Food scraps, yard trimmings and other organic materials don’t belong in the garbage, but what can you do with them? While many people compost at home, turning organic matter into a nutrient-rich fertilizer, not everyone has the space to build their own compost pile. Luckily, anyone can keep scraps out of the trash by donating them to local compost programs. From local farmers and gardeners to municipalities and even composting companies, a growing number of organic collection services are helping communities divert tons of materials from the waste stream – saving money and returning valuable nutrients to the soil.
If you are just getting into saving your organic scraps, the first post in our composting series explains which organic items you can compost and the second post offers tips on how to maintain your own compost pile. This post describes what you can do with scraps you want to save, but don’t want to keep at home. Once you find a compost program in your area, collecting and donating your organic waste will become second nature.
Local Gardens and Farms
Check with local community gardens or farms to see if they accept donations. If you buy food from local producers, ask if they have their own compost and find out if they need more materials. Not only will you be able to recycle your scraps, you’ll be supporting the businesses that provide you with fresh, local foods. If you don’t know your local farmers or aren’t involved in a community garden, use the Eat Well Guide to find sustainable farms and farmers’ markets near you. You can also search for a local non-profits or community organizations that run composting drop-off sites in your area, such as New York City's Lower East Side Ecology Center. Your neighbors and people in your social network may be eager to add more browns and greens to their backyard compost as well. Ask around!
If you’re lucky, your city may have already implemented voluntary or mandatory composting programs. Organic material comprises nearly a third of the waste stream in many areas, contributing significantly to the cost of hauling refuse to landfills. Many cities, states, regions and countries have established (or are working to develop) public composting programs to reduce those costs and take advantage of valuable organic resources, although municipal composting rates are still low globally.
If your district has a compost pick-up program, you likely already know about it – pick-up operations, just like trash and recycling, are often mandated by municipalities. You can still donate your organic waste to farms and gardens, or compost at home, if you prefer, but by participating in large-scale pick-up, you’ll avoid the need to transport your scraps. Cities without large-scale composting programs often offer other composting initiatives to encourage residents to save their scraps. Check to see if your state or city offers public composting services.
Once you find a compost program in your area, collecting and donating your organic waste will become second nature.
San Francisco has been composting for over fifteen years. With an ultimate goal of generating zero waste, San Francisco was the first major US city to implement city-wide composting and has already achieved an 80 percent diversion rate of its total discards. All residents and businesses are required to separate refuse into recycling, compost and landfill waste, and the city provides guidance for various sectors navigating the system.
Many other municipalities are following suit. New York City, which generates over 1.2 million tons of organic waste per year, is in the midst of pilot programs to explore incorporating composting into its refuse system. While NYC funds a number of drop-off locations across the city for residents looking to compost, large-scale organic collection is still on the horizon with plans to collect this waste as a source of energy. Small cities are composting too. The city of West Lafayette, IN, for instance, has taken advantage of its local university to use food waste collection as fuel for its wastewater treatment plant.
Hire a Composter
Composting companies will haul away your scraps. This is ideal for large projects that produce a lot of refuse (like yard work and food services) in which hauling the volume of organic waste created requires a truck. Food businesses produce a tremendous amount of organic waste, and many companies have been established to facilitate easy recycling, especially in areas where composting is mandatory, such as Food Waste Disposal in Charleston, SC, Bootstrap Compost in Boston, MA. Some commercial compost haulers serve residential clients as well, collecting waste from households seeking to avoid a weekly trip to drop off the compost. These companies often provide clean composting bins at each pick-up.
Composting at Work
If you’ve seen the volume of food waste you create at home, consider how much more waste is generated at your workplace. Many businesses have expressed an interest in “greening” their operations, and keeping leftover food and other compostables out of the garbage is a great way to reduce environmental impact with little investment. You could hire a commercial composter, but if your company encourages employees to do volunteer work, consider adding compost hauling to the list of volunteer opportunities. Check out this story of corporate composting to get a few ideas about how to present this concept to your workplace.
You don’t have to compost at home to recycle your organic scraps! Finding a local grower or program in your area makes saving and donating your scraps easy. For assistance finding a local composter, you can contact your city’s waste management department, search FindAComposter.com, or turn to City Farmer’s Compost Hotline with questions. And if composting isn’t accessible in your area, consider starting your own program or calling for organic waste disposal through your city government.
We aren’t done yet! The final installment in our composting series will offer tips for collecting and storing compostable scraps at home or in your office before taking them out to your own compost pile or donating them to your local composting program.