Composting at home: videos, upcoming webinars, & other resources for beginners

In many parts of Illinois (and the United States, for that matter), there is limited access to commercial composting hauling or drop-off services. Meanwhile, in 2018 (the latest year for which an analysis of municipal solid waste is available), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that “more food reached landfills and combustion facilities than any other single material in our everyday trash (24 percent of the amount landfilled and 22 percent of the amount combusted with energy recovery).”  In that same year, EPA estimated that “63 million tons of wasted food were generated in the commercial, institutional, and residential sectors.”

Obviously, our country has a great deal of room for improvement surrounding this issue. We need to find ways to prevent food from becoming waste in the first place, but when that is unavoidable, we need to develop adequate infrastructure, including composting facilities, to deal with the sustainable management of food waste. Illinois residents can check the Illinois Food Scrap and Composting Coalition (IFSCC) website for a list of compost hauling services, but if you find there aren’t good options near you, then you can compost at home–even if you don’t have a yard! A colleague of mine recently noted that she intends to begin home composting this year and has accumulated several articles and links to websites that she has yet to process. I applaud her determination, but I also thought it would be great to compile some resources to help her and other individuals who want to do their part to keep food waste out of landfills via composting, but who might not have time to wade through lots of reading material, or who experience various situations (such as living in an apartment) that at first glance could make composting seem like an unattainable goal. In this post, I want to share some resources to make the lives of beginning or aspiring home composters as simple as possible.

 Register for SWALCO’s April 12th Webinar to learn the basics

SWALCO flyer
Click the image above to view SWALCO’s event flyer.

The Solid Waste Agency of Lake County (SWALCO) is currently offering its second annual Garden Learning Series covering everything from starting plants from seeds to composting. Workshops are offered in collaboration with the University of Illinois Extension and Master Gardeners with funding from the USDA and will be held the second Wednesday of the month from 6:00-7:30 PM Central. The best part is that all workshops are virtual, FREE for participants, and open to anyone, not just residents of Lake County. On April 12, 2023, they’re presenting “Composting Basics, Benefits, & Beyond.” The workshops will NOT be recorded, so if you’re free the evening of the 12th, be sure to tune in to learn from experts and have the opportunity to ask questions! Register at

Videos to guide your efforts

Sometimes it’s just easier and quicker to watch a video than to read through all the articles and websites you’ve bookmarked on a subject. Below are some videos to guide you through various forms of composting so you can pick the method that will work best for you.

  • 6 Different Ways to Compost, No Matter Where You Live: This Epic Gardening video covers hot (rapid) composting, cold (slower, more passive) composting, compost tumblers, worm composting (aka vermicomposting), bokashi (good option for apartment dwellers), and direct burying of food scraps.
  • Bokashi Composting from Start to Finish (DIY Bokashi Bucket): Another Epic Gardening video, diving deeply into bokashi, a composting method with which many people are unfamiliar.
  • LAZY Composting (Low-Effort Compost):  Tips for hot and cold (or passive) composting.
  • How to Compost on a Balcony: Not everyone has a yard, so this is another resource that would be great for apartment dwellers. This could also work on a patio or corner of a small yard.
  • Simple Compost Bin Design Indoor: Outdoor Apartment Friendly: Another interesting video for apartment dwellers, illustrating how large, stacked, terra cotta pots can be used for composting in both indoor and outdoor settings.
  • IFSC (now renamed IFSCC) Member Video Highlights Home Composting:  This blog post includes an embedded video in which Kate Caldwell illustrates her own composting setup, which includes hot composting methods. If you’re interested in compost tumblers, this may be useful for you.
  • Worm Composting: This University of Maine video shows you how to make a DIY worm bin using some plastic storage tubs. This is another great indoor option for composting at home.
  • Worm Towers from 5 gallon buckets This video illustrates an easy DIY option for creating an in-ground worm bin within garden beds. You can also check out this vlogger’s update video on harvesting worm casting from such bins:

Additional Resources

Good luck with your efforts! Remember that if one method doesn’t work well for you, there are many ways to compost at home, so don’t give up! Try another method, and focus on having fun in your garden.

Food Waste Reduction Toolkit for Illinois Schools now available for download

This post originally appeared on the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Blog on April 13, 2020. 

Just in time for the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, the Wasted Food Action Alliance is pleased to announce the release of the Food Waste Reduction Toolkit for Illinois Schools. Though schools throughout the state are currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this toolkit will allow districts and food service staff members to make plans for food waste reduction efforts when schools are able to welcome back students and staff in person.

The Wasted Food Action Alliance is a diverse set of organizations helping build a unified approach towards reducing wasted food and leveraging it to benefit our region. Its mission is to develop a working strategy and action platform that makes Illinois a leader in reducing wasted food by connecting and building on current wasted food initiatives, education, and policy in unified ways that holistically promote source reduction; food recovery for hunger relief and other uses; and recovery of food scraps for composting and creating healthy soil.

Joy Scrogum, a member of ISTC’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP), is part of the Wasted Food Action Alliance subcommittee which developed the school food waste reduction toolkit. Joy coordinated ISTC’s Green Lunchroom Challenge project, and continues to work on food waste prevention and reduction through TAP’s work with clients, the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition, and related local and regional projects. The Wasted Food Action Alliance school toolkit subcommittee was lead by Seven Generations Ahead.

Cover of Food Waste Reduction Toolkit for Illinois SchoolsWhat’s the problem with food waste in schools?

Over 7 billion school meals are served each year in the United States. Much of this food, however, is currently feeding landfills instead of nourishing students. This is while one in six children is food insecure. When food is landfilled, not only are its nutrients lost, so are all the energy, water, and labor that went into producing, transporting, and preparing it. K-12 schools have a unique role in teaching students to value food instead of wasting it.

The Food Waste Reduction Toolkit for Illinois Schools can help.

The Toolkit is a comprehensive resource that provides all schools, no matter their size or location, the tools to tackle the issue of wasted food. It identifies the main sources of wasted food and offers strategies for food waste prevention, recovery and redistribution, composting, education and engagement, and celebrating success. A variety of solutions are shared–from easy and quick to implement to longer term and more resource intensive.

The Toolkit’s easy to use format allows you to jump in to find the strategies that work for your school. Each section includes case studies that highlight inspirational efforts to reduce food waste in schools across Illinois and provides guidance on:

Measuring food waste

  • Waste audit guides
  • How to determine what to audit in your lunchroom and kitchen
  • Food waste tracking in kitchens
  • Analyzing waste audit data

Preventing food waste

  • Sourcing food from school gardens and local farms to encourage consumption of healthy foods
  • Menu planning and food preparation
  • Preventing food waste at the serving line, including Offer versus Serve

Recovering and redistributing surplus food

  • Policies and laws regarding share tables and the redistribution of food (including the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act that supports the donation of recovered food)
  • How to set up and operate a share table
  • Redistribution of surplus food within a school
  • Donation of surplus food to an outside organization or in-school food pantry

Composting food scraps

  • The environmental benefits of composting
  • Onsite composting
  • Offsite commercial composting
  • How to get started composting in your lunchroom

Educating and engaging the school community

  • Hands-on classroom or service learning projects
  • Curricula and lessons about food and food waste
  • Teaching tools and resources

Communicating and celebrating success

  • Communications within school community
  • Communications with the wider community
  • Get recognized with programs such as Green Ribbon Schools and the U.S. Food Waste Challenge

The toolkit is available on the Wasted Food Action Alliance web site.

Growing Healthy People Brings Year-Round Gardening to IL Schools

In the 12/14/18 online edition of the Daily Herald, Paula A. Lubenow reports on Growing Healthy People, a non-profit organization which has “created year-round gardening programs at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Waukegan, Lake Forest Country Day School and Bowen Park Urban Ag Lab in Waukegan. The organization utilizes cutting edge gardening technology including hydroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics in greenhouses to allow students to grow food year-round during the entire academic school year. The students at Jefferson Middle School also contribute their produce to the Roberti Community House and food pantries in the Waukegan area. Students learn valuable life skills through these gardening programs: how to grow their own food; the importance of healthy food and good nutrition; and about careers in horticulture.” Read the full article at

There are three suggested activities related to school gardens which were part of the original Green Lunchroom Challenge voluntary pledge program for K-12 schools (out of which this blog began). Within the “Food Sourcing” category, participants in that pledge program could earn points by establishing an on-site garden to provide fresh seasonal produce on demand, expanding an existing on-site garden, or involving students in the maintenance of a school garden. Though the pledge program has ended, the suggested activity pages are still great guides to incorporating school gardens into your food waste reduction and prevention strategies in K-12 food service operations.

The practices taught through the Growing Healthy People programs would be excellent for schools interested in starting or expanding their school gardens, and they’re proven effective in student involvement. We applaud Growing Healthy People and the three schools in Waukegan, IL mentioned in the Daily Herald article for their efforts!

To learn more about Growing Healthy People, check out their Facebook page at

Growing Healthy People logo