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The City of Portland, Oregon

Sustainability at Work

Providing free tools and expertise to achieve your goals

Phone: 503-823-7037


How to compost at your restaurant

Set up compost pick-up service

STEP 1: Set up service

You’ll need to set up compost pickup service from a permitted garbage and recycling company.

Who to call: If your property manager provides garbage service, talk with them about adding compost service. If your business works directly with a garbage company for service, call your current garbage company to get a quote for adding compost service.

Get quotes: We recommend getting quotes from a few companies to compare service options and costs. Garbage service for Portland businesses is an open, competitive market—the City of Portland does not set rates. The City also does not require businesses to enter into a contract with a garbage and recycling company. If you choose to sign a contract for service, read the details: It may be difficult to change your levels or cost of service during the duration of your contract.

Discuss container size and frequency of pickup: When getting quotes from garbage companies, ask them about the size of compost containers and the frequency of pickup they recommend. Pickup should happen at least once a week. More frequent pickups will reduce odor issues. If you don’t have much space for containers, you may need to use smaller containers which may require more frequent pickups.

It may be possible to reduce your garbage container size or frequency of pickup once you start composting your food waste; this could reduce the cost of your garbage service.

Sharing service: If there’s a neighboring food business, consider asking them about sharing compost pickup service to reduce costs.

Outside containers: Once you’ve chosen a garbage company, they will drop off compost containers for your main waste collection area. These may be roll carts, dumpsters or a compactor. All containers—compost, recycling and garbage—should be well-labeled with stickers that show what can (and cannot) go in each container.

STEP 2: Set up your space 

Set up your internal space with compost containers

Indoor containers

Place containers where food is prepped and plates are scraped.  

If you purchase your own containers, buy green for compost, blue for recycling, and brown, grey, or black for garbage.

Green slim containerSlim compost container

Available for FREE from your garbage and recycling company.*

23 gallon: 30" tall x 25” wide x 13.5” deep

*The City of Portland purchases these containers to make composting easier for businesses. The containers are distributed by permitted garbage and recycling companies.

5 gallon green bucket5 gallon bucket

Reuse existing food storage buckets (square or round) or purchase green buckets.

Place buckets on top of, or beneath, food prep areas. Or nest a square bucket within a slim garbage container.


Use our free posters and stickers to label all waste containers clearly. These labels show staff what should and shouldn’t be put in each container.

Download free posters or contact us for printed copies:

Food scraps poster   Recycling poster   Garbage poster

 Contact us for stickers:

Compost sticker - square Compost sticker - reectangular

Bags and bin liners

You don’t have to use bin liners, but many restaurants use them to keep containers clean and to reduce mess and odors.

BPI compostable bagsAdvantages of using bags: Minimizes washing required for containers and can reduce odor or fruit fly problems during the summer. Keeps exterior collection containers cleaner. Makes emptying the containers easier.

Disadvantages of using bags: Cost of bags. Potentially limited shelf-life -- bags can degrade if not used within certain timeframe. Limited strength of bags: compostable bags are generally not as strong as conventional plastic bags. Double-bagging may be necessary.

Bag discounts available: Contact us for an up-to-date list of where to purchase discounted bags in quantities of one case or more.

Only BPI-certified compostable bags are allowed in Portland’s compost program.

Find BPI-certified compostable bags at restaurant supply stores or through janitorial supply vendors.

STEP 3: Train staff

Train staff

Before you start composting, make sure that staff understands what goes in the compost, where to empty the containers, and how to keep containers clean.

This three-minute video explains how to compost and recycle, and how to safely lift heavy compost containers. Video is also available en español.

What goes in, what stays out. Label all waste containers with stickers and waste areas with posters to show what can and can’t go in each bin. Conduct occasional spot checks to make sure non-food items aren’t going into the compost bin. Correct issues before they become a habit.

Lift safely. Compost containers can get heavy quickly. Don’t fill containers to the top, and make sure staff know when to empty compost containers so that they don’t become too heavy to safely lift. For larger containers, it may be best to have two people lift the container when emptying the smaller container into a dumpster or large roll cart.

Cleaning containers. Containers should be cleaned regularly to prevent odors and fruit flies. For sanitation reasons, containers must be cleaned out at the dump sink, not the food prep sinks. Five-gallon buckets can go in many dishwashers for easy cleaning. For larger indoor containers, use soap and water and make sure to dispose of the rinse water in a sanitary sewer drain (not storm drains).

Get help. Want in-person assistance, training or Q&A? Contact us.

Additional tips

Food prep trim

Find opportunities to trim waste

Once you start collecting food waste, you can more easily tell what is frequently wasted each day. Knowing this might help you reduce how much of certain foods you order and prepare, which can lower your purchasing costs and cut prep time.

“Composting helped us reduce food costs – when you see what gets tossed, you can pinpoint waste.” – Dave, bakery manager, NE Portland

Front-of-house compost collection

Front-of-house composting is not recommended due to high levels of contamination. It’s common for customers to confuse what items go where. They often put things in the compost container that can’t be composted – like to-go cups, containers and napkins. When this happens, either staff must pick trash out of the compost, or the contaminated front-of-house compost is emptied into the main compost container. This puts the whole container at risk of being sent to the landfill (and wastes all the effort staff put into back-of-house compost).

Collect front-of-house, sort back-of-house. The best way to collect food waste from front-of-house is to have customers put their waste in dish tubs that staff can then sort once it’s back-of-house. Cafes and coffee shops often do this when they’re using reusable dishware, and want to collect food waste and recyclables like drink bottles. This saves customers the hassle of sorting, and assures waste will be sorted correctly.

Avoid odors and pests

Empty internal compost containers regularly (at least daily). Clean containers daily: Small buckets can be run through the dishwasher. Use compostable bags to reduce the build-up of food in the containers.

Your garbage company can clean your external compost containers, or replace them (charges may apply).

If fruit flies appear:

  • Seal, cover or refrigerate all fruits and vegetables.
  • Trap fruit flies in a shallow dish of apple cider vinegar doused with a few drops of dish soap.
  • Clean drains regularly. Consider using baking soda and vinegar, rather than a chemical drain cleaner.

If your outdoor containers are leaking, contact your garbage company for new bins. If your 23-gallon slim indoor container, provided by your garbage company, is cracked or leaking, contact your garbage company for a replacement.

Learn more