You recycle your morning paper, remember to bring your own bags to the grocery store, and finally broke your paper napkin habit in favor of cloth. Now, what about your food scraps? Still dumping them into garbage cans to be whisked away to a landfill? According to Mike Lieberman, who runs the site UrbanOrganicGardener.com, there is a big misconception that food scraps will biodegrade in landfills. But landfills are full of junk, like bicycle tires and e-waste, and are packed so tightly the food may not receive enough air to help it break down. "Composting will not only reduce your garbage and keep food from landfills, it'll give you one of the building blocks to growing your own food," said Lieberman, who composted in his New York City apartment for a year before moving to Los Angeles and continuing his practice there.

Compost, a form of decomposing organic matter, is often referred to as "black gold" because of its value in improving soil. Making compost isn't limited to those with backyard space. If you're an urban dweller, Lieberman suggests starting with a 10-gallon metal trash can (with a lid), and a small pail. The 10-gallon trash can will hold your compost pile, but you'll have to drill a few small holes for aeration (search "How to Make a Compost Bin" on Lieberman's site). The small pail will temporary hold food scraps until you're ready to add them to the pile. He kept both in his kitchen. If you have a balcony or patio, you can place them outside.

There are four essentials to composting: carbon, nitrogen, water and air. High-carbon materials are your "browns" (newspaper, cardboard from empty toilet paper rolls, pizza boxes). Add those first, shredding up the paper and cardboard. High-nitrogen materials are your "greens" (veggie scraps, coffee grounds, eggshells). Layer the greens on top of the browns and then continue to alternate layers. Stay away from dairy, meat, or oils. "They'll attract rats," said Kaitlin Rienzo-Stack, a "Master Composter" who teaches composting workshops in D.C. She suggests a 3-to-1 ratio of browns to greens. "The first week I began composting, I got overzealous with the food and the smell was horrible," Lieberman recalled. "But I learned my lesson: not as much greens, more browns." If composting correctly, you shouldn't smell anything at all.

If your compost pile is too dry, you'll need water. "Always keep it slightly damp, like a sponge after you squeeze it out," said Christine McLaughlin, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Composting." "And there has to be air," the last essential element. "This is where turning comes in; the more your turn your compost pile, the faster it'll break down," McLaughlin said. Use an aerating tool, or consider transferring the compost pile back and forth between two trash cans.

Once you have the proper mix of the four elements, microorganisms will break down the matter. You'll know you have compost when "it looks like soil and crumbles in your hands," Lieberman said. It took him about three months to make compost the first time he tried. He uses it as fertilizer for indoor plants, to grow herbs along his windowsill, and to grow lettuce in hollowed-out coconut shells he keeps on his balcony. "It really is simple," he said.

"Plus, it's cool watching the circle of life," McLaughlin added.

Composting at community gardens

Some community gardens may allow you access to their compost pile, even if you don't rent a plot. To find out if you can donate your food scraps, lawn clippings and other yard waste, contact a community garden near you to learn its ground rules (it likely won't want large quantities of yard waste that has been treated with chemical fertilizers and herbicides).

GREEN EVENTS CALENDAR

Renewable energy workshop

Learn about renewable energy options for your home or business in this workshop from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on July 14 at the Green Building Institute, 7977 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring. $20 to $105. Call 443-733-1234 or visit greenbuildinginstitute.org.

Holistic Moms Network meeting

Join area moms for a presentation and discussion on acupuncture. From 7 to 9 p.m. on July 15 at Arlington United Methodist Church, 716 S. Glebe Road. Arlington. Visit http://arlalexva.holisticmoms.org.

Climate change seminar

This Environmental Law Institute seminar is an introduction to climate change. From noon to 2 p.m. on July 28 at the Environmental Law Institute, 2000 L St. NW. Free, but RSVP by July 26. Call 202-939-3800 or visit eli.org.

Bethesda Green 101

Join Bethesda Green for an informational meeting to learn about getting involved in making Bethesda a healthier and more sustainable community. From 4 to 5:30 p.m. on July 29 at 4825 Cordell Ave., Bethesda. Call 240-396-244 or visit bethesdagreen.org.

Natural Living Expo

Enjoy exhibits, products and workshops at Pathways Magazine's Natural Living Expo from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Oct. 3, at University of Maryland University College, 3501 University Blvd., Adelphi. $10. Call 240-247-0393 or visit naturallivingexpo.com

Ongoing

Reel and Meal at the New Deal

Enjoy a meal while watching a film exploring environmental and social issues on the third Monday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at New Deal Cafe, 113 Centerway, Greenbelt. Call 301-474-5642 or visit newdealcafe.com.