Backyard Composting: Let’s Dig Into It

Get involved with composting and help make Rockland County green.

April 28, 2022

If you’re anything like us, your lawn is looking a little under the weather this spring.

The saying goes, “April showers bring May flowers…” Well, any seasoned Central New Yorker will tell you, they wish that was always true. We’d bet the same New Yorker would likely confess that though New York has delivered a stunning view or two (we’re looking at you, Lowers Hudson Valley), we’re not a state known for reliable, picture-perfect spring weather. Instead, our spring weather tends to look like crunchy foliage, dead grass, slippery mud-holes, and stray sticks galore.

After a long winter, the first thing you want to do when the sun peeks out? Take the kids and furry friends outdoors to enjoy some sunshine and burn off the cooped-up energy. But not-so-shockingly, the prospect of yard clean-up just doesn’t excite most of us.

After you finally drag yourself outdoors to begin cleanup, and after what seemed like a never-ending punishment of raking and bagging up a season’s worth of yard waste, it’s finally time for Rockland Green to take everything in…right? 

Yes, that’s an option, but how about an easy-to-do, eco-conscious alternative?

Enter backyard composting… and it only takes 10 minutes per week!

Why Compost?

Food scraps and green waste are responsible for more than 30 percent of what we throw away. By composting these items instead, you can divert more than 500 lbs of organic matter from landfills per year.

Once you feel the natural effects composting has on our environment, you’ll never go back! 

  • Composting reduces our landfill contribution and limits harmful methane fume emissions into the atmosphere.
  • Organic waste from your compost pile will boost the biological and chemical structure to prevent soil erosion and give your plants an added growth spurt. 
  • Your now nutrient-rich soil creates a balanced ecosystem that exudes natural heat to slow pesky weed growth. 
  • A balanced ecosystem means fewer pests to limit the potential risk of diseases!

Location is Key.

We promise… composting is easy. However, it does require minor setup and basic maintenance – also both, very easy! Carefully select your composting location for your green waste and organic materials to call “home”.

  • The temperature shouldn’t be too cold; it slows down the composting process. It shouldn't be too hot, either; the compost pile should stay humid.
  • Keep it away from windy areas to avoid compost drying out; Ideally, a spot with a little bit of sunshine is best.
  • Stay close to your home; running your dinner scraps out at the end of the night will be less of a chore.
  • An open area is recommended for a working space; compost piles require light upkeep, gardening tools, wheelbarrows, and of course, space to pile your organic waste!

Manage your organic waste with a reliable compost bin. Wire, mesh, and wooden bins are acceptable options, however, Rockland Green recommended compost bins are available through the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rockland County

  • Purchase at-cost for $55
  • Reduce artificial fertilizers and pesticides use
  • Large enough for a family of five 
  • Home composting book include

For maximum efficiency and sustainability points, include water conservation in your routine. Rockland Green recommended 55-gallon rain barrels are available through the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rockland County.

  • Purchase at-cost for $75 
  • Conserve our limited water supply
  • Provide chlorine-free water for your plants 
  • Reserve water for drought periods
  • Lower your water bill

It Takes Two to Compost. 

There are two types of compostable material categories – brown and green. Using a color-coded system makes it easier for you, and especially younger composters, to remember what material goes where. 

“Brown” materials (leaves, woodchips, shredded paper, straw, sawdust) release carbon, while “green” materials (grass clippings, weeds and garden clippings, kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, livestock manure) create nitrogen, both of which are important for healthy soil. 

It’s key to strive for a hearty mixture to ensure enough heat is generated to properly break the items down. Not only that, but a poorly blended pile can begin to create a stinky odor area and attract unwanted bugs. 

With that being said, the recommended ratio of “brown” to “green” is 4:1 depending on the material type and levels of contained carbon and nitrogen.

Accepted vs Not Accepted.

Over time, you will learn what can and can not be composted. For now, start with the essentials.

Whether you’re composting to minimize your environmental footprint or to create high-quality gardening soil, you’re in luck – your home is likely flush with compostable items! 

Compostable items can include:

  • “Brown” Items – corn stalks, dryer lint, cotton fabric, nutshells, used paper coffee filters, paper egg cartons (torn into small pieces), corrugated cardboard (without any sort of coating).
  • “Green” Items – tea leaves and paper tea bags, cooked plain rice and pasta, corn husks and cobs, old dried herbs and spices, eggshells.

Compost opportunities may be plentiful, but there are items you do not want to compost. Anything from a less-than-natural origin should be double-checked – better safe than sorry!

  • Animal Byproducts – meat, seafood, egg, bones, pet waste, and dairy & poultry products; these can lead to bacteria, foul orders, and pests 
  • Materials – plastic, treated wood, sawdust, synthetic fabric, glossy/wrapping paper, glass, cellophane, coated cardboard 
  • Food – baked goods, onion, garlic, acidic/oily or greasy foods 
  • Yard Waste – black walnut tree leaves and twigs; contain harmful toxins for your plants 

Work Together.  

Composting is easy to learn and better yet, easy to teach. Putting our planet (and yourself!) first is fun, too!

Now that you have the basics down, you’re ready to begin your own backyard composting system. Invite your friends and family to join. It’s never too late to plant some roots and grow your sustainability and waste reduction education. We encourage and support Rockland residents, of all ages, to do just that. 

Rockland Green provided Ben Heilbronn, Rockland County student and Cornell Cooperative Extension, Youth for Climate Action participant, with a free compost bin.

Ben said, “My project hopes to raise awareness in our community for activities that can help alleviate environmental concerns on a smaller scale. Each individual can contribute to a more sustainable environment.” 

We’ve found children in particular are quick to engage. Composting guidelines are straightforward, so they're able to absorb information and hold their attention. It’s also interactive! Create a simple system, so gathering their organic items for the compost pile is viewed as an adventure rather than an assignment. Together, you can watch their hard work resurrect into something brand new… all while conserving our planet. 

Easily walk through this detailed how-to composting tip-sheet for a simple breakdown of accepted and unaccepted items to begin reducing your environmental impact with each scrap-turned-soil.

Community Resources.

If you would rather leave the composting to us, don’t worry! You can still contribute. 

Rockland residents can bring yard waste to the Clarkstown Yard Waste Facility – we have extended hours! You can also contact your local municipality for free leaf bags to collect and transport your yard waste. 

The best part? A proportionate share of compost and mulch cultivated from our resident yard waste is given back to our local municipalities to distribute, at no cost, for resident use. Composting is truly the gift that keeps on giving!

So whether you’re looking for ways to keep the kids entertained, want to step your plant game up, or are determined to contribute to a cleaner environment – backyard composting is simple to do with visible results.

To expand your knowledge on waste prevention, recovery, and the responsible disposal movement in Rockland County, Rockland Green is the resource for you. Contact us with any questions you may have!