Why Compost?

Composting is a wonderful way to reduce disposal of yard waste, and it creates a rich soil amendment that’s a natural for gardens. Save time bagging leaves and cut grass by tossing them into a compost bin. Arlington residents with curbside services now have the option of placing a wide variety of food scraps into their green organics cart for weekly pickup. 

Yard Waste Compost Bins

The County’s Solid Waste Bureau sells the GEOBIN compost bin (Presto Products Company) to residents for the below-retail price of $20 (cash/check/credit card or have it added to an Arlington residential trash utility bill). Available at Earth Products Yard, 4300 29th St. S., Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. – 4 p.m. More information: 703-228-5000.

  • Adjustable capacity up to 3 feet in diameter, or 17.6 cubic feet.
  • Constructed of 50-millimeter thick plastic (minimum 50 percent post-consumer waste) with natural ultraviolet inhibitors to prevent degradation by light.
  • Excellent ventilation for aeration.
  • Helps retain heat and moisture.
  • Easy to assemble and lightweight.
  • Supplies are limited, all sales final.
  • Be aware that composting food scraps can attract unwanted animals; steps should be taken to prevent access to bin contents.

There are many commercial compost bins available or you can make a yard waste compost area using stakes and metal wire. For more information including help locating a compost bin that meets your needs, call 703-228-5000.

GEOBIN compost bin
The Solid Waste Bureau sells this yard waste composting bin to residents.

How to Make Compost

  1. Start your compost with a 3-inch layer of coarse plant material, such as small twigs or chopped corn stalks. This will aid in aeration and drainage. On top of this, put a layer of plant and kitchen refuse, leaves, straw, weeds and waste from garden plants, husks, coffee grounds, filters, tea bags, crushed egg shells, vegetable wastes, canning wastes, hair trimmings, etc. If you’d like to compost food waste or kitchen scraps, you should have an enclosed compost bin. Don’t put meat, dairy, fish, poultry, oily foods, cooked foods or pet wastes in your compost; they create odor, attract digging animals. A wide variety of food scraps can now go in the green curbside organics cart provided to residential customers in single-family homes. If you see pests around your compost, learn more about prevention from Arlington County Public Health.
  2. Add a layer of nitrogen-rich material. This can be fresh manure if available, fresh grass clippings (not too thick a layer, as they will mat), fresh hay or green weeds. Nitrogenous materials are necessary for the microorganisms to make proteins.
  3. To inoculate the compost pile, about 1 inch of soil should be added for each 6-inch layer of plant waste to supply microorganisms for the composting process, unless enough soil is included in the manure or on the roots of weeds and expired vegetable plants. If the waste materials are free of soil for the most part, a sprinkling of soil, a compost starter, or a layer of old compost or good gardening soil added to each layer will introduce necessary microorganisms. Repeat the layers of plant material and nitrogenous material as many times as needed to use all the plant refuse available. Keep the top of the pile lower in the center to cause water to move into the pile rather than run off.
  4. Water the pile as often as necessary to keep the contents moist, but not soaking wet. Within a few days, the pile should heat up significantly, to about 160 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature will kill many weed seeds and harmful organisms, and is a necessary stage in composting. If the pile fails to heat, it may lack nitrogen or moisture. The pile will also decrease in size after a few weeks if it’s composting properly. If you smell ammonia it may mean the pile is too tightly packed or it’s too wet (not enough air in the pile), so turn the heap, adding some coarser material, and start again.
  5. The pile should be forked over after about a month (two weeks if the material is shredded), putting the outside materials on the inside and vice versa to make sure everything gets broken down. Turn again five to six weeks later. The plant materials should decompose into good compost in about four to five months in warm weather, but may take longer under cool or dry conditions. Composting may be completed in one to two months if the materials are shredded, kept moist and turned several times to provide good aeration. When compost is finished it will be black and crumbly, like good soil, with a pleasant, earthy smell.

Food Scraps Drop-Off at Trades Center

Food scraps are collected at the County's Trades Center, 4300 29th St. S. in green organics carts at the yard’s scale house, at the top of the hill. Food scraps can be dropped off Monday through Friday, 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturdays from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Available to all Arlington County residents.

Not accepted: larger scale drop-offs from institutions and facilities.

Deposited scraps are processed in an on-site, in-vessel composter, with the results made available to the Department of Parks & Recreation for landscaping projects in County public spaces. Compost from the County's food scraps curbside collection program processor is frequently available at the Trades Center near the mulch, free for pick-up while supplies last. 

Food scraps composter

Acceptable Materials for Food Scraps Drop-Off 

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • food soiled paper (paper towels, napkins and paper plates)
  • coffee ground, filters and tea bags
  • breads, grains and pasta
  • meat and seafood (including bones)
  • plate scrapings

Local farmers markets may also offer food scrap drop-off.