Welcome to Composting

Composting reduces the amount of waste each of us sends to the landfill.  In fact, up to 30% of the material we send to landfill is organic and could be composted at home.  Composting has other benefits too. Applying finished compost returns nutrients to the land, holds moisture in gardens and on lawns, contributes to watershed health by controlling run-off and naturally fertilizes and provides structure to the soil.

Did you know? Compost contains more nutrients than peat moss!

Learn more about composting and the reasons why it is so important by exploring the following links:

A Look at Waste in Alberta - Past and Present

Setting up an Outdoor Composter

Example of How a "Seasoned" Composter Composts!

A Look at Waste in Alberta

What went into household garbage in 1935?

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What goes into household garbage today?


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How much material goes to municipal landfill each year in Alberta?

  • From 1988 to 2002 Albertans reduced their waste by 28%, yet over two million tonnes (850 kilograms per person in 2005) of waste is still sent to landfills every year.

  • Alberta's target is to reduce the amount of municipal solid waste disposed at landfills to 500 kg per person by 2010.

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    How on earth can we achieve a 30% reduction of waste going to landfill?

  • To reach our target, each of us needs to reduce the amount of waste we send to landfills by one third. If you currently send three bags of garbage to the landfill each month, reduce it to two bags per month. Use creativity: change purchasing habits to focus on reduction, increase reusing materials, increase recycling and increase composting activities.

  • Much of the waste that goes to landfills is organic! Approximately 30% of the waste we send to landfills could be composted! If you live in an apartment and community composting is not available, you might try vermicomposting. Learn more about vermicomposting using red wiggler worms on Northern Care's website. Look under "publications". Or view the booklet, Taking Action through Vermicomposting to Reduce Kitchen Waste

  • For more information about what to compost, and for some tips for troubleshooting, view the publication, "Taking Action Through Backyard Composting to Reduce Household Waste."  Focus on Composting provides further information.

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    Setting up an Outdoor Composter

    Click on any picture to enlarge (all photos courtesy of H. Wheeliker)

    If you have a yard (any size will do) then you can set up a composter in your yard by following these simple steps.

    1. Find a suitable location

    Convenient - so you'll use it.
    Sunny - the compost builds up its own heat and likes heat, too!
    Well drained - too much moisture can cause problems with your compost.

    2. Build or buy a bin to keep it neat and tidy

    While a compost bin is not necessary for composting, it will help to keep your compost contained in one space. Below are examples of compost bins.
    Cinder Block Commercial Composter | Pallet Bin | Revolving Drum | Three Bin Unit | Wire and Mesh | Wood and Wire Bin

    3. Get some tools and materials together!


    You will need:

  • shovel and/or pitchfork
  • water
  • wheelbarrow or other container for moving materials

  • 4. Add the right "ingredients"



    Add green materials - a source of nitrogen, balanced with







    brown materials - a source of carbon,







    water, and








    air (oxygen).


    5. Start building your pile

    This is the order for piling materials:

    Garden Soil
    Moist Green Materials
    Wet the Pile
    Dried Out Brown Materials
    Garden Soil
    Moist Green Materials
    Wet the Pile
    Dried Out Brown Materials
    Twigs or Other Coarse Materials

    6 Start at the bottom

    Find a suitable spot to build the pile. Place materials directly on the ground; there is no bottom to a compost unit because critters that naturally live in the soil will find their way into the compost.


    7. Place twigs or other coarse material directly on the ground

    This material could be twigs, or dried stalks from last year's garden plants. This will help the air to circulate. Tiny organisms living in your compost need air to survive!




    8. Place dried out, brown materials on top of the coarse materials

    Brown materials provide a source of carbon, an important compost ingredient. Examples of carbon-rich materials are dried leaves raked and saved from last fall, grass clippings after it has rested for about a week and turned brown on your lawn, straw, paper coffee filters (unbleached is preferable!), and shredded paper egg cartons.

    9. Wet the pile

    Tiny organisms need air and they also need water! But don't add too much, or they could drown. Keep the pile as moist as a wrung-out sponge. Take the opportunity to dump any standing water so that mosquitoes won't breed in your yard!







    10. Add moist, green materials next

    Green materials provide a source of nitrogen, an important compost ingredient. Examples of nitrogen-rich materials include most of your kitchen waste, including peelings, cores, pulp, rind, wilted or rotten vegetables and other non-cooked, non-oily, non-meat or non-bone foods; coffee grounds, tea bags, fresh grass clippings, garden weeds and so on. Weed seeds are not advised, as they could spread if not destroyed by the heat of the compost!

    11. Sprinkle some soil

    Spread soil from your garden or from elsewhere in your yard. A spoonful of soil could contain 10,000 micro-organisms just waiting to do their work in your compost by decomposing organic matter, turning it into a rich soil conditioner!




    12. Add more dried-out, brown materials


    Making sure you have enough brown materials to keep your compost balanced is often the greatest challenge. In autumn, rake up one or two large bags of dried leaves; your neighbours will probably be thankful if you gathered theirs, too! Enough carbon-rich, brown material will help to absorb excess moisture and also keep the nitrogen balanced.




    13. Wet the pile

    Most commercial bins come with lids. If your composter does not have a lid, you could always find or make something to put over the pile. This can be useful during times of heavy precipitation. Too much moisture will drive away the organisms, leaving you with a sloppy mess.







    14. Add moist, green materials


    Did you notice how much more the green, nitrogen-rich materials weigh compared to the same volume of brown, carbon-rich materials? It is a good habit to add more "browns" each time you add "greens" to ensure a good balance. Too much nitrogen (greens) may also cause a build-up of moisture and prevent the flow of oxygen. Without oxygen, decomposition might still slowly occur, but the by-product will be smelly methane gas, which is a greenhouse gas!

    15. More garden soil is good!


    You can purchase commercial "compost booster" products, but organisms that naturally exist in your soil can do the job just as well and save you a trip to the store! You could also layer in some of last year's compost that didn't fully decompose.






    16. Keep layering


    Layer greens, browns and soil and add water and also some twigs or sticks if your pile gets deep. The bulky twigs will allow for airflow.




    17. Let your pile sit for about two weeks.


    You can always add greens and browns in that period of time, too. Dryer lint and the odd "go cup" won't hurt either! If you chop materials into smaller pieces, they will decompose even faster!







    18. After about two weeks, turn the compost materials


    Turn the compost with a pitchfork or other instrument. If turning it is too difficult for you, stick in some pieces of perforated pipe to introduce oxygen into the deeper layers of the pile.






    19. Mix the pile every week or two

    Does the centre of the pile feel hot? As materials begin to decompose, a fair bit of heat will build up where the pile is most active, usually in the centre. As heat builds up in the centre, different organisms will be attracted to that spot. Some prefer heat, while some prefer colder temperatures. By regularly mixing up the pile, you will disperse the heat and help to mix the organisms through the pile.






    20. Finished Compost!


    If you start building your compost pile in spring, adding greens and browns to it over the summer, mixing and lifting the materials to add air and keep the moisture level similar to that of a wrung out sponge, you can have compost before the snow flies! And if not, you will at least have finished compost by the following spring.






    21. Compost all winter!

    While materials will not readily break down in Alberta's cold weather, they will quickly decompose as soon as the weather warms in March and April. So, keep adding compostables year-round..and watch our landfill space grow. As we dig compost into our gardens and spread it thinly on our lawns, our land becomes nutrient-rich and better able to hold moisture!


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