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Community-scale composting is coming of age, marked by a profusion of new interest and agri-preneurial composting ventures. Take two things, composting and community—each held in high esteem by the eco-conscious of today, and two things that have never been more needed on our planet—and put them together. This is why we have a movement on our hands.

Author James McSweeney has worked with hundreds of composters, large and small, on everything from site planning, design, and management to compost heat recovery and livestock feeding systems. From that experience, he has created this book as a technical resource for farmers, designers, service providers, and organics recycling entrepreneurs and advocates of all types, with a focus on developing micro- to medium-scale infrastructure that can enable communities to return sustenance to soils in their local food system.


464 pages

Book Art:

Full-color photographs and illustrations throughout


8 x 10 inch




Chelsea Green Publishing



  • CHAPTER ONE: Common Models in Community Scale Composting
  • CHAPTER TWO: Composting Methods and Technologies
  • CHAPTER THREE: The Composting Process
  • CHAPTER FOUR: Compost Recipes and Feedstocks
  • CHAPTER FIVE: Processing Capacity and Site Assessment
  • CHAPTER SIX: Compost Site Infrastructure and Equipment
  • CHAPTER SEVEN: Bin and Bay Composting Systems
  • CHAPTER EIGHT: Turned Windrow Composting Systems
  • CHAPTER NINE: Aerated Static Pile Composting
  • CHAPTER TEN: In-Vessel Composting Systems
  • CHAPTER ELEVEN: Composting with Animals
  • CHAPTER TWELVE: Food Scrap Generation and Collection
  • CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Compost Site Management
  • CHAPTER FOURTEEN: Compost End Uses and Markets

The main scope of the book is dedicated to compost system options and design, from basic sizing and layout to advanced techniques such as design of aerated static pile composting systems. Management techniques and operational considerations are also covered, including testing, feedstock characteristics, compost recipe development, and system-specific best management practices.

Though focused on recycling systems that include food scraps—the fastest growing sector of community-scale composting—the book is informed by and relevant to other composting sectors and will be a vital resource for anyone invested in diverting organic materials away from landfilling and incineration.

Whether you’re an engineer, community organizer, permaculturalist, public sector waste manager, farmer, or just a dirt lover, Community-Scale Composting Systems is the definitive manual on composting, written at a crucial time when communities are just starting to see what the composting movement will ultimately offer our food systems, local and regional economies, and planet.



“With Community-Scale Composting Systems, James McSweeney makes a powerful contribution to the growth of our organics recycling movement. Easy to read, the book is chock full of practical information folks can use to get started or to grow their operation. As a card-carrying member of what James calls the Cult of Compost, I highly recommend it.”

—Cary Oshins, associate director, US Composting Council


Community-Scale Composting Systems is far and away the best reference on composting at the community scale. Indeed, it is one of the best references about composting altogether. The book’s range is impressive, offering current and practical advice to practitioners of many applications of composting, from small, on-site systems to larger systems that border on commercial scale. Community-scale and on-site composting are often the most logical and most sustainable options for managing organic residuals, especially food waste. Mr. McSweeney comprehensively covers this important recycling niche within this useful and enjoyable book.”

—Robert Rynk, professor, SUNY Cobleskill


“If agriculture is to transition away from a dependence on petroleum-based fertilizers to local fertility sources in a meaningful way, then we will need to relearn the art of using our neighbors’ leaves, grasses, manures, and other ‘wastes’ to fuel our farms. This book shows how to do just that on a community scale. It is the most urgent and important work I know of, and McSweeney explains it better than anyone.”

—Ben Hartman, author of The Lean Farm and The Lean Farm Guide to Growing Vegetables


“Too often we hear that food waste cannot be diverted from landfills and incinerators due to lack of composting facilities. Community-Scale Composting Systems debunks that myth by providing a much-needed roadmap for how to compost successfully at a community scale. Micro-composting is now the fastest growing segment of the composting industry and will undoubtedly grow even faster with this resource.”

—Brenda Platt, director, Composting for Community Initiative, Institute for Local Self-Reliance


“James has written an almost encyclopedic handbook to address the needs of small- to medium-sized community compost efforts. This book provides a good and detailed consideration of the broad range of possible approaches and challenges to community aspirations to feed the soil while mitigating wastefulness. If you are thinking of rescuing wasted food in your community, you would be well advised to start by reading this book.”

—Karl Hammer, founder and president, Vermont Compost Company


Community-Scale Composting Systems is a well-written and organized practical guide to the diverse systems used for food waste composting. It presents community collection program examples; methods for the design of small- to large-scale composting facilities; and the properties used to characterize feedstocks, the composting process, and finished composts. Detailed case studies are used to describe creative and successful circular food systems. It is essential reading for ‘rotstars’ committed to understanding and mastering the complexities of organics recycling.” 

—Frederick C. Michel, Jr., professor of biosystems engineering, The Ohio State University


“As composting is increasingly being adopted by neighborhoods, farms, community gardens, schools, businesses, and entrepreneurs, James McSweeney’s timely book provides comprehensive information to help them effectively recycle organic waste into soil amendments that can be used to grow more food. McSweeney’s in-depth guide provides the answers needed to design and manage successful composting operations.”

—Rhonda Sherman, author of The Worm Farmer’s Handbook


Community-Scale Composting Systems taps into James McSweeney’s experience as both a community composting practitioner and educator. His guidance and how-to tips are invaluable to newcomers and old-timers alike.”

—Nora Goldstein, editor, BioCycle