There are a number of great ways to compost your food and yard waste, and the best answer for you depends on how much time and effort you want to spend, the space you have, and what is interesting to you.
Drop-off / pick-up
First, you can have someone compost your organics for you. This usually is the least time-consuming way to recycle food and yard waste. You can hire a company to pick them up from your house for apartment for a monthly fee, or you can bring them to a local drop-off point for compostable materials. For example, our Balls Ford Road Composting facility is free for Prince William County residents to use and, for non-county residents, it often costs just a dollar or two to drop off a five-gallon bucket—anyone is welcome to use it!
The second option is to compost your own food and yard waste at home. While this requires some initial equipment purchases, a little more on-going effort, and is slightly restricted with what you can compost (e.g. no meats and dairy products), you get the resulting compost to use around your home for free! Most people usually start composting with backyard bins and tumblers, but there are an increasing number of ways that people can compost at home.
Backyard bins and piles are perhaps the easiest and cheapest for small-scale, at-home composting but they require relatively more outdoor space and maintenance (e.g. turning a pile here and there so that it gets oxygen). The Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners not only put together this helpful guide, but has volunteers that can help answer your questions. Prince William County Solid Waste Division also sells a backyard bin that is easy to set up and use.
Tumbler bins are fully enclosed containers that can be rotated using a handle. While it typically costs a little more than (other) backyard composting options and won’t compost as much material, it takes up less space and is easier to maintain. This makes it particularly attractive for homes and apartments that have little outdoor space.
Vermicomposting is increasingly popular: why not let worms eat your food scraps? It takes more time set everything up—it’s not everyday that you buy thousands of worms!—and for you to get a finished compost for your garden or lawn, but vermicomposting is fairly easy to maintain and can be done inside or outside. It usually takes three to six months for the finished compost to be ready and is highly concentrated. The Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener program has a nice guide to get you started and there are also kits that can be bought online.
A Bokashi composting system combines food scraps, including meats and dairy, with an inoculated bran that you purchase separately. The system composts the food and bran using an anaerobic (without oxygen) process that gives you two products: a compost tea—basically a nice way of saying the liquid from the rotted foods—and (eventually) a more soil-like, “typical” compost. While this is the simplest method for maintenance, it has a relatively higher startup and an on-going cost to buy the bran.
Ultimately, there are a variety of great options for people to choose from to begin composting their organic materials, like food and yard waste. All of these methods are great for the environment, and the finished compost is one of the best things that you can do for your garden.
We make premium and local compost, mulch, and topsoil in Manassas, VA. They are specially designed to increase the health and productivity of our local soils, and with our focus on sustainable practices, this lets the environment and your garden grow good, together. We sell bulk and bagged compost, bulk natural mulches, bulk and bagged dyed mulches, and bulk topsoil.