Is it Legal to Compost in the City?

Q: Is it legal to compost in the City?   A: It sure is. But some restrictions apply. There is, in fact, a City ordinance for composting. It states that uncooked vegetables cannot be mixed into the pile unless you take a class at a local organization and you must have a certificate showing successful completion. No, we’re not talking about a semester-long class. Composting workshops are only 1-2 hours long and are offered by UW-Extension and some area nonprofits. One local organization, Keep Greater Milwaukee Beautiful, is offering 2 composting workshops on October 4 from 6 – 7:30 PM and October 20 from 12 – 1:30PM at Mitchell Park Domes. Register online at or call Emily Brown at 414-272-5462 ext. 105. Classes are $15 and you get a $5 coupon off a compost bin. In this course, you’ll learn how to keep pests out, keep your compost pile healthy, and how to keep your pile going throughout the winter. Some of the basic rules are that compost piles must be:

  • Completely covered (no open piles)
  • 20 feet from a habitable structure (i.e. your house, but can be next to a detached garage)
  • Kept free of animal products (no meat, fish, or dairy)
  • Free of dog and cat waste

A few tricks of the trade are that compost piles should be mixed evenly with organic matter, green grass clippings, and brown, dry leaves. Moisture is also key: too much will inhibit proper decomposition and attract stinky molds and fungi, but too little will also slow down good microbial and earthworm digestion. The smaller the pieces, the quicker they’ll turn to soil. Turning the pile speeds up the process. All you have to do is stick a shovel, pitch fork, or some other tool into the pile and bring up a little bit from the bottom every week or two. This brings oxygen into the pile and also moves the microbes around to work on newly added scraps. You can mix it every day if you wish, or not at all. I usually can’t remember to do it more than once a month. The more you churn, the more those microbes and worms will burn! Calories, that is… via your food scraps and yard clippings. If you have already taken a composting course and are ready to start a pile, you can purchase a composting bin at Keep Greater Milwaukee Beautiful: or call at 272-5462. Fall is a great time to start building your pile. You can keep adding food scraps throughout the winter and you’ll have great soil for your garden come springtime. Send your ecological inquiries to our resident ecologist at .