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Compost simply means controlled decomposition. For homeowners, it means putting all your organic waste (leaves, garden waste, food waste, etc) together and decomposing it in a controlled environment. The result is compost, a nutrient-rich garden amendment.
When organic waste is improperly handled, it can damage the natural environment and harm the municipal water supply. Composting is a good way to prevent mismanagement of waste (PDF). The following are two examples of organic waste management that impact water and the environment.
The nutrients from the organic waste enter the water, changing its nutrient content. This allows plants and algae to grow in the water. The excess organic waste lowers the level of oxygen in the water, a process called eutrophication. The water becomes polluted, unhealthy, and difficult to purify for drinking.
When it rains, the water runs past the organic waste on the pavement and picks up nutrients from the waste. This changes the nutrient content of the water before it enters into the sewer system. The water becomes polluted, unhealthy, and difficult to purify for drinking.
Organic waste is waste that comes from a plant or animal source and can be decomposed by living organisms. Here are some types of organic waste that you may deal with:
You can compost almost all of these, with the exception of big branches, brush, and Christmas trees. View a complete list of what you can and cannot compost (PDF).
There are numerous types of compost bins; plastic bins, tumbler bins, open pallet bins and wire mesh. Other options can be easily researched on the internet.
Some municipalities provide organic waste pick-up a few weeks each year. Do your research to find out what weeks of the year your municipality picks up organics. Be careful not to leave organics out at times when there is no pick-up, as nutrient runoff from leaves or brush can harm water sources.
Some companies will contract with residents to dispose of their organic waste. Check with your municipality for a list of commonly used contractors.
Some municipalities provide a drop-off site for organic waste. Some also leave the finished compost, wood chips, or mulch out for residents to take home. Other nearby municipalities may accept organic waste from residents in your municipality.