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Consider composting this summer

With summer nearly upon us, and the yard work in high gear, it’s time to think about what to do with all that yard waste. Rather than raking, bagging and hauling the waste to a landfill, or to the curb for collection, a more sustainable option to consider is composting. 

“It’s really an effortless thing to do,” said Brian McCarthy, associate director of facilities maintenance and a member of the Medical School’s Sustainability Committee. “I just feel you should put back into the soil as much as you take out of it. Mother Nature does it all the time. It’s a natural cycle.” 

McCarthy has been composting yard waste for some 30 years. In the back corner of his yard he built a four-foot square pen using metal fencing. He deposits yard waste like leaves, twigs, and brush trimmings into the pen, and then just lets it sit. “I made it with metal fencing so air would circulate, and I don’t have to turn the pile over,” McCarthy said. “I just keep filling from the top, and the bacteria take over and start digesting.” 

The only thing from the yard that doesn’t go into McCarthy’s composter is the grass clippings. He uses a mulching lawn mower, keeps the blade sharp, and never has to rake the grass. “Grass is mostly water and nitrogen, so I mulch it all and it goes right back into the soil. No problems,” he said. 

As the yard waste in the composter begins to decay, the pile collapses down on itself, making room for fresh material to be added on top. McCarthy keeps a close eye on the pile, and when it stops collapsing, he knows it’s time to harvest. “Depending on the seasons, every two years or so, the pile stops collapsing and I harvest the soil,” he said. “It’s just the most beautiful rich black dirt you can imagine, and I spread it all over the yard.” 

The composting process doesn’t generate any offensive odors, McCarthy said. It does, however, generate heat as the microbes break down the plant matter. “My favorite part of composting is when we get the first snow of the winter and I look out in the yard and see the steam rising from the pile,” McCarthy said. “It gets pretty warm in that pile.” 

For more information about composting, see the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection webpage: The site also has a list of communities that may have discounted compost bins available for sale. Residents of Worcester can learn more from the city’s composting page at:

“I hope people will think about composting this year,” said Melissa Lucas, UMass Chan sustainability and energy efficiency manager. “Every sustainable step we take at home, or at work, makes a difference.”