Considering how much I am into gardening these days, you would think that I would be all about composting at home as well. I’ve even had a number of people ask me to write about my composting process. Here’s the (not so) secret: I don’t do any composting myself, and I never have, other than helping a little bit as a child when we did have a compost for our garden.
We live in an area with curbside pickup; yard waste and compost get thrown together in our big gray bin and each week (except when it snows too much and the garbage trucks can’t make it up our hill). Really, I put no more thought into composting than I do our recycling: anything that belongs in those bins simply gets put in there and then put to the curb once a week.
If we didn’t have curb composting, I’d likely have started my own at this point, but reminding myself of the true cost of saying yes, it’s not something that is worth my limited time to do on my own when I have such an easy option. And since it’s taken to an industrial compost facility, meat and dairy are compostable there as well.
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The only ONE thing we do that requires an extra step over simply tossing our food scraps into the yard waste bin is to keep a small compost bin on our kitchen counter and bio bags to catch the scraps before they go outside. While we initially made do with an old plastic bucket with a plate to cover it and no liners, having a nice compost bin and the bio bag liners make it a much nicer experience (no smell and no mess).
Regardless, composting is so simple and easy for us because of our curbside pickup. I had never considered what we would have done without that option, but when Laurie at The Three Year Experiment told me she had actually gotten her town to start compost pickup, I knew I had to know more.
She may say she hasn’t been a huge environmentalist, but taking the initiative to get curb composting to her neighborhood is sustainability rockstar status in my book. With that, I’ll turn the rest of this post over to her to tell the story of how she managed to get curbside compost to her little corner of the world.
Curb Composting: How to Bring It to Your Neighborhood
I’m going to make a confession, and it’s a hard one to make on this blog that is dedicated to being kinder to the earth: I’ve never been much of an environmentalist.
Yes, over the years I would half-heartedly recycle. But I never went to the trouble to wash out those pesky peanut butter jars, and if the recycling bin got too full I’d just chuck stuff right into the trash.
I didn’t even really pay much attention to the trash we made, at all, aside from getting annoyed in the summer months that it stank and attracted maggots.
But a few years ago, I stumbled upon Bea Johnson’s blog Zero Waste Home, and something about her incredible, ridiculous goal to eliminate all the trash her family produced resonated with me.
Hi, I’m Laurie, and just over two years ago, my family of four started a journey to engineer our lives to have more freedom and travel time. Six months ago, we became location independent. Along the way, we’ve worked towards financial independence, embraced minimalism, and as I just mentioned, discovered the Zero Waste movement. I document our journey towards freer living at The Three Year Experiment.
After I discovered Zero Waste Home, I still wasn’t prepared to eliminate all of our family’s waste. But I did start paying more attention to what I bought at the grocery store, bringing my own mesh bags and even jars to the store so I brought less plastic packaging home.
I even bought our family a compost bin, which we put across the expanse of our large back yard. I put a bucket under our sink, and we filled it up with food waste pretty quickly. Then I’d trudge across the yard and open the bin, using the pitchfork to turn the food scraps, and more often than not ending up with a heap of smelly stuff.
Winters were particularly hard to compost, because we had to plod across the six feet of snow in the yard (we lived in New Hampshire), brush the mound of snow off the top of the bin, and pry the icy levers on the sides open. The pitchfork was almost always frozen into the ground, so we didn’t turn the compost, instead just letting it pile up in an icy chunk.
We could never dump any kind of meat into our bin, especially in the summer, because it attracted bears and racoons. More than once, I had to put the bin back together after a bear swiped at it and split it into four pieces, scattering our food scraps across the yard.
After a year or two of this, we gave up, and sent our food waste back to the trash. Which left me with an unhappy, unsettled feeling, because I loved that we had effectively reduced the amount of trash we made by 3/4, and that we no longer had stinky, smelly bags to haul to the dump.
So when I saw a Curbside Composting booth one day at our local farmer’s market, I stopped. Jessica, the owner, talked to me a bit about what curbside composting was. “We give you a 5-gallon bucket, with a lid,” she explained, and then you take it outside to your curb once a week and we pick it up for you, leaving you a clean bucket for the following week. Oh, and you can compost anything.”
“Meat?” I asked.
“Yes, meat, egg shells, any kind of food waste…”
“Coffee grounds? The leftovers in the back of the fridge?”
I went home to think more about it and then wrote her with a million questions. What happened to our food scraps? Were they composted? Could we get the compost? How much did this service cost? Would it smell up the house as bad as the previous compost bucket had?
Jessica patiently explained that the scraps went to an industrial composting center, and they were composted. We could request up to four bags of compost per month with our service, she just needed a week’s notice. The service was $19.99 to pick up one 5-gallon bucket of compost per week. It shouldn’t smell at all since the bucket had a close-fitting lid.
Oh, and the service wasn’t available in my small town. Sorry.
I was sad. This service seemed perfect for a fairly-lazy quazi-environmentalist (friend of the earth? Only-when-it’s-convenient hippy?). So the following week at the farmer’s market, I asked what it would take to bring the service to our town. She told me that if five committed families signed up, she could collect compost in our town.
I was a woman on a mission. I posted info on Facebook, sent emails to my friends, talked it up with my running group. Finally, I found four other friends that I browbeat convinced to join me in Curbside Compost Pickup.
Immediately, my family fell in love with the service. We all learned to scrape our plates into the bucket under the sink. We through our veggie and food preparation scraps right into the bucket, moving it directly under the cutting board for big meals.
On Wednesday mornings, I’d pull our now-full bucket out to the mailbox, and on Wednesday afternoons, grab the empty and clean new bucket.
We started creating about one bag of trash every two weeks, when previously, we filled up our trash can once every 1-2 days.
And our compost never smelled, even with meat scraps, because of the tight-fitting lid.
Over the next few months, I realized that our family was changing its behavior because of the compost bin. We were wasting less food, because we were becoming more aware of how much we threw away. We bought less produce and used what we had in the fridge up before buying more. We even threw away less leftovers, because when you fill up an entire compost bucket each week, you start to become hyper-aware of how much food you waste, and you almost subconsciously change your behavior to improve.
I noticed that we were spending less at the grocery store, and I had a better handle on what to buy when I went, because I was paying more attention to what was in the fridge.
We happily composted for almost a year, and then our family moved to North Carolina.
It was a dream come true, many years in the making, to move from chilly New Hampshire, where we had no family at all, to warm and sunny North Carolina, where my sister lives 12 minutes away.
But we couldn’t bring our curbside composting with us. While we did now have a dedicated recycling bin to use each week, try as I might, I couldn’t find a curbside composting service that would service our neighborhood.
We went back to tossing our food scraps in the trash. And now that I had experience composting, it drove me absolutely crazy to chuck so much food waste into the landfill.
I did what I could to reduce the amount of food we wasted, even freezing my veggie scraps to make broth, but it wasn’t the same.
I filled out online forms for composting companies, and finally, one company wrote me back. “Ask your friends and neighbors to fill out this form, and if enough families are interested, we’ll look into offering curbside compost to your area.”
Again, I started a Facebook campaign, posted on NextDoor, and talked up curbside composting with my friends. We need fifteen committed customers (because this is a larger urban area), so I’m going to keep talking it up.
We haven’t brought curbside composting to my neighborhood yet, but I’m not giving up.
Curbside composting is a fantastic service that should be offered in more areas, because it helps those of us who aren’t as committed to what can be the hard work of composting to creating less food waste with our trash.
People are willing to pay for a service that helps them do the right thing, if it’s offered. I know that the $20 per month I spent on the service was easily saved at the supermarket in one week, with the reduced amount of food I was now buying.
I know my friends want to compost, but because of HOA rules in our neighborhood, aren’t able to. I’m going to keep talking the service up, and encouraging composting companies to come to our area, because this is a service whose time has come.
I may be a lukewarm environmentalist, but I’m a huge fan of curbside compost, and I’m convinced we’re going to rally enough interest to bring it to my neighborhood, once again.
-Laurie, Three Year Experiment
36 thoughts on “Curbside Composting: Why and How I Brought it to My Neighborhood (Guest Post By The Three Year Experiment)”
So what do they do with the stuff? My neighbor composts and uses it in her garden. Does this service take the compost to local farms or plant nurseries for use there?
You can actually re buy it at plant nurseries, etc 🙂
It’s actually industrial composting, like Angela has, so the food waste is taken to a facility that turns it into compost much faster than it takes in a backyard garden. And they bring it back to you for your garden or they sell it back to stores.
Very interesting solution. I love waste streams being converted to products.
I had never heard of curbside composting service before. That’s awesome! We do a little backyatd composting but we have to be careful about which tablescraps we put in (no meats). And stirring the backyard compost box weekly is a bit of a pain. I bet more people would compost if they had a convenient curbside service like this.
Unfortunately, I don’t think “most” people compost even with the ease of curbside composting. The City of Seattle actually passed a law a few years back though that makes it illegal to put food waste in your garbage (it must go in your yard waste/compost bin).
Kind of sad that they had to mandate it. 🙁
That’s pretty cool, but I’m afraid to compost at all. There are many restaurants in the area and there are numerous rats around. I haven’t seen any, but I know they’re around.
We put all compostable stuff in the yard debris bin (no meat.) I assume it goes to the compost after collection. We’re pretty vigilant because trash collection comes every 2 weeks. Yard debris and recycle collection comes every week.
Well then you ARE composting if you’re putting it in the yard waste! This is exactly what we do – leveraging the scale of industrial composting 🙂
I *love* our town curb side food waste collection. Since we don’t have outdoor space, composting for us would be nigh on impossible (we could’ve gone the wormery route but to be honest we probably wouldn’t have!). This way we get to reduce our waste so much.
Good luck bringing this to your new town Laurie
Right, that’s a very good point. Without outdoor space, you CAN’T compost without curbside collection.
Thanks so much, Maria! I would kill for a setup like Angela has in Seattle, but I’m determined to keep working at it til we get it here! 🙂
i just found out we can do that here in buffalo. $135/year and you get some compost back that’s done the right way. no more rat adventures in composting for us. i sent some of those red wiggler worms to my friend in new orleans and they did a tremendous job in his gigantic raised beds!
So, I’m guessing that means you’ve signed up??!
we probably will. i have to ask mrs. smidlap which service we should use. i think she knows one of those guys in charge of one. she knows everybody because she’s not a recluse like me.
We actually don’t have multiple services to choose from. Neat that you have options.
Freddy, you should do it. That’s a really good price! Mine costs $20/month.
That sounds really good. We have fortnightly green waste collections here, but that’s for yard waste. I suppose people could use it for compost, but no one ever does.
Apparently it’s time to change that! 😉
Laurie, How encouraging to read about your efforts and persistence in composting your food waste. It’s a little more hassle than curbside composting, but you may want to check on makesoil.org to see if anyone in your area has a compost drop-off site in your area. Individuals, community gardens, and other sites that value waste stream diversion and healthy soil are registering with this site as drop-off locales for food scraps in order to accumulate the raw material to build soil.
Another option would be to connect with local gardeners near you to see if any of them would be interested in adding your food waste to their compost piles. A neat initiative that was launched by such gardeners and waste stream diverters in my area is the Pinellas Community Composting Alliance, which you can read more about at https://mypcca.org/what-is-community-composting/.
Okay, that makesoil.org suggestion is awesome!! I had never considered that there might be something like this you could search out (but Lopez Island for example has industrial composting at one farm that’s open to the public). Makes sense that they wouldn’t be alone there.
Our local library offers this program for free! We take their composting buckets, leave our address, then someone comes to pick the buckets. It’s so cool!
Oh wow, that’s a new one I haven’t heard of! That’s so neat. One more reason to love the library 🙂
That is among the best examples I have heard of innovative ways libraries are adapting in this digital age and finding new ways to add value in their communities.
It’s truly a great program.
Very cool, we don’t have curbside where I live but I’m going to start my own composting this year in my backyard!
Good luck!! Do you garden as well then?
The single most important part about organic composting is this…don’t just make the convenience of it allow you to forget that we MUST stop creating food waste in the first place. 25% of all food in the US ends up as waste and this in unacceptable, consider the energy wasted to grow, create, package, produce and ship that food and then think of the energy wasted to collect and dispose of the waste after the fact. Then consider food waste that goes to the landfill can’t decompose properly and becomes methane which is 30 times more toxic than co2 in the atmosphere. Whew….now that is out of the way let’s make sure we don’t waste ANY food if possible, let’s make sure it goes to compost and let’s keep as much as we can out of the trash ! 🙂
Great article Laurie and Angela…keep sharing these messages.
That being said was shocked that compositing isn’t part of your city services there, our local government provides the service to us where we live. I can understand small communities not having it but not large centres.
Also, timely you posted this as I just went to a “Green Drinks” networking event friday night that was speaking about food waste locally but on a much larger level. This is where I live and so inspired this is happening here… check out the link, you may enjoy it .
Lastly, here is a link to our local recycling & organic compost program from our local government
Such a good point!! With recycling and composting etc the best option is to not create it in the first place!
And I’ve actually never been to a Green Drinks meet up. Should have taken advantage of all my free time pre kid 😉
I love that this article highlights the awareness that comes with composting!
My husband and I live in Alberta, Canada and there are zero food composting opportunities (only yard waste in the summer). The weather gets very cold so outdoor at home options are limited.
Recently I was motivated to look into at home composting and I came across worm vermicomposting. We have a small bin in our kitchen that we collect scraps in. When its full we take it downstairs where we keep our “Worm Inn” (http://blackswallowsoil.com/search/?search=worm&submit=search).
The Worm Inn is essentially a bag made from water proof/ backpack like material suspended from a PVC framework that houses our 1 lbs of worms and household compostable waste. Worms can only handle vegetable and paper scraps, no meat or dairy. But to be able to compost in any weather and for a one time fee vs 20$/month is great. We keep a paper shredder by the bag for our old bank documents, etc. and use it to make worm bedding.
The bag is V shaped so once the worms have digested the top layer of scraps it falls into the bottom of the bag where there is a zippered opening to let out the fresh compost. So there is no mixing like you would need with a bin system. We save the compost in big tuber ware containers in the garage during the winter so there is plenty in the summer when we need it.
The most shocking thing is, there is no bad smell. My husband is squeamish so that was a big concern for us, lol! It just smells like dirt! I am in love with this system, we have reduced our garbage and increased our awareness of food waste, all while making our own compost product for the garden.
So awesome!! I love that you thought out of the box and found a way that works for you. I’m so impressed by the dedication to make it happen 🙂