Composing and recycling are two environmentally sound methods of processing waste. Using either way to waste management keeps materials out of landfills and reduces your environmental negative effect. While reusing items or reducing consumption in the first place could have even greater long-term beneficial effects, recycling and composting are good waste management techniques for dealing with materials whose time for discarding has come. In most cases, the primary difference relates to the type of material involved: organic or manufactured.
Composting turns the organic waste you create into a useful product. Materials such as shredded leaves and grass cuttings, vegetable and fruit clippings, newspapers and coffee grounds --- in the correct ratios --- combine with air and water to begin a process of biological decomposition. The compost that results is useful for growing plants or as a soil improvement. Even if you do not maintain your own compost pile, many municipalities pick up yard waste and do their own composting from materials that citizens have discarded.
Recycling takes manufactured products that might otherwise be considered waste and process them into a new use, typically by breaking down the products into raw materials again and reusing those materials to create something new or different. As with composting, the recycling process is accomplished on an individual or broader basis, sometimes involving whole municipalities. When consumers purchase recycled products the environmental benefits are enhanced, because less energy goes into the creation of products from recycled materials than products manufactured from raw materials being used for the first time. (See References 2.)
Recycling and composting both keep many tons of materials out of municipal landfills. Composting gives back to the earth from which its basic materials came; compost is useful for soil enrichment and remediation, not to mention erosion control. Composting also has a pollution preventative element in that organic materials are not producing methane in landfills (see References 3). Recycling relieves pressure on a number of environmental fronts. Less landfill space is consumed when materials are recycled, and fewer landfills must be built in the long run. Also, since recycling means that less raw material is used in manufacturing, less energy is expended in extracting raw materials from the earth -- trees, metal ores and minerals, for example (see References 4).
Composting can save a person or an organization money by reducing expenditures on water, pesticides and fertilizer (see References 3). The economic impact of recycling dwarfs that of composting. Recycling is its own industry, employing more than 1 million people who are paid almost $37 billion annually, working for companies that together gross more than $236 billion per year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.