One mention of composting at home and visions of stinky, slimy piles of rotting food scraps pop into most people’s heads. Managing your own compost bin that requires turning and lifting and sifting is certainly an option to reduce food waste and recycle organics. For most people, however, it’s not our favorite option to recommend.
As a bunch of composting nerds, we’ve turned our fair share of those earthy smelling piles of soil amendment. But we don’t think this is the best option for most people. For the majority of folks who want to compost, from the newly compost-curious to the dedicated zero wasters, community composting is our jam.
Community composting can entail a variety of methods, scenarios, and systems. For today’s purposes, where discussing community composting simply as a means to compost in your local area with the help of a neighbor or two or assistance from an organization with composting at its core. Basically, we’ll consider all the ways you can compost that involve others helping you get from food scraps to finished compost.
If you’re thinking about starting to compost at home, community composting is by far the easiest option in our opinion, if it is available to you. Some people may love the satisfaction of managing the process themselves, and that’s amazing. But we are going to focus on the easiest community composting options for those just looking to reduce their organic waste and not necessarily keen on taking on more responsibility.
Let’s dive into some common community composting systems and processes so you can figure out which one works best for you.
Use a Collection Service (Private or Municipal Hauler)
We might be biased because we run a compost collection service in our local community, but we really do think this is the easiest way to compost if it is accessible to you. Forward-thinking municipalities offer organics collection services in conjunction with their trash and recycling pickup. Many places, especially around urban centers, also have private companies that offer organic recycling services.
If you have access to a municipal or commercial compost collection service, it is one of the simplest and most effective composting methods. They generally tell you exactly what they collect, and they come right to your door to haul away your precious organic waste.
Additionally, most of these services use commercial or industrial composting processes. Thus, they can take a wider array of compostable items, including things like bioplastics, that you may not be able to compost effectively at home or in smaller shared composting systems.
Much like our waste and recycling systems today, large-scale aggregation of organic waste will likely play a significant role in effectively managing our collective organic waste.
We understand, however, that not all locations have compost collection services nor is it financially accessible to everybody. If that is the case for you, consider one of these other community composting options.
Farmers’ Market Organic Recycling Drop-Off Site
Many farmers’ markets have food scrap drop-off sites. Some farmers’ markets work with municipalities while others collaborate with private composting companies to offer customers an option to drop off their food scraps for organic recycling.
Sometimes these programs cost money to use, especially if they are managed by a private compost service. The fees cover costs of employee time to manage the market as well as fees to process the food scraps.
If you live near a farmers’ market that accepts food scraps for composting, you can easily store food scraps in your freezer or in a reusable container in your fridge for several days or even a couple of weeks between drop-offs. Alternatively, if you have an airtight bucket, similar to the 5-gallon plastic buckets we provide to our WasteWell customers, you can keep your food scraps in these buckets for several weeks without issues.
Municipal Organic Recycling Drop-off Sites
Many municipalities host drop-off sites for yard waste. Increasingly, municipalities see the value in diverting food scraps and other organic waste from landfills as well, and they offer drop-off locations for residential food scraps.
If you’re not sure if this is available in your municipality, check out the municipality website and dive into their waste management webpages. A quick search for ‘composting’ or ‘organic recycling’ or ‘organic waste’ on their site will likely lead you to more information about composting options available in your city or town.
Co-op Composting Program or Partnership
Some grocery stores, especially those set up at co-ops, and other types of food markets with a focus on sustainability and local economies partner with composting companies to offer food scrap drop-off services.
While they each have unique operations, a typical structure might involve paying a small fee ($5 or so) at the checkout counter for a collection bucket you take home with you. You can return the bucket to a central drop-off location and purchase a new bucket on your way out of the store. The compost collection service stops by the store a few times a week to swap clean buckets for full buckets and the cycle continues.
The food market often gets a small financial benefit from each bucket purchased in exchange for the space and time they spend overseeing the program.
Community Garden Compost Pile
If you know of shared community gardens in your area, reach out to see if they accept food scraps from local residents. Finished compost is garden gold, so if they have the manpower to manage a compost pile, they’re probably willing to accept your food scraps to build up their natural soil amendments.
School Garden Compost Pile
Many schools run small vegetable gardens. Depending on the system, school lunch food scraps may provide enough feedstock for compost for a school garden. However, it can’t hurt to ask if they can utilize your organic waste.
If you’re dropping off food scraps, you may even consider volunteering a bit of your time to help them manage the compost pile in exchange for the space and effort they share to reduce organic waste in the community.
Public Collection Bins For Food Scraps
We’ve seen a growing number of public collection bins for food scraps in many places. Where composting is required by regulation, many restaurants, stores, and public spaces like airports have compost bins next to their trash and recycling receptacles. While they can’t manage significant drop-offs of all of your food scraps, use these bins when you’re out and about to ensure your organic waste doesn’t end up in a landfill.
Some municipalities, like Boston, Massachusetts, have also started programs like Project Oscar. This program provides large collection bins in public open spaces where residents can drop off their kitchen scraps on their own time.
Some of these programs remain pilot programs, so they are not open to all residents just yet. However, the more people who use them and advocate for them, the more likely municipalities are to allocate funding for them in the future.
Neighbors’ Compost Bin
Never underestimate the power of a good neighbor, especially one who composts. Many composters are happy to share their bin space. If you know your neighbor composts, don’t trash them for trying to save the planet. Their compost bin won’t bring all the critters to your yard or reduce your property value. In fact, as more people compost and significantly reduce their waste, municipal waste management costs may decrease and provide a benefit to taxpayers.
Instead, ask if you can borrow some space in their bin. With their permission, periodically drop your food scraps in their compost bin for a simple, eco-friendly community win that is easy for you and provides feedstock for their finished compost.
ShareWaste Compost Host
Don’t know a neighbor who composts? Download the ShareWaste app and find a compost host in your area. Provided you follow their rules about what types of items they accept, they’ll likely be happy to let you drop off your food scraps in their bin. You drop your compost scraps, and they do all the heavy lifting to process it.
Collective efforts to compost are certainly the future of our organic waste management system. It’s just not reasonable or feasible to expect everyone to manage their own organic waste individually. Community composting is easier, creates connection, and is often cost-effective when done at a reasonable scale.