Environmental Resource Center

The Environmental Resource Center educates and assists residents, businesses and organizations in Northern Illinois with environmental questions and concerns.

Be sure to check out our media library.

What Is Composting?

Composting is a process of recycling unusable organic material back into something usable. Almost any non-animal-based food or non-synthetic material can be broken down into compost. The end result is a nutrient-rich fertilizer that can be used for gardening or potted plants.

Composting Basics

Three Basic Ingredients

  • Browns: dead leaves, paper, yard waste (high in carbon)
  • Greens: food scraps, grass clippings, and eggshells (high in nitrogen)
  • Water: water helps facilitate the breakdown of your materials

The Right Combination

  • Should be roughly equal greens to browns
  • Moisten materials as you add them to the pile
  • Ensure that you turn over the compost pile every couple of days and remoisten
  • Once the material on the bottom is dark and soil-like it is ready for use!

What Can You Compost?

Can be composted

  • Fruit and veggie scraps
  • Coffee grounds, filters, and tea bags
  • Leaves, grass clippings, clover, pine needles/cones, and straw
  • Feathers, corn cobs, shredded paper, and paper towels
  • Manure
  • Bread, nutshells, and eggshells
  • Dead leaves/plants, potting soil, dried flowers, and sawdust
  • Hair
  • Dryer lint (only if dryer sheets were not used)

Cannot be composted

  • Weeds with seeds
  • Sand, coal, and charcoal ashes
  • Colored, glossy or film paper
  • Meat and fish scraps, cheese/dairy, oils and grease
  • Pet feces or cat litter
  • Dead animals
  • Large pieces of wood or branches, treated lumber, and warehouse pallets
  • Tin, aluminum, and steel
  • Peanut butter

Benefits of Composting

  • Lowers carbon footprint
  • Enriches soil
  • Reduces need for chemical fertilizers
  • Conserves water and money

Related Resources

EPA Composting At Home

The average American spends up to $500 per year on cleaning products. Many of these cleaning products have adverse effects on human and animal health.

Some of this can be avoided by:
  • Using reusable products
  • Make your own household products
  • Replace cleaning solvents with products like vinegar and baking soda

Why Make Your Own Cleaning Products

  • Making your own products save you a lot of money
  • They are generally non-toxic
  • Safer for animals and children
  • Much smaller impact on the environment
  • Better for water quality

Benefits of Composting

  • Lowers carbon footprint
  • Enriches soil
  • Reduces need for chemical fertilizers
  • Conserves water and money

Quick Links

How To Save On Household Cleaning Supplies

Makeup can be very expensive and many products are made with harmful chemicals, which means you spend a lot on things that are potentially harmful. It is possible to make your own makeup at home. You get to easily choose what you put on your own skin every day.

Benefits of Homemade Makeup

  • Saves a lot of money
  • Better for your skin (no harsh chemicals)
  • No animal testing
  • Better for the environment
  • Customizable for your own skin type

Benefits of Composting

  • Lowers carbon footprint
  • Enriches soil
  • Reduces need for chemical fertilizers
  • Conserves water and money

Quick Links

Programmable Thermostats

  • Lowering thermostat by two degrees lowers heating bills by average of 5%

Power Strips and Surge Protectors

  • Vampire or phantom power usage

Window Insulators

  • UV Films during summer
    • Films that reflect UV light during summer, making the house cooler
  • Interior plastic films for winter
    • Variety of options for insulating materials
    • Reusable materials can be used (bubble wrap)

High-efficiency Furnace

  • Modern furnaces only 80% minimum efficiency
  • Very important for older houses with poor insulation
  • Possible to install return ducts in attics

Adding Insulation

  • Adding insulation not terribly effective
  • Only worth it if insulation is non-existent

Single vs. Double Pane Windows

  • Not generally cost-effective
  • Energy savings are minimal in the short-term

On-demand Water Heating

  • Tank-less water heater
  • No constant heating of 80+ gallons of water

Greywater Heat Recovery Systems

  • Used water that can be captured and cycled back into water heating system
  • Primarily used for shower or gardening
  • $200-300 with payback period of 2 to 3 years
  • Can save 10% on total household energy bills

Quick Links

Horizontal vs. Vertical Geothermal Systems

  • Horizontal
    • Pros:
      • Cheaper
      • Easy to install
    • Cons:
      • A lot of yard space required
      • Can use up to 400 square feet of land
  • Vertical
    • Pros:
      • Less invasive
      • More efficient
    • Cons:
      • More expensive
      • Drilling equipment used on your property

Solar-based Geothermal

  • Evacuated Solar Tubes
    • Used for water heating
    • Installed on roof or wherever solar gain is highest
  • Solar Chimney
    • Similar to passive geothermal
    • Helps regulate structural temperature
    • Requires a tower be built, so better for new homes or under construction

Quick Links

Choosing and Installing Geothermal Heat Pumps

Why Plant Natives?

  • Low maintenance
  • Helps support bee populations
  • Less fertilizer and traditional maintenance than typical lawns
  • Great for wildlife (butterflies, hummingbirds, etc.)
  • Requires less water

Setting Up A Native Garden

  • Make sure to check local ordinances
    • Some communities have rules for regulating native planting
  • It is important to know which species are native to your area

Quick Links

Native Plant Finder


  • Easy to obtain
  • Easy to install
  • Reduce water usage
  • Can have one or more barrels linked in a chain


  • Some local ordinances restrict use
  • Gutters required for use
  • Water needs to be elevated to create pressure

Quick Facts/Suggestions

  • Basic systems are easy to install, but you are responsible for actually using them
  • Different types of systems can be used to meet different levels of need
  • Lawn and garden watering make up 40% of summer water use, can be met with rain

Quick Links

How to Collect Water with Rain Barrels

Different Forms of Reuse


  • The process of taking post-consumer products and turning them into products with more value than the original.


  • Recovery of material from post-consumer products that cannot be fully recycled
  • Leads to products of lesser quality than original
  • Ex. melting plastic bottles for use in polyester clothing


  • Process of breaking down a product into its base components
  • Can be made into products of comparable quality
  • Ex. breaking down scrap paper into pulp to make new paper

Tips for Recycling

  • Make sure you understand what materials can actually be recycled
  • Wash recyclable before putting into receptacle
  • Know the recycling codes (generally 1-5 are accepted everywhere)
    • PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)
    • HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)
    • PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)
    • LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene)
    • PP (Polypropylene)

Quick Links

DeKalb County Local Recycling

Low Flow Plumbing

  • Faucet Aerators
    • Attachment that mixes air into water stream
    • Helps conserve water by using less
  • Efficient Faucets
    • High efficiency can save around 30% of water usage
  • Showerheads
    • Maintains pressure that one is accustomed to, while reducing water used

High-Efficiency Water Appliances

  • Toilets
    • Toilets made after 1994 are required to use less than 1.6 gallons per flush
    • Some older models can use up to 7 gallons per flush
    • Upgrading a toilet can save water usage and money
  • High-Efficiency Washer
    • Uses 33% less water annually, roughly 2000 gallons of water
    • Uses 25% less energy

Quick Links

Contact Us

Institute for the Study of the Environment, Sustainability and Energy
325 Montgomery Hall
DeKalb, IL 60115
Phone: 815-753-1814
Email: envs@niu.edu
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