From Garbage to Garden

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a handful of rich composted soil
By composting your food waste, you do much more than compost. And your plants and local waterways thank you.

Ah the sweet smell of Earth. You gaze ahead at your steaming compost pile. What can beat that beautiful black gold all us avid gardeners so greatly admire? Some may think that pricey fertilizer or herbicide from the local home & garden spot cures all, but rather in our eyes at Tennessee Environmental Council it’s a cure-none and I’ll gladly tell you why.

Become a smart gardener and yard owner

Composting is your solution. It takes you from being an "average Joe" yard owner to a sustainably smart one. It falls within the circle of life we all know. Buy produce that comes from the land, eat what you can, return the leftovers right back to the land. Through composting, your waste becomes the land again and those unused nutrients go right back with it. 

What to do with all that compost

Compost is essentially decomposed organic matter often used as an amendment for adding nutrients back to your soil—nutrients that get taken up by plant roots. It teems with beneficial microorganisms that add to the richness of your soil and help your plants grow healthy. You can apply it to flower beds or vegetable gardens in lieu of chemical fertilizers.

Compost bin full of brown leaves

Photo courtesy of Crockett Hamblin

How to make it? Let nature do most of the heavy lifting

Composting is nature’s way of recycling. Essentially there are four ingredients to convert your food waste into health compost: air, water, nitrogen and oxygen. But nature handles all this for you, needing only a little help from you.

Step 1: Find your location

Decide whether you want to buy a bin or have an open pile. Open piles can be marked with chicken wire and stakes.

Step 2: Add some food waste

Start collecting leftover vegetable, fruit, grain scraps and excess yard waste and ‘dump 'n' layer’ it in a pile. You’ll want to balance the brown to green materials appropriately by adding about four times as much brown material. Brown materials add carbon to the pile while green materials add nitrogen. Some brown materials include straw, dead leaves and shredded cardboard. Green includes items like fruit and vegetable scraps, grass clippings and coffee grinds.

Be sure to compost plant materials only and exclude meats, oils, fats and dairy which attract the wrong kind of micro-organisims.

eggs, orange peel and other stuff in the compost

Photo courtesy of Addington Hawkins

Step 3: Turn turn turn

Make sure to "turn" your pile every couple of days with a pitchfork to let some oxygen in and allow for moisture.

Let nature do its thing and have patience! The pile will gradually sink down as it decomposes and becomes compost. And guess what? All of your efforts do the following:

  • Reduce methane gases admitted by sending food scraps to the compost pile rather than the landfill. Hello aerobic digestion!
  • Protect water quality by directing that yard debris to its rightful source rather than the creek in your backyard or the drainage ditch.
  • Help prevent plant diseases by introducing good bacteria and microorganisms to your soil.
  • Stabilize soil pH.
  • Improve soil structure and improves water-holding ability, which then saves water!
  • Save money on water you now don’t have to use, and fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides you now don’t have to buy.

The joy of composting

Doing all of this makes you feel good inside. Trust us, it does. Why? Because you’re no longer harming yourself, your neighbors and your environment. In fact, you are doing the complete opposite and making the world around you better by helping Earth's natural processes do its thing.

Come, Post Your Compost

The Tennessee Environmental Council has an incentive for you. By joining our newest program, Come, Post your Compost, you will become a part of a community of dedicated composters in Tennessee. We offer compost education, resources, supplies and even, rewards!

The goal of Come, Post your Compost is to engage at least 1,000 Tennessee residents across all 95 counties in diverting 60 tons of food waste from our landfills. So, reduce your food-print and get to composting, you dirty scrappers!

Come post your compost banner ad

How to sign up for TEC's
Come Post Your Compost

  1. Visit TEC's website,, and click on Join Come Post your Compost page.
  2. On the map, click on your county.
  3. Register to compost with us, order supplies and become eligible for cash prizes (we draw 3 times a month). To be eligible for prizes we ask that you spend less than 5 minutes per week reporting your weekly compost totals & sending in 2 pictures of your compost.

For ways you can directly contribute to the protection of Nashville's waterways, be sure to take the One Degree Pledge, visit

About the author

Julia Weber serves as the Organics Management Program Manager & Recycling Program Specialist at Tennessee Environmental Council and she leads the residential compost program, Come, Post Your Compost. When not at work, you’ll find Julia at home in the woods of Kingston Springs or canoeing down the Harpeth.

To learn more about the Tennessee Environmental Council, visit the Tennessee Environmental Council website

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