Building a Culture of Composting


What's so important about compost?

Food waste is a pressing environmental concern in Illinois. In Cook County — and in many counties around the state — it accounts for up to 37% of landfill material. But food waste is not just filling up municipal dump sites. It is a major source of methane, a greenhouse gas considerably more harmful to the climate than carbon dioxide (CO2). By diverting organic waste materials from landfills and recycling it into compost we protect our environment by reducing the amount of greenhouse gas released into the air. Composting can reduce food waste in landfills and transform it into a valuable resource, just as recycling has reduced and transformed plastic, paper, and aluminum waste in the past 50 years. This will only happen if we all understand the impact of food waste in landfills and have opportunities to compost our organic waste.

What are we doing to address this issue?

Our primarily focus is compost education. Education can drive both the demand for and usage of compost and the adoption of composting on a large scale which in turn will help to mitigate climate change. Our formal classes, such as Compost Ambassador, and free materials provide information on the science of composting and answer practical questions such as "Why is compost important?",  "How can I compost at home?", and "What is vermicomposting?" We also address issues such as how to properly use and apply compost in your gardens and farms, and the differences between various types of compost. In addition, every fall we organize and sponsor Pumpkin Smash events to introduce and educate our residents to the concept of composting. We are also beginning compost demonstration and research.

Watch this page for more information as we develop content. 




You can help change our compost culture. 

By learning more about composting, seeking opportunities to recycle your food scraps into compost, and telling others about what you learned you will play an important role in increasing the demand for and the rate of composting adoption to reach a “tipping point” where composting is as common as recycling. Together we can build a culture of composting to create a healthy environment, promote local circular economies, support our urban farms and gardens, and meet the EPA’s goal of cutting food waste in half by 2030. Read more about our project Building a Culture of Composting in Greater Chicagoland for which we received an Extension Foundation NTAE Expansion award for 2022-23.

Learn the basics of composting

open compost bin

Compost 101

Just getting started with composting?

Learn the basics by downloading and reading our Compost 101 tip sheet in English or Spanish. 

Compost 101 

Compostaje 101

hands holding worms in compost


No backyard? No problem! Compost at home with an indoor worm composting system. 

Download and read our tip sheet How to Get Started with Indoor Worm Composting

Find out what we've been working on

Food Waste and Composting Technical Assistance

 As part of the University of Illinois Extension Building a Culture of Composting in Greater Chicagoland, a project funded by an NTAE Extension Foundation Expansion Grant, the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) worked with five small food businesses on food waste reduction and composting implementation.

Download and read the report Food Waste Technical Assistance for Small Businesses.

Building a Culture of Composting in Greater Chicagoland

Illinois Extension received a New Technologies for Extension (NTAE) Grant to explore building a culture of composting for 2022-23.

Download and read the project Case Statement.

Download and read the project report, Creating a Composting Culture, an Extension Foundation publication. 


Our collective efforts will...

lead to a future in which everyone views compost as a valuable resource, separates their compostable waste, and has access to a composting service. In this future, greenhouse gas emissions have decreased, global warming has slowed, and more urban farmers are using high-quality, locally produced compost to grow healthy food for our residents. 

Illinois Extension in Cook, Lake, and McHenry Counties is committed to educating residents on the how and why of composting so the future we imagine becomes reality. Contact staff listed below if you have questions about composting. 

Sarah Farley

Sarah Farley

Local Food Systems and Small Farms Extension Educator
Animal Science
Farm Business Management
Food Access
Local Foods and Small Farms
Small Farms
Beef Cattle
Community Garden
Food Safety
Headshot of Extension educator Kathryn Pereira

Kathryn Pereira

Local Food Systems and Small Farms Educator
Urban Agriculture
Farm Business Management
Sustainable Agriculture
Business Development
Local Foods and Small Farms
Community Garden
Farmers Markets
Economic Development
(773) 233-2900