If your elementary school was anything like mine, you may recall having to learn all about composting at some point in your education. My school had a huge composting bin outside, and for a few days, we learned how to dispose of our uneaten fruit snacks, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and orange peels in the bin instead of in the garbage. 

Somewhere along the way, the practice of composting was lost, but composting is an amazing (and inexpensive) way to reduce food waste and do something good for the environment. Here’s everything you need to know if you want to start composting — especially if you’re a student like me and are tight on space (and hoping to avoid any sus smells).

What is composting?

First off, let’s do a quick refresher on what composting actually is. “Composting turns organic material, such as food, into high quality soil by letting it decay,” said Nicole Berg, Program Manager at the University of Michigan’s Office of Campus Sustainability. “[It] recycles nutrients and improves soil quality to grow healthy food, retains water to mitigate the impact of droughts, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Unlike in landfills, composted material breaks down without releasing methane, a potent greenhouse gas.” 

What materials do I need to compost on my own?

Image by Sri Lanka on Unsplash

So, you want to start composting on your own — here’s everything you’ll need to know to get started. There are two methods for composting at home, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency: vermicomposting and backyard composting. 


If you’re like me and don’t have access to a backyard, vermicomposting could be the way to go — especially if you’re not afraid of worms. According to the EPA, “Worm composting, or vermicomposting... takes up little space, the materials are simple and inexpensive, and can be done indoors or outdoors." To get started, you need a container or bin, bedding material, worms, and food scraps.

Because I’m definitely not an expert on composting with worms, I went to TikTok for help and found so many creators making content centered around at-home composting methods. Creator and YouTuber, Star — known as @diariesofaplantgirl on TikTok — guided me through making my own vermicomposting bin at home.

“First, I bought $5 opaque storage bins with lids and drilled holes around the top for ventilation,” Star told me. “Next, I made bedding out of potting soil, coco coir [a soil additive made from coconut fibers], and shredded paper. I added water until it was moist but not too wet, then placed my worms inside. They immediately started burrowing down to hide from the light and over the next few days, I added in kitchen scraps.” Star’s advice is to “bury the kitchen scraps in the bedding instead of leaving it on top,” so that the worms can break them down faster.

Wondering where to get worms? Most hardware stores with a garden center will carry them, like Home Depot or Walmart, but you can also order them from Amazon.

For Star, vermicomposting is the perfect way to reduce food waste. “I suck at composting the traditional way,” Star told us. “I’d just about given up when I came across vermicomposting. It’s composting but I don’t do much work at all and use worms instead.” 

Backyard Composting

If you have the luxury of a backyard or patch of grass you can sacrifice for the good of the environment, try this method. “It can be as simple as simply starting an organics pile with some browns — leaves — and greens — vegetable scraps, grass clippings,” Berg told us. You can store it all in a bin or just in a section of grass. Stick with fruits, vegetables, yard waste, and grains if you want it to break down easily. “Home piles and systems do not typically get large or hot enough to break down items such as meat, dairy, or compostable plastics,” advised Berg.

What you can compost (& what you can't)

Food scraps is a pretty vague term, and some of what you might consider to be food scraps actually can’t be composted.

Here are some examples of what you can compost:

Fruit and vegetable scraps like orange peels and banana skins


Coffee grounds and paper coffee filters

Paper tea bags without staples 

Here are some examples of things you should avoid composting at home:

Meat and bones

Dairy products


Things high in fat, oil, or grease

Large amounts of cooked food 

Composting guidelines change from state to state and can even differ in municipalities. If you’re looking to start composting, check your local guidelines for the most up to date and accurate information.

Image by Lenka Dzurendova on Unsplash

How can I avoid my compost smelling?

Done right, your composting should not produce any bad smells. “If you are composting at home in a worm bin or in your yard, check your brown to green balance or moisture levels if you start having smells,” Berg said. “If you are collecting food waste to place in a curbside service, you can take it out more frequently, freeze the scraps until ready to bring out for the week, or purchase a countertop composter with a filter.” 

What do I do with compost?

What you do with your compost really depends on where you live and how creative you want to get. If you’re just looking to dispose of your compost, most local governments have disposal locations, and some even have curbside collection services. A quick Google search should give you all of the information you need about compost disposal in your area. The blog Litterless also has a list, organized by state, of spots you can drop off your compost or set up a collection service.

If you want to keep and use your compost, there are so many ways you can do so. Compost is amazing for plants, vegetable gardens, tree beds and more, according to the EPA. Even your small apartment plants could benefit from the addition of compost to their soil.