Every so often we feel like we need to give a pep talk. This one is about getting the most out of our service. We want you to divert all of your compostable material! We think we’re communicating all of the different possibilities but consider this an open invitation to ask customer service if you’re unsure. We’re incorporating the items that customer service is often asked about.
It makes us so sad to swap out a nearly empty container. So sad. It might seem that this blog post is trying to encourage you to produce more waste. We actually want you to reduce your overall waste but compost all that is compostable. This reminds me of Bea Johnson, author of Zero Waste Home. She has a TEDx-talk in which she encourages us to recycle less, meaning have less to recycle. This is the spirit in which we present this clarification.
The most common source of confusion is trying to apply info you might know about recycling, using a kitchen disposal and composting in your backyard to commercial composting. They are different, but also have some overlap, so the confusion is completely understandable.
Once you’ve got a good grasp of all of the possibilities, be sure to share that information with everyone who is using the bucket/tote. If you’re composting in your workplace, make sure that all new employees are trained. This information is presented in a different way on our website. If you scroll down, you’ll see a green button for a list that you can download and print at home.
Just for fun, we’re going to go room-by-room.
All food (It bears repeating that we take all food, not just fruits and vegetables. I’ll be listing some foods because there are some that people just cannot believe we can take. All food, really. This includes any of the parts that you will not be eating. Avocado pits. Seafood shells. Bones. Rinds. Banana Peels and all other peels. Stems. Eggshells. Corncobs. And food you maybe shouldn’t be eating like candy, but not gum because it has plastic in it. Horrifying, right?)
Any food that is past its prime, cooked, baked or raw
Meat, fish, seafood
Dairy products (Like cheese)
Grain products (Like rice, flour)
Coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, wood stirrers (But not the fancy cloth tea bags which are made from synthetic materials. If you are so inclined, you could empty the tea out. Remove staples, please.)
Parchment paper and waxed paper including butter wrappers (Not all parchment paper is created equal. In general, you want to choose one that is unbleached and is made non-stick with silicon, not Quilon®. If You Care brand is a good one.)
Toothpicks (But not the ones with frilly, colored-plastic decorations. We have been known to snap off the plastic and compost the rest.)
Paper egg, fruit or mushroom cartons
Paper towels (If you’re still using those. Check out Swedish dishcloths. Local woman-owned zero waste store Eco & The Flamingo sells them and has a really great description in that link.)
Cellulose sponges (These are sponges made from natural fibers.)
Compostable plastic bags (We want you to know that we accept these but we’d still rather you lined your countertop compost container with paper.)
Wine corks (Make sure they are natural cork and not plastic.)
Pizza boxes (We want all of the pizza boxes! Okay, not all of them because the pie-shaped ones are coated in plastic. This is one of those areas where people get confused because they’ve learned that food-soiled pizza boxes cannot be recycled. They can’t. They can be composted! Break these down a bit if you’re using a tote and put them under or on top of your bucket if that’s the container we swap.)
Paper to-go containers (Like Chipotle burrito bowls)
Uncoated paper plates (Like Chinet brand or the retro uncoated paper plate)
Wood and bamboo cutlery
PLA plastic cups (PLA is a plant-based plastic. We look to the Biodegradable Products Institute or BPI for guidance in what products are certified compostable. There is a lot of confusion in this area and frankly, a lot of greenwashing.)
Toilet paper rolls
Compostable dental floss
Paper hand towels
Q-tips (If they are cotton and paper, not plastic)
Hair or animal fur
Newspapers (This is one of the items that can be recycled also. If they are wet or soiled, compost them.)
Candy (But not the plastic wrappers. Waxed paper wrappers and paper lollipop sticks can be composted, though.)
Gift wrap and gift bags (But only if they are paper and not foil or glittery)
Christmas trees and holiday wreaths (With wire removed)
Cold ashes from fireplace or grill
Blue masking tape
Wood products, sawdust
Dryer lint (This one is controversial. If your clothes are all 100% natural fibers then yes. If not, maybe save the lint to help start fires. It’s exceptionally good at that, which is why they encourage you to clean out your lint traps after every load.)
Stuff We Can’t Take and Why
We can only accept the items that the composting facility we haul to will accept. It’s their business, they get to decide what they will take.
Feces of any sort (This includes feces from pets or little humans.)
Compostable diapers (See above, no feces no matter how cute the source.)
Pet litter (Because it includes feces or urine, and also because it’s sometimes made of materials that do not break down.)
Microwave popcorn bags (We learned from one of our scientist customers that these contain PFAs and should not be added to the compost. If you can discontinue using these altogether, that would be an excellent idea. Learn more about PFAs on the EPA’s website.)
Rubber bands, wires, labels and packaging from rotting vegetables (Maybe you could get into the habit of removing these right when you get home from the grocery store, just in case things don’t go as planned vegetable-wise.)
Starbucks coffee cups (They have a plastic liner. Purchase a reusable mug. I’m begging you.)
A large amount of liquid (Use your judgment here. If you have a lot of paper products that will absorb the liquid, then you can put it in. Otherwise it’s best to pour it in a drain. You could use a colander to catch the solids.)
Facial tissues (These usually include mucus and germs. I personally get around this by using toilet paper instead of tissues so I can flush them. I also use cloth handkerchiefs. I don’t flush them. I launder these.)
As I was working on this list, it made me curious about if any of the things we can’t collect could be flushed down the toilet. In a word, no. Here are the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s do’s and don’ts for flushing. And they’ve created this fun video called No Wipes Down The Pipes for your viewing pleasure which illustrates how so many things that we’d think would break down in water, don’t.
The Tear Test
This is my own invention. If I’m trying to decide if a paper product is compostable, I tear it. If this reveals a separate plastic film, I know for sure that it isn’t compostable.
Slipping On a Banana Peel
I recently read that the slapstick gag of slipping on a banana peel has its roots in waste practices. It seems hard to believe but in the 1800s household waste and debris were thrown on the streets and pigs and other animals would eat the organic parts. So slipping on a banana peel was a very real and dangerous possibility! This humorous article in Mental Floss explores the banana peel gag more fully. Enjoy!