How To Start Composting At A Community Composting Drop-Off Site

If you have access to a community compost drop-off site and you aren’t composting, what are you waiting for??! You’re one of the lucky ones that have an opportunity to compost while letting someone else do all the dirty work and heavy lifting for you. I promise you’ve totally got this! Let’s learn how to compost using a community compost drop-off program.

I get all sorts of questions about how to start composting, especially from people who are compost curious but a little grossed out by the whole process. While a food scrap pick-up service is my absolute favorite composting method because it’s so darn easy, I know it’s not accessible for everyone.

I think a community compost drop-off location is the next best option. And I promise, it’s not gross at all and you won’t have issues with pests or curious critters trying to take a bite out of your food waste.

Types of Community Compost Drop-Off Programs

There are many types of community compost drop-off programs, though they generally work pretty similarly. In most cases, you simply store your food scraps at home for a few days or a few weeks, depending on how often you can visit the drop-off location. Then you stop by the collection site periodically to drop off your scraps at your convenience.

Community compost drop-off sites operate differently depending on who runs them, who funds them, who they are for, specific details of your community, and more. By design, they intend to meet the needs of the local community. And because communities are unique, so are the organic waste recycling programs that serve them.

Let’s dive into the details about how to start using community compost drop sites in your area.

How To Store Food Scraps Between Drop-Offs at a Community Compost Program

You likely won’t visit your food scrap drop-off location every day, so you’ll need a method to store food scraps between visits. There are lots of ways to store food scraps, which I’ve discussed in greater detail in this post. Pick one that works the best for you.

When you’re not composting at home, however, and the food scraps will sit in the collection bin or container for several days to several weeks, I have a few favorite recommendations.

5-Gallon Collection Bucket

Store food scraps in a five-gallon plastic utility bucket, much like what I provide to my WasteWell curbside collection customers. Depending on the drop-off location, they may even provide you with such a bucket. Many private compost haulers that host drop-off locations at farmers’ markets have buckets available for food scrap storage.

For WasteWell, I line the buckets for customers with brown paper bags which help keep the buckets cleaner and less smelly. This is not necessary, but I find it really helpful.

Some people also use compostable plastic bags to line their buckets. While this is an option, they tend to break down too quickly, absorb less liquid, and are often more expensive than brown paper bags.

No matter whether you use a liner or not, smells from the bucket won’t leak into your home or garage (or wherever you store it) provided you close the lid tightly after each use.

If you’re collecting scraps in a five-gallon bucket, the inside of the bucket does get kind of stinky after a week or two, especially if you store it outside in warm weather. I recommend storing food scraps in a container on your counter or in your fridge for a few days and only emptying that container into the five-gallon bucket once every few days or a week. Some municipal composting programs will provide countertop caddies for free to residents to help them get started, so be sure to ask or do your research before you buy one.

The cadence of this habit (storing in a countertop bucket and dumping into a larger bucket periodically) feels easier to manage for me than dumping scraps in the big bucket after each meal. It also reduces the frequency of opening the bucket, which admittedly isn’t the most fun part of the process.

After you drop off your food scraps, give the bucket a quick rinse and wipe to keep it clean. This will really help reduce smells and “the gross factor.”

Freeze Your Food Scraps

If you have space in the freezer, you can also freeze your food scraps in a reusable bag or container between drop-offs at your community composting site. A plastic clamshell from restaurant take-out, an old bread bag, or a reused zip-top bag work quite well to hold the scraps in your freezer.

If you use this method, you don’t need an intermediary storage solution for your counter or fridge as I mentioned above with bucket storage. It’s much easier to put the scraps right into your freezer container after each meal.

Alternatively, freezing food scraps could be the intermediary step before adding to a larger utility bucket if you don’t visit the drop-off site often and don’t have space in your freezer for all your scraps. Adding frozen scraps to your bigger collection bucket is perfectly fine.

How and When To Drop Off Food Scraps at A Community Compost Site

Every collection site has its own policy about how to drop off food scraps. They may have certain hours when they are open and certain means of collection. For example, you may need to use specific containers for drop-off to help processors manage the food scraps after collection. Be sure to check their site for details and reach out to speak with someone to find out how it works.

For example, many municipal sites might be open for drop-off several days a week for longer hours. A private collection site at a farmers’ market may be limited to weekly market hours. Some grocery stores (especially stores like co-ops) work with composting companies to provide food scrap drop-off programs through which you can swap a bucket full of food scraps for a clean bucket when you visit the store.

Some sites may charge a fee to drop off food scraps while others might be free. In all cases, the processing organization will need to cover the cost of labor to manage the collection site and process the food scraps. While a private collection company may charge a small fee to drop food scraps, a municipal drop-off site may be covered by tax funding and thus free to residents. It’s likely any fee will be less than the cost of your daily coffee.

Which Food Scraps Can You Drop At A Community Compost Program

Each compost collection site will have its own guidelines about what it can accept. Our Can I Compost…?? list is a good place to start to get a general idea of what can be composted.

Smaller community gardens, for example, will likely have more specific restrictions because they often use smaller, managed piles. Larger collection entities that utilize commercial or industrial composting methods can likely accept a wider variety of compostable items including meat and dairy, compostable plastics, and more.

Be sure to check the website or information guide for your specific drop-off site. They will almost certainly provide details about what materials they accept and do not accept for composting.

Create a Habit to Drop Off Food Scraps

Last but not least, make a plan. Consider how the food scrap drop-off can fit into your current schedule and make the habit as seamless as possible. Sustainable living is only sustainable if we can actually keep it up, so do your best to find a method and cadence that works for you!

Have any other questions that we missed? Leave a comment so we can connect. I am happy to help you get started and get more people comfortable composting in their communities.

Jen Panaro

Jen Panaro, founder and editor-in-chief of Honestly Modern, is a self-proclaimed composting nerd and advocate for sustainable living for modern families. To find her latest work, subscribe to her newsletter, Stepping Stones.

In her spare time, she’s a serial library book borrower, a messy gardener, and a mom of two boys who spends a lot of time in hockey rinks and on baseball fields.

You can find more of her work at Raising Global Kidizens, an online space to help parents and caregivers raise the next generation of responsible global citizens.

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