Did you know that an estimated 30% of your household trash is compostable? Learn more about composting and making your own "gardener's gold" on this page!

What is Composting?

Composting is the controlled decomposition of organic material. Naturally occurring soil organisms recycle nitrogen, potash, phosphorus, and other plant nutrients as they convert the organic material into rich soil.

Benefits of Composting

Composting is a convenient, beneficial and inexpensive way to handle your organic waste and help the environment. By separating compostable materials from your trash, you can:
  • Save money by reducing the volume of garbage requiring disposal
  • Get free, nutrient-rich soil for your garden or lawn - compost improves soil structure, allows for better root growth, and increases the moisture and nutrient retention of the soil
  • Benefit you and your community by reducing waste and adding nutrients/moisture back to the environment

Plants Love Compost!

What you should compost:
  • Yard wastes such as leaves, grass clippings and weeds
  • All fruit and vegetable scraps (remember to remove produce stickers first!)
  • Food wastes such as coffee grounds, tea bags, and eggs shells
  • To keep animals and odors out of your pile, do not add meat, bones, fatty food wastes (such as cheese, grease and oils), dog and cat litter, and diseased plants
  • Do not add exotic weeds and weeds that have gone to seed

DIY (Do it Yourself) Composting
...If you have a yard
How to Make a Compost Pile

There are as many different ways to make compost as there are people who do it and products available to do it with. The following guidelines will get you started, but soon your own experience will help you tailor a method that best fits your needs.

Step 1: Build or Purchase a Compost Bin

The City of Lowell carries one model of Compost bin, available for sale to the public for $25. The Earth Machine (pictured on the left)
The New Age Composter (pictured on the right) is currently out of stock. Download the order form.
Earth Machine and New Age Composter
The Earth Machine is circular, and comes in one size only, suitable for normal capacity. It has an added feature of a sliding door on the bottom, which makes it easier to remove soil. The New Age Composter is shaped like a cylinder and can be adjusted to four different sizes. If you need a large composter, this would be the one.

City-offered Compost bins are purchasable via mail or in person. To purchase via mail, please print and complete the order form along with cash or a check for the total amount due to the address on the form. As soon as we receive the check, DPW will drop off the items ordered at the resident's home. To purchase one in person, please call the Solid Waste and Recycling Office at 978-674-4309 to let them know you'll be stopping by at least 24 hours in advance. 

If you would prefer, compost bins can also be constructed using wire, wood, pallets, concrete blocks, even garbage cans with drainage holes drilled in them. Enclosed, or covered compost piles keep out pests, hold heat and moisture in, and have a neat appearance.
In urban areas, rodent-resistant compost bins - having a secure cover and floor and openings no wider than one-half inch - must be used.

Step 2: Set Up the Bin in a Convenient, Shady Area With Good Drainage

A pile that is about 3' square and 3' high will help maintain the heat generated by the composting organisms throughout the winter. A smaller pile will compost, however it will have a longer decomposition period as it will not maintain as much heat as a larger compost pile.

Step 3: Start the Pile With a Layer of Course Material Such as Corn Stalks to Build Air Passages

Add alternating layers of "brown" and "green" materials and mix them together. Sprinkle with soil every 12". Be sure to bury food scraps in the center of the pile. Shred leaves or run over them with a lawn mower to shorten the composting time. Save several bags of leaves to add in the spring and summer when "browns" are scarce.
High Nitrogen "Green" Ingredients include:
  • Alfalfa Hay/Meal
  • Blood Meal
  • Food Wastes:
    • Coffee grounds
    • Egg shells
    • Fruit and vegetables
    • (Unbleached) Tea bags
  • Grass Clippings
  • Manure:
    • Chicken
    • Cow
    • Horse
    • Rabbit
  • Seaweed
  • Weeds
High Carbon "Brown" Ingredients include:
  • Autumn Leaves
  • Cornstalks
  • (Unbleached) Paper/Cardboard:
    • Bags
    • Coffee filters
    • Napkins
    • Newspaper
    • Paper towels
    • Plates
    • Tissue
  • Pine Needles
  • Saw Dust
  • Straw
  • Wood Chips

Step 4: Maintain 40-60% Moisture Content in the Compost Pile

Moisture level is an important factor of proper composting. If the contents are too dry, it will take overly long to compost; and if too wet, the contents may begin to smell. If contents are too dry, add water and mix thoroughly. If contents are too wet, add dry browns (dead leaves, shredded newspaper or cardboard, etc.) and mix thoroughly to allow for more air circulation in the pile. Try to maintain an equal amount of browns and greens in alternating levels to keep your pile at an ideal moisture level. 

Step 5: as Time Goes on, Keep Oxygen Available

Fluff the pile with a hoe or compost turning tool each time you add material. A complete turning of the pile, so the top becomes the bottom, in spring and fall should result in finished compost within a year. More frequent turning will shorten the composting time.

How to Use the Finished Compost

When the composted materials look like rich, brown soil, it is ready to use. Apply 1/2 - 3" of finished compost and mix it in with the top 4" of soil about 1 month before planting. Compost can be applied as a top dressing in the garden throughout the summer. Compost is excellent for reseeding lawns, and it can be spread 1/4" deep over the entire lawn to rejuvenate the turf. To make potting soil, mix equal parts compost, sand and loam. You may put the compost through a screen to remove large particles - these can go back into the pile.

...If you don't have a yard

Composting can be done indoors using an earthworm farm. Not only can you recycle your food scraps, you can also have a steady supply of fishing bait! For more information visit DEP's Home Composting and Green Landscaping page.