In 2018, the U.S. produced nearly 300 million tons of trash, about 4.9 pounds per person. After paper products, food was the second highest category of waste, comprising about 21 percent of what we throw away and increasing the size of landfills, the source of 34 percent of methane emissions.

We waste close to 40% of our food in the U.S. It goes to waste at every stage of food production and distribution - from farmers to packers and shippers, from manufacturers to retailers to our homes.

In 2015 the USDA joined with the EPA to set a goal to cut our nation’s food waste by 50% by 2030.

How much are we responsible for in our homes?

  • Food waste in our homes makes up about 39% of all food waste - about 42 billion pounds of food waste, the rest commercially.

Where does food waste go?

Generally, it ends up in a landfill where it decomposes and produces methane, which is up to 34 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a century. Or it is incinerated, not a good answer either.

Is there a better solution?

How does composting deal a blow to global warming?

  • By avoiding the landfill, the composting process converts rotting garbage into a valuable soil enhancer that helps plants thrive. Farmers call it “black gold.”  This results in carbon sequestration and decreases the production of methane gas. •Composting could reduce the amount of trash sent to landfills and incinerators in the U.S. by at least 30 percent.
  • One estimate from the Natural Resources Defense Council finds that San Francisco’s composting laws reduced the equivalent of 90,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide every year, the same number of emissions as about 20,000 passenger vehicles.
  • When compost is returned to the soil, it adds nutrients, retains water, increases yields when growing food and stores carbon. Using compost on lawns and gardens also reduces pesticide use, reduces stormwater run-off, and returns important nutrients to the soil so more fruits, vegetables, trees, grasses and other plants can thrive. It also helps bind soil particles together and holds more water. Better soil helps support plant growth, which can help sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Stronger, nutrient-rich soil also reduces the need for fertilizer and pesticides, which are pollutants themselves and are often produced with destructive mining practices and a high carbon footprint. 

What does compost consist of?

A compost pile should consist of three things: food scraps, water, and dry, woody material like yard trimmings or raked leaves. Yard trimmings are frequently referred to as “browns” and are high in carbon. Food scraps are called “greens” and are high in nitrogen. A compost pile should typically have twice as many browns as it does greens. Once those ingredients become compost and are added to soil, it helps plants thrive.

Are municipalities seeing any benefits to composting?

What about the states?

  • Nine states – California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington – also are getting into composting. They have enacted laws over the past decade that divert organic waste from landfills to composting facilities, though composting requirements and opportunities for residents and businesses vary by state.

January 1, 2022, California began enacting a law requiring that municipalities set up mandatory curbside organic waste pickup and composting. Waste haulers are now diverting the organic material away from traditional landfills to facilities that will turn the biological mishmash into products such as compost, mulch and natural gas.

What about businesses? 

Businesses also are producing compostable solutions. Seattle grocer PCC is making all of its deli packaging compostable by 2022, including white foam trays and clear plastic clamshells. A compostable plastic wrap made from shellfish shells that is biodegradable and antimicrobial is in the works. 

And what about composting at home?

  • You don’t need a yard or a compost bin. Composting can be done at your house or apartment.  Find tips on getting started here, including what not to compost, how to compost with worms (and without),  and what to do with biodegradable or compostable food packaging. 
  • There are several electric composters on the market from the Lomi to Vitamix’s FoodCycler. Treehugger tested four of them. Read their recommendations here. Or check out what Consumer Reports has to say about size, capacity, price and more here.

In addition to reducing landfill emissions, compost makes soil healthier. When layered on top of soil in a garden or on a farm, the organic matter found in compost improves unhealthy soils. It also helps bind soil particles together and holds more water. Better soil helps support plant growth, which can help sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Stronger, nutrient-rich soil also reduces the need for fertilizer and pesticides, which are pollutants themselves and are often produced with destructive mining practices and a high carbon footprint. 

One estimate from the Natural Resources Defense Council finds that San Francisco’s composting laws reduced the equivalent of 90,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide every year, the same number of emissions as about 20,000 passenger vehicles.


The following comes from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (, a national nonprofit organization working to strengthen local economies, and redirect waste into local recycling, composting, and reuse industries. It is reprinted here with permission.


How to compost—and why it’s good for the environment

By Sarah Gibbens 09/26/23
About a third of the food produced around the world goes to waste, and much of it ends up in landfills—where it becomes a source of methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than…
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Officials say no dead animals, pet poop allowed in compost as bins roll out across NYC

By Sophia Chang 09/03/23
In New York City, residents can put meat scraps and bones into compost bins, but not their dead pets. They can compost used paper plates, but not kitty litter.
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New York City Residents Will Soon Have to Compost Their Food Scraps

By Dana Rubinstein 06/08/23
On Thursday, the New York City Council approved a bill that will require New Yorkers to separate their food waste from regular trash, much as they already do with recyclable items.
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Climate Local Now: Keeping Our Riches in the Community

By Mary Morgan 04/26/23
I’ll admit it….I’m swayed by my home gardener friends, healthy-yard advocates and pollinator-pathway champions crowing about their compost bins.
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Do Not Allow Even One Fruit Fly Into Your Kitchen Compost

By Katherine J. Wu 04/19/23
Collecting food scraps in your kitchen can invite insect invaders. But there are plenty of ways to outsmart them. Last week, as my spouse and I were settling into our new home, we were dismayed…
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Strategies for Winter Composting

By Sarah Lozanova 01/05/23
If you live in a cold climate, the metabolic activity in your backyard compost will inevitably slow down in the winter. Bacteria and fungi break down your organic matter, but they will be much less…
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Long-delayed project to convert compost, waste into gas for NYC homes slated to launch in January

By Sophia Chang 12/09/22
A long-delayed project to convert organic waste into natural gas for heating fuel at the city’s Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant is on track to launch as early as next month, according to sources with…
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Queens curbside organics pilot diverts 1 million pounds of waste in just two weeks

By Ben Brachfeld 10/19/22
The city’s universal curbside organics collection pilot in Queens has yielded more than 1 million pounds of food and yard waste in just two weeks of operation, diverting the refuse from landfills to instead be…
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Food waste solutions

By Clare Toeniskoetter 10/14/22
I recently hosted a backyard barbecue at my apartment in Brooklyn. I put out three containers for waste: A trash can, a recycling bin and a compost bin. As my friends helped me clean up…
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Greener Shopping: The Lomi Home Composter Is a Difference Maker

By Mitch Ratcliffe 09/28/22
The Lomi home composter from Pela has caught a lot of attention with extensive marketing on social networks. More than 100,000 have sold to date, according to Pela. We spent two months working with this…
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How to Start Composting

By Anna Perling 09/10/22
“How do I compost?” might sound like a simple question, but the answers can branch out and multiply like the running roots of a plant. To help break it all down for those just starting…
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Composting in NYC is hard. Cyclists and a pug named Rocky are helping.

By Meghan McDonough and Others 08/10/22
Lillian Summers grows rosemary, daikon and curly kale in a formerly abandoned lot in Bedford-Stuyvesant, powered by recycled food waste. By chopping up a balance of nitrogen-rich kitchen scraps, or “greens,” and carbon-rich materials like…
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Curbside Composting

The Curbside Composting program collects food scraps, food-soiled paper, and yard waste and turns it into compost or renewable energy.

Home Composting Basics

Compost  is a dark, crumbly, earthy-smelling material produced by the natural decomposition of organic materials like leaves, garden trimmings, and food scraps. During the composting process, bacteria, fungi, and other microbes feed on the organic…

15 DIY Compost Bin Plans

If you're looking for a way to get rich soil for your garden while sustainably getting rid of food waste, consider a DIY compost bin. Building your own compost bin is a great budget-saving alternative…

Should I compost or recycle

Many food service products can be composted or recycled. At restaurants, posters and signage show you what to compost and what to recycle. At home, use this flyer to check your items against the requirements.

BioCycle the organics recycling authority

Published since 1960, BioCycle is the go-to resource on composting, organics recycling, anaerobic digestion and renewable energy.

Reducing the Impact of Wasted Food by Feeding the Soil and Composting

Composting is the fifth tier of EPA's Food Recovery Hierarchy. Even when all actions have been taken to use your wasted food, certain inedible parts will still remain and can be turned into compost to…

US Composting Council

The US Composting Council advances compost manufacturing, compost utilization, and organics recycling to benefit our members, society, and the environment.

Solutions for Apartment Dwellers: Bokashi Composting

At least 60 percent of the U.S. population lives in multifamily homes like apartments, which can make composting more difficult. When you don’t have a backyard to toss your scraps, where do they go? Fortunately,…

Community Composting Resources

Through our research, networks, and resources, we are documenting the viability of community-scale composting and meeting the need for training, guidance on best management practices, business models, and navigating legal and policy hurdles.


California Gears Up for a New Composting Law to Cut Methane Emissions and Enrich Soil

By Grace Van Deelen   06/01/22  
Local governments will make compost more accessible for farmers, helping them retain water and fight drought. But it’s not clear that cities and private waste management companies can keep up with all of the green…
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The Unlikely Ascent of New York’s Compost Champion

By Cara Buckley   05/15/22  
There were good reasons Domingo Morales, a city kid from the Bronx, didn’t want to try his hand at urban farming. He was terrified of germs. He thought vegetables were disgusting. Plus, everyone knows the…
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Hundreds of US Cities Composting Their Food Waste Helps Farmers and Cuts Tons of Emissions

By Good News Network   05/01/22  
Last week, new water restrictions issued for millions of residents of Southern California highlighted the need to make agriculture more efficient—and a new statewide composting mandate is providing the solution.
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Everything you need to know about composting

If you have a yard, you can compost easily. If you don’t, you can still compost in a small designated space. In California, you might hear people talking about composting more frequently. Why? Because a…
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With composting, Californians can take climate change into their own hands

By James Rainey   03/16/22  
Sometimes she’d just toss a bell pepper into the bushes, figuring it would decompose and feed the greenery. But that wasn’t a comprehensive solution. Then she tried washing unused veggies down the drain, knowing they’d…
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Help save the world by composting your kitchen scraps. Here’s how

By Jeanette Marantos   01/28/22  
The howls on social media have been fierce since the state started mandating that food waste stay out of garbage destined for the landfill. But here’s a confession from a longtime composter: Putting food waste…
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Don’t have a yard? Here are 3 good options for composting in small spaces

By Jeanette Marantos   01/28/22  
So you know food waste should stay out of the landfill for the good of us all, but what if your jurisdiction doesn’t have a program in place yet, and you don’t have space for…
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The climate solution in California’s compost and crops

By Justine Calma   01/26/22  
Scaling up composting, tree-planting, and other sustainable agricultural practices in California could trap about a quarter of the state’s annual carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, according to a new report. These strategies for drawing down…
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What to Know About California’s New Composting Law

By Molly Taft   01/05/22  
California kicked off 2022 by implementing a landmark composting law. Starting this month, everyone in the state is required to start composting food scraps and other materials in an effort to slash methane emissions. It’s…
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California’s new composting law starts Jan. 1. How to recycle your food scraps

By Karen Garcia   12/30/21  
Starting Jan. 1, instead of throwing that container of fuzzy strawberries into the trash, a new law will require Californians to recycle their food scraps and other leftovers.
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Nonprofit makes composting as fun as smashing pumpkins

By YCC Team   10/29/21  
Halloween is a time for playful frights. But a few days later, there’s another chilling sight: people’s garbage bins overflowing with pumpkins.
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The Best Compost Bins, According to Wirecutter Staff

By Anna Perling   08/27/21  
The more I learn about composting, the more I think of the song “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” by Yusuf / Cat Stevens: “Cause there’s a million ways to go.” Aboveground or…
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Electric Composters: Sustainability Win or Another Unnecessary Appliance?

By Forrest Brown   08/26/21  
As more people start composting to reduce food waste, some companies see a business opportunity. From the release of Whirlpool’s Zera Food Recycler in 2017 to the launch of Lomi by Pela earlier this year, electric composters could be…
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🗑️ Composting: Turning Trash into Treasure

By Kevin Silverman   07/23/21  
Policy: Composting is an ancient practice, mentioned twice in Cato’s On Agriculture, that has been used for millennia in different forms to turn organic waste materials into a rich fertilizer instead of letting organic waste rot away…
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Waste Not? Some States Are Sending Less Food to Landfills

By Elaine S. Povich   07/09/21  
Tons of leftover food sits piled up in Brooklyn, New York, before being processed into "bio-slurry" that is turned into methane gas used for power. New York is one of eight states that have enacted…
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Biodegradable vs. Compostable: What’s the Difference?

By Kiah Treece   05/12/21  
The terms "biodegradable" and "compostable" are everywhere, but they're often used interchangeably, incorrectly, or misleadingly – adding a layer of uncertainty for anyone trying to shop sustainably. In order to make truly planet-friendly choices, it's…
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Is Your Compost Really Compost?

By Andrew Messinger   03/01/21  
Composting for my western neighbor involves putting the fallen fall leaves into a big pile near the back of the garage. Twigs and branches get added as they are collected from the landscape. Whenever the…
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Biodegradable vs. Compostable: What’s the Difference?

By Kiah Treece   02/01/21  
The terms "biodegradable" and "compostable" are everywhere, but they're often used interchangeably, incorrectly, or misleadingly – adding a layer of uncertainty for anyone trying to shop sustainably.
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Residents Fight to Keep Composting From Getting Trashed in New York City’s Covid-19 Budget Cuts

By Ilana Cohen   06/12/20  
The New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY) temporarily suspended its collection of curbside composting on May 4. Although the program is set to resume on June 30, 2021, many city residents and elected officials…
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The Compost by My Couch: How (and Why) I Started an Odorless Bin at Home

By Hiroko Tabuchi   05/08/20  
New Yorkers have been through a lot over the last couple of months, but this felt personal: The city stopped picking up curbside compost this week and asked residents to instead discard their food scraps…
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Top 10 Composting Trends In 2020

By Nora Goldstein & Craig Coker   03/26/20  
At the end of 2019, BioCycle editors contacted national and regional composting stakeholders to ask about the 2 most important trends that influenced the composting industry in their region, or nationwide, in 2019 — and…
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Of Capped Landfills and Contamination

By Christopher Walsh   02/06/20  
A team of environmental science consultants told the East Hampton Town Board on Tuesday that groundwater contamination beneath the now-capped Springs-Fireplace Road landfill is slowly diminishing, as expected. However, as the board noted, ongoing testing…
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Composting For Climate Change: More Important Than You Might Think

By Andrea Bertoli   01/28/20  
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Three Myths about Compost Worm Farming

By Liz Beavis   01/22/20  
When I started growing my own vegetables, I knew that I wanted to use organic gardening methods. And the best way to fertilise is to make your own compost. This has the added benefit of…
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The 8 best compost bins

By Karen Iorio Adelson and Liza Corsillo   01/21/20  
You’ve ditched plastic straws for metal ones, stocked up on reusable food containers, and swapped out your old cleaning products for organic alternatives. The next logical step in your eco-warrior journey is taking on composting.
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California Becomes First State To Mandate Universal Composting Services For Residents And Businesses

Three years after California’s Short-Lived Climate Pollutant Reduction Strategy (SB 1383, Lara) was signed into law, formal regulations were adopted by the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) at a public meeting today…
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Composting in LA isn’t as easy as it sounds

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Venice Blvd. consists mainly of small storefronts and apartment complexes, but on one corner, next to the fire station, a large garden interrupts the buildings crammed together. The plants there are grown with the help…
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Is NYC Actually Recycling and Composting Its Waste?

By Brian Lehrer   01/13/20  
Each year, businesses and homes in New York City generate millions of tons of trash. Danielle Muoio, City Hall reporter for POLITICO New York, breaks down her reporting on how little waste ends up getting…
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You Should Be Composting in Your Apartment. Here’s How.

By Abigail Weinberg   12/31/19  
Keeping a pile of worms inside your home isn’t as gross as it sounds.
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Area looking toward composting to reduce carbon footprint

By Charlotte Rene Woods   12/16/19  
What would the future of composting look like in the region? Local stakeholders and an out-of-state company are trying to figure that out.
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City composting pilot to make good use of Philadelphians’ food waste

By Katherine Rapin   11/21/19  
Keeping a pile of worms inside your home isn’t as gross as it sounds.
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The U.S. military is using destroyed, classified documents for compost

By Jessica Fu   10/04/19  
The soil on American military bases is about to get healthier. That’s thanks in part to new research on the benefits of a very unique kind of compost: finely shredded government documents.
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Madison, Wisconsin declares curbside organics pilot a success

By Max Witynsk   09/30/19  
Madison, Wisconsin's recent curbside organics collection pilot was deemed a success, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. The resurrected program collected 4.07 tons of material from 165 households during an eight-week pilot.
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What does it take to go compostable? Seattle grocer PCC is finding out

By Krishna Thakker   08/28/19  
The trend-setting company plans to make all of its deli packaging compostable within three years, but has found out getting there isn't easy.
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De Blasio’s Zero Waste Plan Languishes With Composting Expansion On Hold, Critics Say

By Gwynne Hogan   06/25/19  
At an Earth Day press conference four years ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged New York City would send zero waste to landfills by 2030, in part by scaling up an aggressive composting program to turn food…
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Composting Vermont: One year until food scraps aren’t allowed in garbage

By Kate Barcellos   06/21/19  
A year from now, Vermonters will need to find a new place for their peels: Food waste will be banned from disposal starting July 1, 2020, the final step in an eight-year plan toward sending…
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UNA-SF World Environment Day 2019: Robert Reed on Zero Waste San Francisco

Robert Reed describes how Recology is partnering with local government and its citizens to bring about the vision of Zero Waste.
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If You Throw a Compostable Cup in the Trash, Does It Still Break Down?

By Ashley P. Taylor   09/17/18  
Compostable products are all the rage these days. But what happens to these items — including compostable straws and silverware — when they're thrown into a landfill instead of a compost heap?
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Compost Critters: Vermicomposting Made Easy

By Tori Wilson   02/20/15  
Vermicomposting, or worm composting, is like composting on steroids. The technique is the use of worms to convert your kitchen scraps and other organic wastes into compost.
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The Science of Composting

By Andrew   08/18/10  
When it’s trash night at your household, individuals perform the weekly ritual of disposing the garbage and compiling all the recyclables in an effort to keep the home clean while helping the planet prosper. Unfortunately,…
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CuanTec’s compostable plastic wrap is made of shellfish shells

By Adele Peters   08/12/19  
The plastic films CuanTec makes out of shellfish shells that are left over from seafood production is naturally antimicrobial and lets people keep using plastic wrap without worrying about plastic.
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Want a cleaner kitchen and a cleaner world? Get a composter for your food scraps

By Julie Compton   07/29/19  
Composting plant-based food waste is an easy way to keep your kitchen smell free while reducing your impact on climate.
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Compost: Secret Weapon Against Climate Change?

By Sarah West   09/20/18  
Fossil fuels can only release carbon into the atmosphere, but soil – and the vegetation that covers it – is a two-way street. Through photosynthesis, plants absorb carbon dioxide, storing it in their roots and…
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Fighting Climate Change With Food Scraps: Why Composting Is Easier Than Ever

By Sarah Baird   03/26/18  
No matter where you are in your eco-friendly ascent, there’s room in the mix for composting.
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