You Composting Yet? Here's How To Start


Which item would you guess takes up the biggest portion of household trash, by weight: yard waste, food, or cardboard?  

If you guessed food, you’d be correct.  

In Illinois, food scraps are the largest category of household waste by a large margin; we send 4 times more food to landfills than yard waste.

Data Source: the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity -2-8 

 Unfortunately, food waste isn’t unique to Illinois. 

 Nationally, 30-40% of the food that we grow in the United States goes to waste.

Some of that waste happens on farms, in grocery stores and at restaurants, but the majority of that waste happens in our homes. That’s an unsavory stat for most to swallow.  And it should be.  Because it’s not just the food that’s wasted, but all the water, fertilizer, transportation and labor that went into growing the food.

Eighty percent of the fresh water consumed in the U.S. goes into growing food.

Another reason to keep food out of the landfill is methane

When organic material like food and yard waste decomposes in a landfill, it creates methane, due to a lack of oxygen. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is exponentially more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2).  In the US, landfills are the third largest emitters of methane.

How to combat food waste at home:

1. Mindful shopping, planning and storage of food

The first action to take in reducing the amount of food waste we generate at home is through more mindful shopping, storing, and planning of meals. There are many good resources for helping to plan meals and store food better such as and the USDA’s  FoodKeeper app.

2. Composting

Composting is the process of allowing food, yard waste, and other organic matter to decompose into a natural, rich, soil-like material known as compost. Compost is a terrific natural fertilizer for plants that provides nutrients and improves the texture and composition of soil, to allow for better water absorption and retention.

Farmers and gardens around the globe use compost to improve soil quality.  Even houseplants will benefit from compost in small doses; it’s powerful stuff! 

How to start composting:

With the assistance of SWALCO, 29 Lake County municipalities and townships already provide curbside composting service that accept both yard and food waste: 

Avon Township, Bannockburn, Deer Park, Deerfield, Fox Lake, Grayslake, Gurnee, Hawthorn Woods, Highland Park, Highwood, Island Lake, Kildeer, Lake Barrington, Lake Bluff, Lake Zurich, Libertyville, Long Grove, Mundelein, North Barrington, Port Barrington, Riverwoods, Round Like Beach, Round Lake, Shields Township, Third Lake, Tower Lakes, Vernon Hills, Volo, and Wauconda.

The Chicago Botanical Garden uses compost made from food and yard waste collected right here in Lake County!

IF YOU ALREADY HAVE YARD WASTE SERVICE then you don’t need to do a thing, just start tossing your food scraps in with your yard waste.  It’s that simple.

SWALCOALTcompostablesCombime Food Waste

IF YOU DON’T HAVE YARD WASTE SERVICE then you have a couple options: scheduled monthly service or pay-as-you-go stickers. 

Monthly service is perfect for those who produce both yard and food waste. Most towns have either 8 or 12 month service options.  

If you have no yard or a small amount of yard waste, you may be best served with the pay as you go Sticker Program. With the Sticker Program you just slap a pre-paid sticker on your container of choice and set it out on your normal collection day.  Your hauler will then collect it as compost, and send it onto the compost facility.

Sign up today by calling your regular waste hauler or visiting their website.  Not sure who your hauler is?   Find your hauler by municipality, here.

COMPOSTING TIP: If you use a bin to collect yard waste, consider lining it with a lawn and leaf paper bag so that your bin stays clean.

 What can you compost?  

Anything that grows!  Yard trimmings, grass, leaves, all food waste (including nuts, egg shells, bones, moldy leftovers, etc.). Even food-soiled paper can be composted; think greasy paper and cardboard, coffee filters and grounds, and teabags (paper teabags only, some are made of plastic).   

Please be mindful of keeping out rubber bands, plastic bags, staples, and anything else that’s not food, yard waste, or paper. Remember, compost is used to grow food so keeping it clean is essential.  

Check out SWALCO’s interactive Compost Guide to see everything that can be composted curbside.

Compost Guide

More composting goodness to come…

You’ll be hearing a lot more about food waste and composting over the next several months, thanks in large part to a USDA grant. 

In October of 2020, the USDA awarded SWALCO with a Community Compost and Food Waste Reduction Project grant to increase both the recovery of residential and commercial food waste, as well as to increase the use of compost on Lake County municipal lands and local community gardens. 

All in all, more than 25 municipalities, haulers, composting facilities, farmers, community gardens, universities, and outreach professionals have joined together to ensure the success of the program.  

Lake County is currently working toward diverting 60% of all waste from the landfill by 2030.  We’re currently at 39%.  Through your support and participation in composting, at home and at work, we will get there.  And won’t that be great.  

Happy composting, everybody!

By Tracy Bugh, Civil Agents, for SWALCO

This material is based upon work supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, under agreement number NR203A750001C028. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.