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Composting in Wisconsin

Compost is an environmentally friendly way to create healthy soil for Wisconsin's landscape. Compost made from yard materials and other organics, like food scraps, can replenish soil with microorganisms and nutrients.

Wisconsin law prohibits landfill disposal of yard materials (also called "yard waste"), including leaves, grass clippings, brush and pieces of wood (branches, sticks, etc.) under 6 inches in diameter. Composting is an easy, inexpensive alternative to landfills that puts these resources to use instead of simply throwing them away.

What Is Compost?

Compost is a soil-like material rich in stabilized carbon produced from the breakdown of organic materials. It is considered a "soil amendment" rather than a fertilizer because it usually contains smaller amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium than mineral-based commercial fertilizer products.

Benefits of applying compost include:

  • restoring or enhancing the ability of sandy soil to hold moisture and clay soils to drain;
  • repairing or preventing damage caused by erosion; and
  • aiding plant growth – e.g., in residential gardens, public landscapes or after construction and mining projects are completed.

Opportunities to Reduce Food Waste

Because not all food can be composted at home, preventing food waste is also an important step in reducing what goes to landfills. Get tips for preventing food waste:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's interactive Excess Food Opportunities Map identifies sources of excess food and locations of potential recipients of unwanted food, including compost facilities. The map is a tool for communities looking to divert excess food from landfills.

Wisconsin's Composting Landscape

Today, more than 200 state-licensed composting facilities manage some 200,000 tons of yard materials each year, and hundreds of thousands more tons of yard materials are achieved through home composting and mulching in place.

Wisconsin also generates an additional 500,000 tons of other compostable materials – including food scraps – each year that could be composted and made into useful products. Department of Natural Resources staff are working with nonprofits, local governments and businesses to help them build and expand composting operations in Wisconsin.

Composting can be done at home or on a large scale. More details about home composting are below. For information on state regulations for large-scale composting, see the following resources.

How To Compost At Home

Dumping food scraps into home compost bin
By composting yard materials and certain food scraps at home, residents can make their own compost for garden and landscape projects while reducing costs for off-site composting or disposal. Composting is also a preferred alternative to burning yard materials, and many communities ban burning.

Home composters can make compost in bins or in a heap, though bins are generally a better way to manage the materials. There are a number of home composting containers available commercially, and it is also fairly simple to create your own. The DNR's home composting brochure provides information to get started and tips for experienced composters who want to improve their systems.

There are no current state regulations on small-scale, home composting operations of fewer than 50 cubic yards, but all composting should be done in a nuisance-free and environmentally sound manner. This includes minimizing odors, not attracting excessive numbers of pests and not placing compost piles in wetlands or other sensitive areas. Check with your community to find out if any local regulations apply.

What To Compost

Along with yard materials, certain food scraps can also be easily composted at home. Be sure to follow recommendations on what types of food scraps can be composted at home in order to prevent odors and avoid attracting animals and other pests.

What to compost What not to compost
  • Yard materials
  • Vegetable and fruit scraps
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Teabags
  • Nutshells
  • Eggshells
  • Clean, unwaxed paper, such as newspaper and cardboard
  • Animal manure (not pet waste)
  • Meat or fish scraps, bones and packaging
  • Dairy products (milk, cheese, egg yolks, etc.)
  • Fats and oils or foods containing fats and oils
  • Pet waste
  • Diseased or insect-ridden plants
  • Highly invasive plants like garlic mustard, unless completely dry and without flowers or seeds
  • Plastics labeled as "compostable" or "biodegradable" (these items should go to a composting facility)

Compost subscription and drop-off services

When backyard composting isn’t possible, other options may be available. There are several services that pick up compostable food waste or have food waste drop-off locations in Wisconsin. Some services can also pick up food waste generated from special events. Check with your community to find out if there is a service in your area or check out the services listed below.

Company/Municipality Areas Served Residential (R)
Drop site (D)
Event (E)
Ashland Community Compost Ashland R, D, E
Big Lake Organics Ashland, Bayfield D
Brew City Compost Brookfield, Delafield, Elm Grove, Hartland, Nashotah, Oconomowoc, Okauchee, Pewaukee R
Bucket Ruckus Stevens Point R
Clean City Compost Appleton, Fox Valley R
Compost Crusader Southeastern Wisconsin  R, E
Curby’s Compost Bayside, Brookfield, Brown Deer, Butler, Cedarburg, Fox Point, Germantown, Glendale, Grafton, Menomonee Falls, Mequon, Milwaukee, Richfield, River Hills, Shorewood, Thiensville, Wauwatosa, Whitefish Bay R
Curbside Composter Cottage Grove, DeForest, Fitchburg, Madison, McFarland, Middleton, Monona, Oregon, Stoughton, Sun Prairie, Waunakee, Verona R, E
Earthbound Environmental Solutions Chippewa County, Eau Claire County R
Earth Stew Fitchburg, Madison, Middleton, Monona R
Greener Bay Compost Allouez, Ashwaubenon, Bellevue, De Pere, Green Bay, Hobart, Howard, Lawrence, Ledgeview, Rockland (Brown County), Suamico R
Green Box Compost Madison R
Harter’s Quick Cleanup La Crosse, Onalaska R
Hsu Growing Supply Wausau  R
City of La Crosse and Hilltopper Refuse and Recycling City of La Crosse residents D
City of Madison City of Madison residents D
City of Waukesha City of Waukesha residents pilot program D

To be added to the list or update your information, contact Ruth O'Donnell, organics waste management specialist.  

Inclusion in the list does not constitute a DNR endorsement of an organization or its products. Exclusion is not intentional and does not constitute disapproval.  

Composting indoors

Vermicomposting, where red wiggler worms break down food scraps in an indoor bin, takes up minimal space.

Bokashi, an aerobic process where materials are broken down through fermentation, is another alternative. Small indoor systems can be purchased online or through garden stores.

DNR Publications

Garbage to Gardens compost poster

Other Publications and Resources