.  Then there is papier maché, a widely used medium for boxes, bowls, puppets and toys, even furniture and large-scale sculptures.

 In general, however, recycling is good and if your community has limited recycling – jump to it – tell them you want more.  Demand an extended recycling program.  Be assertive.

 When it comes to organic matter, however, recycling should be the first, and only, choice.  Compost is a naturally perfect recycling system.

       According to National Solid Wastes Management Association just over 30% of the nation’s garbage
      (4.6lbs per person per day) is recycled.  But fully 66% of it (food, yard wastes, wood and paper) is compostable.
What a resource!

Being green is all about the environment and sustainable living.  Making compost is the obvious first step because of the huge reduction in organic matter going to waste, and the huge benefit of the end product to gardens and farms.   Your own backyard pile will make a difference.  But don’t stop there: encourage others to do the same and explore the many minor life-style changes that you can make to become greener. 

 Furthermore, as a community really cannot call itself green if it is dirty and polluted, look at simple ways to keep your neighborhood clean.

 Some of the ideas listed below have been mentioned elsewhere in the book, but:

Here are 100 ways to go green and clean:

 Reduce and Re-use

I Reduce water consumption.  I realize that water does not end up in the landfill, but it is a precious resource that is adversely affected by many wasteful practices. Just because you live in an area with abundant water, doesn’t mean that you can squander it.  We don’t know what climate changes will bring.  Act on the side of caution, and develop an ultra-conservative approach to water. It’s not difficult.  And a quick word to those who have access to well water and think that you can use as much as you like because it is free, no you can’t.  Wells tap into underground aquifers and excessive use can lower the water table, which affects us all. It is just plain irresponsible to waste water, regardless of its source. 

 1.      Use low-flow faucets, showerheads, and toilets

2.      Have your plumber re-route your gray water to trees and gardens rather than letting it run into the sewer line. Check with your city codes, and if it isn't allowed in your area, start a movement to get that changed.

3.      Re-use rinse water for house, patio and deck plants.

4.      Use less water in the shower: get wet, soap up and then turn the water on to rinse off

5.      Share your shower.  In South Africa during a drought, there was the competition to see who could come up with the best water saving tip, and the winner was “bathe with a friend”.  A few years later, the UK suffered a drought – it didn’t rain for three weeks – and they had a similar contest. One very daring woman suggested: “Shower with your husband”.  Well, you can’t believe the uproar it caused – shocking, immoral, decadent. All the while the South Africans were happily bathing with their friends without showing significant moral decline.

6.      Bathe young kids together

7.      If you are committed to baths, use the water on your houseplants or garden

8.      Don’t pre-wash dishes going into the dishwasher

9.      Don’t rinse under running water: fill a second sink or large container and rinse in that

10.  Clean your teeth using only half a cup of water: half-fill you tooth mug, dip your toothbrush in it, clean your teeth, spit directly into the outlet, rinse with two small mouthfuls of water, rinse your brush in the remaining water and pour it down the outlet.

11.   Don’t buy bottled water;  instead invest in a water filter and drink water from the tap.  And watch The Story of Bottled Water ( for an excellent explanation of where the bottled water mania came from.  Quite apart from the problems with the containers, you don’t know where the water comes from, whether the source is pure, or whether the source is being strained; think about how much energy is being used transporting the water, first to the bottling plant, and then to market; studies have found that bottled water loses out to tap water in taste tests over and over again;  and the quality of bottled water is not necessarily as good as that which comes out of your tap (remember tap water has been treated at great expense and is considerably more regulated than the water that goes into bottles).  Last but not least, it is expensive, up to 1000 times what water out of your tap costs.  I would much rather drink local water than enrich the Pepsi-Cola Corporation. 

Text Box: Recently Pepsi claimed that it is going “green” (article that appeared in the Press on St. Patrick’s Day!).  Their claim to greenness?  They have figured out a way to make PET plastic from plant materials, thus protecting that diminishing resource, fossil fuels.However, not using fossil fuels does not automatically make you green.  If only it were that simple.  But Kermit was right: It’s not easy being green.  Being green means that you are constantly asking yourself, will this action have a negative impact on the environment, and if so, what can I do to lessen or eliminate that impact.These new bottles are identical to the old ones – indestructible and certainly not biodegradable.  But they are recyclable, Pepsi is quick to tell you.  However, only about 20% of the bottles are recycled – the rest end up in landfills, or even worse along roadsides and on beaches or in water ways where they cause devastating damage to birds and animals.    Last year four of us spent 2 full days cleaning up a half-mile stretch of beach in a designated wildlife refuge in Costa Rica, and filled 27 large black garbage bags with bottles and other plastic items.  And that beach is not unique: just Google “plastic, beach” and you will be appalled.








 12. Do only full loads of laundry, or use the appropriate water level for the size of your load.

13.  Consider instant water heaters in each bathroom to avoid running the water while it heats up.

14.  Only wash towels after several uses.  In hotels, opt to reuse towels and sheets.

15.  Check for and fix leaky faucets and pipes both indoors and out.

16.  Flush sparingly.  My brother got married in drought stricken South Africa with sever water restrictions, which taxed the ingenuity of his future mother-in-law. She brought in a number of porta-potties and each indoor toilet had a neatly lettered sign saying :If it’s yellow let it mellow; if it’s brown flush it down:..If you must flush tissues down the toilt, throw them in and wait until you need to flush.  Even 1.6 gallons is too much for one tissue, which could, of course, go into the compost instead.

17.  Rethink your gardening practices in ways that will conserve water.  For example:

a.      Set up a rain barrel

b.      Replace lawn with shrubs, groundcover, gravel or paving

c.       Top-dress the lawn with fine compost

d.      Aerate the lawn to increase water absorption

e.       Cut grass to not less than 3”, leaving the trimmings to form a mulch

f.        Water when the air is cool to reduce evaporation

g.      Water only when necessary, that is when soil is dry 2” below the surface, or when plants look thirsty.  More plants are killed by overwatering than underwatering. (Garden centers take note)

h.      Use drip irrigation instead of sprinklers. The bags from boxed wine can be filled with water (cut off the end, fill, and then  fold over and secure with a clip.  I tried to fill via the tap; it’s not easy!) and placed under a vegetable plant with the tap barely open. Not only will you have a steady source of water, but also the bag will heat the ground.

i.        Use a watering can instead of a hose

j.        Use a hose nozzle

k.      Water deeply and less frequently to encourage root development, which leads to greater drought resistance

l.        Replace at least some exotic hybrids with native plants which can survive without additional water

m.    Mulch heavily wherever possible.

n.      Improve the soil in areas where rainwater runs off.

o.      If you have a problem with run-off, consider planting a rain garden.  For more information go to

18.  Turn your swimming pool into a sunken garden

19.  Use a commercial car wash, especially one that recycles water.

 II.  Reduce energy consumption.  Every watt of electricity, lump of coal, gallon of gasoline or cubic foot of natural gas not used saves the consumer money and keeps CO2 out of the atmosphere.  We owe it to the planet to all do our bit.

20.  Turn your refrigerator down

21.  Wash in cold water when feasible; always set the rinse cycle to “cold.”

22.  Hang clothes outside to dry (There is a lovely Italian song with the line: Saranno allegri come panni ad asciugare fuori – they’ll be as happy as clothes hung outside to dry)

23.  Make your next appliance an energy efficient model (look for the “energy star” label).

24.  Use a programmable thermostat

25.  Turn the heat down a few degrees and wear an extra sweater

26.  Replace furnace filters regularly

27.  Install ceiling fans and turn off the AC

28.  Lower the temperature on your hot water heater.

29.  Insulate the water heater and pipes

30.  Seal windows, weatherstrip doors and plug up any air leaks

31.  Insulate the walls

32.  Consider instant water heaters that work only when needed

33.  Buy local produce, locally made products and locally produced services. (And read Animal Vegetable, Miracle)

34.  Buy in season to reduce the energy used in transportation. (And read Animal Vegetable, Miracle)

35.  Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent or other long-life ones

36.  Turn off lights and electronics when you leave the room.

37.  Unplug your cell phone charger from the wall when not using it.

38.  Turn off energy strips and surge protectors when not in use (especially overnight).

39.  Car pool or take the bus.

40.  Walk or ride a bike to work

41.  Choose your next car for fuel efficiency

42.  Keep your tires inflated to the recommended pressure and your car will run more miles on less gas.

43.  Drive the speed limit, and combine all your errands for the week in one trip.

44.  Shade your house with deciduous trees

45.  Paint your house a light color in warm climates and a dark color in cold climates

46.  Don’t turn on lights until you have to — open your curtains and enjoy natural light.

47.  Change to compact fluorescent bulbs

 III. Reduce use of paper and packaging.

48.  Refuse a bag for purchases (a friend tried to do this at an upscale store at a mall, and was told that she could not walk out of the store without one – company policy – so she mailed the bag to the CEO and said he could dispose of it in his trash as it wasn’t going into hers.  I like her attitude.)

49.  Take your own containers for take-out items or food from the deli counter.

50.  Carry your own coffee mug for take-out, and to meetings

51.  Always take your own bags to the supermarket

52.  Get off junk mail lists.

53.  Go paperless for bill paying and bank statements

54.  Only put out full garbage bags (because everything that can rot is going into the compost, the dry garbage should not smell, even after a couple of weeks)

55.  Avoid excess packaging when choosing product brands.

56.  Buy products in bulk re-using your own large storage bags or containers

57.  Buy concentrated products to reduce packaging. Examples are concentrated fruit juice, laundry detergent, fabric softener and window cleaner.

58.  Use cloth instead of paper to clean your kitchen. Be frugal, and make these rags out of old towels and t-shirts.

59.  Use cloth napkins daily instead of paper.  Invest in old-fashioned napkin rings for each member of the family, and only wash the napkins when they are soiled.

60.  Buy products that use recyclable and recycled materials whenever possible

61.  Wrap gifts creatively in repurposed paper

62.  Use both sides of printer paper:

a.      Take advantage of the double-sided printing option

b.      Photocopy on to both sides

c.       Let kids draw on the back side of single sheets

d.      Use the back side to print stuff for home consumption, like a travel itinerary or ????

 IV. Reduce Pollution.  This includes reducing one’s use of toxic products, especially ones that can get into any body of water and reducing the amount of waste that you generate, because anything that cannot be recycled are broken down should be considered a pollutant. 

63.  If you do end up with plastic bags, reuse them when walking the dog, or as trash can liners

64.  Only buy plastic items you can re-use.

65.   Use china or enamel crockery rather than plastic or paper plates and bowls. Use real cutlery rather than plastic.

66.  Pack school lunches in reusable containers with lids.

67.  Use an electric shaver or a higher quality razor with replaceable blades.

68.  Use plug-in appliances instead of those that operate on batteries.

69.  Buy a filter for your kitchen tap

70.  Buy a re-useable water bottle

71.  Boycott styrofoam and throw-away tableware

72.  Consider organic cleaning products :

a.      Baking soda: helps to clean and deodorize, will act as a scouring agent, polisher, stain remover, fabric softener. Use to clean plastic, vinyl, carpet, silver, stainless steel, drains, and refreshes your fridge.

b.      Borax: helps to clean and deodorize. Use on wallpaper, painted walls, and floors. Use it with your detergents to remove stains and boost the cleaning power.

c.       Vinegar: helps remove stains, wax buildup and mildew. Use to clean windows, fireplaces, grout, paint brushes, glass, and coffee pots.

73.  If you have a baby, consider using cloth diapers instead of the horribly polluting disposables. The National Association of Diaper Services can help you find a service near you. And, yes, you can use plastic bags to get dirty diapers home!

74.  Use Matches instead of disposable lighters

75.  Use a Diva Cup for your monthly cycles.

76.  Reduce toxic waste by purchasing paints, pesticides and other hazardous materials only in the quantities needed, or by sharing leftovers.

77.  Better still avoid pesticides altogether, or, at the very least, greatly curtail their use.  This applies to Chlorox and Lysol and other sanitizing products.  Remember what pesticides do to bacterial and fungal populations in the soil? Remember how the greater population of “good guys” keeps the “bad guys” in check?  The same is true in the kitchen and bathroom.  By all means keep things clean, but don’t kill off beneficial bacteria.

78.  Give away your goods and find new ones at FreeCycle or similar.

79.  Boxed wine containers make excellent alternatives to bricks for shelving, useful storage for stacks of tax-related documents or great magazine holders

80.   Donate to and shop at your local Goodwill or Salvation Army store


81.  Turn newspapers/junk mail into handmade paper or papier maché

82.  Use shredded paper in your compost

83.  Use newspapers as mulch

84.  Recycle everything your city will accept. If you’re not at home, take the extra steps, (literally), to find that recycling can.

85.  Take your batteries to a recycling center.

86.  Recycle your technology. Dell, Hewlett Packard, Apple, and IBM, among others, offer recycling programs.


87.  Pick up garbage off sidewalks

88.  Encourage neighbors to do the same

89.  Talk to neighbors about Integrated Pest Management to reduce pesticide use

90.   Encourage neighbors to compost or set up block composting

91.  Encourage stores to use re-useable shopping bags (discount when you bring it back)

92.  Encourage stores to carry products with less wasteful packaging

93.  Encourage liquor stores to take back empty bottles

94.  Encourage your city to have public recycling bins

95.  Plant trees

96.  Talk to your city management about composting

97.  Talk to your neighbor about composting

98.  Put your money where your mouth is—invest in green companies

99.  Find an environmental organization that you like - Greenpeace, the Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club or whatever – and support them financially or by volunteering

  and of course….

  100. Join my Compost Club