Using Compost

The key to enhancing a lawn, garden, turf or landscape is to cultivate better soil. And the best way to do that is to condition soil with compost. Learn more about where to purchase compost, what the benefits are and how to use finished compost.


One pager intro on using compost


Finished compost varies from processor to processor. Learn where to purchase compost in Illinois, how to understand compost certification and quality, and the specifications for compost use based on the project.

Compost certification

US Composting Council STA:  The US Composting Council’s Seal of Testing Assurance Program (‘STA’) is a compost testing, labeling and information disclosure program to provide the information needed to get the maximum benefit from the use of compost. The program was created in 2000 and is the consensus of many of the leading compost research scientists in the United States. 

OMRI Certification:  Organics Material Review Insitute (OMRI) supports organic integrity by developing clear information and guidance about materials, so that producers know which products are appropriate for organic operations. OMRI is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides an independent review of products, such as fertilizers, pest controls, livestock health care products, and numerous other inputs that are intended for use in certified organic production and processing. When companies apply, OMRI reviews their products against the organic standards. Acceptable products are OMRI Listed® and appear on the OMRI Products List© or OMRI Canada Products List©. OMRI also provides technical support and training for professionals in the organic industry.

Compost specifications

When purchasing compost, the specifications vary depending on the project.


Lawns – Aerate, then apply 1/4-1/2 inches Compost and gently rake into existing soil. Reseed and water as usual.
Landscaping – Spread 1/3 inches of Compost as a top dressing; seed or plant as normal.
Raised Flower Beds – Use compost to fill a raised bed and blend with topsoil. Plant annuals or perennials and then mulch.
Vegetable Gardens – Apply 1-3 inches of compost and rototill or mix into existing soil.
Fall Garden Cover Crop – Spread 1-3 inches of compost as a cover crop in the fall to protect exposed soil. In the spring rototill cover crop into the soil and process with spring garden as usual.


CalTrans (the Department of Transportation in California) has developed required specifications for compost:

The compost producer shall be fully permitted in accordance with requirements of the Illinois EPA and any other State and Local Agencies that regulate Solid Waste Facilities. If exempt from State permitting requirements, the composting facility shall certify that it follows all guidelines and procedures for the production of compost meeting environmental health standards.

The compost producer shall be a participant in the United States Composting Council’s (“USCC”) Seal of Testing Assurance (“STA”) program.

At contractor’s option, compost shall be derived from any single, or mixture of the following feedstock materials:

Green material consisting of chipped, shredded, or ground vegetation; or clean processed recycled wood products.
Class A, exceptional quality biosolids composts.
Mixed food waste.
Feedstock materials shall be composted to reduce weed seeds, pathogens and deleterious materials.

Compost shall not be derived from mixed municipal solid waste.

Compost shall not contain paint, petroleum products, herbicides, fungicides or other chemical residues harmful to animal life or plant growth.

Compost shall possess no objectionable odors.

Metal concentrations in compost shall not exceed maximum metal concentrations.


Compost-amended soil has many benefits. Especially when dealing with soil damaged by human development.

Incorporating compost into soil can improve water conservation, reduce non-point source pollution, and promote healthier plant life. By implementing composted materials into landscapes, it will improve soil quality and reduce associated maintenance issues and costs.

IFSCC Gold Partner, Midwest Organics Recycling on the benefits of compost

Finished compost is odor-free and stores well. The primary benefits of using compost are:

  • Healthier soil.
  • Increased water retention.
  • Improved crop quality and yield.
  • Less reliance on pesticides.
  • Reduced fertilizer.

Compost is a natural, organic substitute for fertilizer use.

IFSCC member St. Louis Composting on the benefits of compost

Compost is a multi-tasking agent with the unique ability to naturally improve the chemical, physical and biological components of soil. Benefits include:

  •  Improved plant/turf quality. Compost reduces transplant shock and longer-term decreases plant stress response to drought, disease and insects. Because of the intense heat generated in compost piles, compost contains no weeds, insects or insect eggs/ larvae. It also reduces salt damage by restoring pH balance to soil.
  • Stronger soil structure. Thanks to a high humus content, compost reduces the compaction of heavy soil, enhances sandy soil and increases both top-soil and soil fertility while rebuilding worn-out soil. Over time, compost makes any type of soil easier to work.
  • Long-lasting improvements. Rain and watering cause chemical fertilizers to leach out of soil. Conversely, compost binds with the soil and releases its nutrients over a multi-year period.
  • Improved irrigation. Compost can hold six times its weight in water, which reduces the need for and cost of irrigation.
Customer Testimonial for Midwest Companies OMRI certified organic compost:

“I had compost spread on top of a hill on my field that was lacking soil nutrients, and the crop was not growing well. The following year, there was a significant increase in my soybean yield, the beans were all the way up the stalk and the beans were taller. The compost works very well conditioning the soil along with its added benefits to the crop. I plan to spread compost on the remaining part of my field.” Dan Schultz – Bristol, IL


Policy was enacted in Illinois supporting and encouraging the use of compost through the Illinois Department of Transportation and state agencies with landscape projects.

Public Act 100-0951 (effective 1/1/2019)

Requires IDOT to conduct 2 pilot demonstrations using compost amended soil (that meets STA standard or equivalent) prior to December 31, 2019 and to reports its findings to the General Assembly within one year of the completion of the pilot studies.

This Act also requires any state agency that undertakes a landscaping project requiring the use of offsite soil for landscape-related use, and that is located within 10 miles of any an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency permitted compost facility, to request a separate bid for compost amended soil as part of that project. If the cost for the compost amended soil is equal to or less than soil, the project must use the compost amended soil.

This allows construction companies to incorporate sustainability into their project plans and practice a circular economy by using composted materials rather than new material.

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