Sustainability at Work provides a helpful guide for starting a composting program at your workplace.
Recently, high levels of the following unacceptable materials have been found in compost collected from businesses:
- Yard debris
- Bagged garbage
- Painted or treated wood and pallets
- Plastic wrap/film and garbage bags
- Plastic lined papers
- coffee cups
- to-go boxes
- plastic coated cardboard
These items aren’t allowed in Portland’s compost program because they result in a finished compost product littered with plastic pieces and contaminated by chemically treated wood.
By keeping non-compostable material out of our compost containers, we can provide farmers, vineyards and home gardeners with a high-quality, soil-enriching compost.
What about “compostable” plastic?
Only approved “compostable-ware” (bags, to-go containers, etc.) are allowed in Portland’s commercial composting. Find the approved products on Cedar Grove’s website. When in doubt, leave it out!
What happens if prohibited materials are in the compost?
If a load of compost has high levels of prohibited, non-compostable materials, it will be rejected, and the garbage and recycling company will pay a substantially higher fee for the load to be disposed as trash. You may be contacted by your garbage and recycling company if there are concerns about prohibited materials in your compost.
What’s allowed in compost? This poster shows what is and isn’t allowed in Portland’s commercial compost.
Starting a composting program? You are about to join a growing community of composting participants that are reducing greenhouse gas emissions by keeping the food out of the landfill, and will be helping to create a nutrient rich soil amendment. Many participants find that they can offset the cost of compost collection by reduced garbage service levels.
Four Steps to Starting a Composting Program
- Call your garbage and recycling company to request service (or property manager if they supply garbage service to you).
Every garbage and recycling company is required to provide composting service if the customer requests it. The City of Portland does not set garbage, recycling, or composting rates – businesses choose a garbage and recycling company to work with and negotiate the type and cost of service directly with the company. Businesses often find it helpful to request bids for composting service from their own garbage and recycling company, as well as a few others doing business in Portland. For a list of commercial haulers, click here. There is a service level – the size of your containers and number of times they’re emptied – for almost every situation.
- Set up your food prep area.
Once you set up service, your garbage and recycling company will supply you with smaller containers to collect food scraps in your food prep area. Businesses have achieved high participation from staff by placing these beside their garbage containers. The City of Portland has free, full-color instructional posters and stickers available to place on or near your containers (visit link to order some for your business). If you decide to use your own containers to collect food scraps, it is best to color-coordinate them: compost is consistently green, recycling is blue, and garbage is brown, grey or black. Containers inside your food prep area will be your responsibility to empty into the larger container serviced by your garbage and recycling company. Two important things to keep in mind:
- Food scrap containers can get very heavy when full or even partially full. It is important for staff to work in pairs when dumping full containers. Or, have a policy in place to only fill containers half-full before dumping.
- Food scrap collection containers will need to be cleaned regularly to prevent odors and pests. For sanitation reasons, containers must be cleaned out at the dump sink, not the food prep sinks. Also, rinse water must go to sanitary sewer and not storm drains.
- Decide if your business will use compostable bags.
Compostable bag liners are available through food service supply vendors. The current list of approved bags is updated frequently, so we encourage you to check back regularly. Food service supply vendors will be updated when a change does occur. There are advantages and disadvantages that are important to be aware of before making a decision. Using compostable bags
- Minimizes washing required for containers and can reduce odor or fruit fly problems
- Keeps your exterior collection containers cleaner; especially on hot summer days
- Makes emptying containers from your food-prep area easier (though these bags are generally not as strong as conventional plastic bags)
- High costs
- Potentially limited shelf-life; can degrade if not used within certain time period
- Train your crew
In order to keep contamination to a minimum, it’s important to explain to staff what is and is not acceptable for compost collection. The instructional poster as well as the list of acceptable service ware are good to review before you start your program. Need support? Sustainability at Work advisors are available to present to your team: 503-823-7037 or email@example.com.
A Note about Space Constraints
Food service operations often have limited space for additional containers. Here are a few ways to address space constraints:
- Eliminate any unnecessary containers taking up space; containers that are rarely used or that can be consolidated.
- Maximize food donation opportunities with the Fork it Over program.
- Ask your suppliers to reduce or eliminate the packaging when shipping supplies to you.
- Reduce your garbage service levels to make space for composting containers. It would be important to accurately assess the amount of waste you will be able to divert from your garbage to your compost so that your service levels are “right-sized” to your volume of waste.
- Share service with neighbors. This works well especially if multiple participants are using the same limited space.
- Share or rent additional space from a neighbor or a neighboring parking lot. If there is not an existing enclosure for the containers, contact City of Portland Permitting Services at 503-823-7357 for information on obtaining necessary building permits. Permitting Services staff can also assist you in gathering information on Building Code, Zoning Code, and other regulations that may impact the design of your new trash area.
- Switch to smaller containers and establish more frequent collection.
- Request that your garbage and recycling company build custom containers for your space.
Composting for your Customers
If you are thinking about proving opportunities for your customers to compost, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, even the best signage will not prevent contamination. Expect to sort non-compostables out of the compost daily. Second, there are hundreds of packaging products that claim to be compostable. To ensure that all materials collected are able to compost in our local facilities, the City of Portland has restricted the use of acceptable compostable ware. The current list of acceptable compostable ware is here, though this will likely change so check back regularly. Food service supply vendors will be updated when a change does occur.
You are about to join the growing community of office spaces participating in the composting program. By setting up food scrap collection in your office, your business will be reducing greenhouse gas emissions by keeping the food out of the landfill and also helping to create a nutrient rich soil amendment.
Before you Begin
Before setting up service, take a few weeks to pay close attention to how much food waste is being thrown away. Since the goal of a composting program is to collect food – not food containers – it is important to assess if your office (or group of tenants) generate enough food scraps to justify setting up a program. Give Sustainability at Work a call if you’d like help talking through this.
Four Steps to Starting a Composting Program
- Call your garbage and recycling company to request service (or property manager if they supply garbage services to you).
Composting service for office spaces is often shared by multiple tenants in one building. Estimating your service needs and cost will require a conversation with all the potential participants. If you have a property manager that is responsible for your garbage service, they will facilitate that conversation with tenants and the garbage and recycling company. The City of Portland does not set garbage, recycling, or composting rates – businesses choose a garbage and recycling company to work with and negotiate the type and cost of service directly with the company. Businesses often find it helpful to request bids for the proposed composting service from their own garbage and recycling company, as well as a few others doing business in Portland. For a list of commercial haulers, click here. Garbage and recycling companies can help you estimate what service level – size of container and frequency of pick-up – you will need. There is a service level – the size of your containers and number of times they’re emptied – for almost every situation.
- Decide who will service your internal compost collection containers.
Generally speaking, this is a service that your janitorial company can provide; however, your property manager or neighboring tenants may decide that each participant should be responsible for taking their compost to a central location serviced by your garbage and recycling company. Businesses have been successful with both approaches. If you plan to use your janitorial company, bring them into the conversation early. That way you know where and how often they will be able to empty your containers. Each container should be serviced every day, just like garbage, in order to keep the possibility of odors and fruit flies to a minimum. It’s often possible to offset the cost of composting collection cost by consolidating garbage cans and reducing the time janitorial staff spends on garbage collection.
- Set up the break rooms.
Many different styles of containers are suitable for food scrap collection. Sustainability at Work recommends color-coding your containers so they are easily identifiable; green for food scraps, blue for recycling and black, gray or brown for garbage. Containers with a lid – swinging or foot-lever lids work well - are helpful for reducing potential odor issues. No matter which containers you choose, they should be conveniently located next to the garbage and be well-labeled. To make this task easy, we offer free posters and full-color photo stickers. Using compostable bags to line the containers is not required, but is essential unless your staff are able to wash out the containers at least weekly. The City has approved the these bags for the composting program. These approved bags can be purchased at listed stores or potentially through your janitorial company.
- Educate the workplace.
In order to keep contamination to a minimum, everyone in the office should have an introduction to the program. A good place to start is by emailing an electronic version of the free composting poster to the group . Follow up with a short presentation at staff meetings to go over the poster with them. Sustainability at Work advisors are available to help train your workplace. Contact us to learn more about training options: 503-823-7037 or firstname.lastname@example.org.