Wondering what to do if your city doesn’t offer municipal curbside compost pickup? Never fear; there are plenty of ways to keep food scraps out of landfill.
If you’re anything like us, it kills you to toss a banana peel in the garbage. Watching those carrot shavings languish in the trash can is tantamount to murder. You’re tempted to secretly bury apple cores in the nearby park in the dead of night.
Because trashing food – even if it’s only scraps we’re talking about – just feels so wrong.
And, well, it is wrong. Compost has amazing benefits for the world, and has been a valuable aspect of human stewardship for many millennia. But today, it seems we’ve forgotten its importance.
The result is that more than 15 percent of municipal solid waste ends up being food scraps, with 22 percent of landfills represented by food waste (as of 2015 numbers, the latest available). That’s 39.7 million tons and 30.3 million tons respectively, the difference accounted for by combustion for energy recovery.
Of that original 39.7, only 7.4 percent is combusted and only 5.3 percent is composted. Not good enough, we say.
But assuming your city doesn’t offer municipal compost pickup, and most still don’t, what are you supposed to do? Without that bin, what composting alternatives do you really have?
Well, it turns out, quite a few. If you're wondering how to compost outside your home, here's what you need to know.
Alternative City Compost Programs Are More Common Than You Think
Our team members live in multiple locations in the US, including Chicago and Charlottesville, and neither offers curbside composting services. But that didn’t stop us from learning how to compost responsibly.
In Charlottesville, for instance, the city runs a compost program at various locations, including a recycling center and a city market dropoff site. The process for how to compost your scraps is simple:
- Collect waste scraps in compostable plastic bags inside a bucket
- Tie up bags when full
- Place them in a compost bin
- Drive your bin to a collection center and dump the bagged scraps when your compost bin gets full
Many of these programs are still in pilot stages, so you may have to do some digging (ha!), but you’d be surprised at what you might find in your city.
Many Local Farms Have Good Use for Compost
If your city does not offer composting alternatives through municipal channels, there’s a good chance local farms will have your back instead.
For example, The Urban Canopy in Chicago has an amazing pickup program for food waste. They provide a bucket and lid, you fill the bucket, then they switch it out for a fresh one and haul the scraps to their on-site composting program or a windrow compost site on Chicago’s South Side.
In addition to doing something good for the world, sustainably minded Chicagoans get an added benefit:
“For every 10 pickups, members are rewarded with finished compost, a $5 voucher to a local farmers market or a $5 voucher to one of the restaurants that also compost with Compost Club.”
Ask your nearby farms if they offer that service. You can look online or head to a farmers market and simply ask around. They will give you the best information on how to compost in partnership with a farm. If they don't know, they will almost certainly have other ideas for how to compost right in town or nearby.
Private Companies in Your Area Will Often Offer Contract Pickup Services
If all else fails and you can't figure out how to compost through a dropoff location or farm, consider paying a private company to pick up your scraps. Some waste collection companies operate on a regional level, while others serve local customers.
To find composting alternatives along these lines, Google “local compost pickup” or “paid compost pickup” + your city.
Note that this also works for leaf litter. In fact, when it comes to leaf litter, many cities offer free fall pickup for a number of weeks, so make sure to research your options as well rather than sending yard debris to landfill!
Backyard Composting Is Always a Good Way to Go
If none of the other composting alternatives works, you can always take the tried-and-true backyard composting approach. There are more than ever options for small compost bins today, including ones you can keep on a back stoop, porch or indoor sun porch or laundry room.
No, they don’t smell. Yes, they do work. And if you're not sure how to compost on your own, never fear: There are about a million resources for it on the web. Yep, we're telling you there's no excuse. That's the bad news ... and also the good news. So get cracking and figure out how to compost!
Urban gardening is the perfect accompaniment to composting, by the way, so if you’re considering a home setup, we’d love to help you think through a new backyard oasis at the same time. All you have to do is get in touch!