Free Compost For Chicago-area Gardeners

Did you know that the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) is giving away high-quality compost? Maybe you did, but I sure didn’t. The compost is made from wood chips, leaves, grass clippings, and biosolids derived from water reclamation.


In case that sounds icky to you, have no fear. These organic materials are composted at a temperature high enough to kill all pathogens. Compost from MWRD has been used for over 20 years at parks, schools, golf courses, and athletic fields.

The District will even deliver compost to you – if you order 10 cubic yards or more. That’s a heck of a lot of compost for a home garden, so instead I’ll be driving to the nearest water treatment facility with buckets and a shovel stowed in my trunk. Gardeners can take away as many containers full of compost as they care to fill.

Fortunately, the closest facility for me is less than 2 miles away, but there are 6 other locations throughout Cook County. For more information, follow this link.

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This machine is doing something related to making compost, but I couldn’t tell you what. Photo from Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.

I do make my own compost, but it’s never enough, and so I always end up buying bagged compost from some garden center. This makes me feel bad as the bags contribute to the plastic waste problem, plus they can be somewhat expensive.

Evanston, the suburb adjoining Chicago where I live, used to make its own compost at a nearby park. You could take buckets of the stuff away with you for free. However, the operation shut down after complaints about the smell – an entirely imaginary smell, in my opinion. So the MWRD is making up for my own town’s foolish decision. I only wish I had known years ago.

You’re probably aware of this, but just in case, I should point out that compost makes an excellent mulch and soil amendment. It improves the soil structure and adds organic matter.

Giving away compost makes loads of sense. Gardeners get an affordable and environmentally-friendly soil amendment, and MWRD (along with local governments) gets help with waste disposal.

I might need to buy some more buckets, though.

36 Comments on “Free Compost For Chicago-area Gardeners”

  1. I have seen the facility off of Harlem just north of I-55 but was unaware of the program, although it’s logical, otherwise why would they be doing it…? It’s a great improvement over the smell of sewage I endured for years while birding the Portage, which borders the MWRD property. I have my own mammoth compost pile that has to be reconfigured but I’m waiting for cooler weather.

  2. The DuPage Sanitary District here in DuPage County also has a biosolids program that is great for lawns and landscape beds. They do not recommend the use of this material on vegetable gardens. Their program does not include leaves, grass or wood chips.

  3. That’s great. I’d find room for 10 yards if it were free! My trash company makes compost and potting soil (I honestly can’t tell the difference, even from reading the ingredients), bags it up and sells it for about $5 a bag. It went up this year. It has the organic labeling, but I don’t know how they can be when it’s made from the waste in our green bins. I know not ALL of my waste is organic, so the end product can’t be organic. I make my own, at least it’s made, I just haven’t dug it out in years! It will be nice stuff.

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