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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 office

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 pickup. 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. If you don’t have much space for containers, you may need to use smaller containers which may require more frequent pickups.

Tip: If all tenants in your building join you in composting—especially any restaurants or coffee shops—it may be possible to reduce your garbage container size or frequency of pickup once you start composting your food waste. Reducing frequency of pickup can sometimes 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 set up compost service, your garbage company 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

Indoor containers

indoor compost containers

What to look for when purchasing containers:

  • Size: A 15-gallon container works well for most offices. If you choose to use a larger container, you may want to place an empty cardboard box at the base of the bin to take up some space. Food waste is heavy and compostable bags aren’t as strong as conventional plastic bags. A broken bag of food waste isn’t fun to clean up! A small countertop bin would work as well, but will require more frequent emptying.
  • Color: Try to use green for the compost bin, blue for recycling and black or gray for garbage.
  • Lids and step-cans: Use a bin with a lid, if possible, preferably one with a pedal-activated lid (not critical but nice to have).


To encourage staff to compost, and to avoid trash going into the compost bin, place compost containers next to (or very close to) garbage and recycling containers.


Use our free posters and stickers to label all waste containers clearly, ideally on top, front and sides. These labels provide show staff what should, and shouldn’t be put in each container. This is especially important since the guidelines for residential compost is different than business compost, and an on-the-spot reminder is helpful.

Download posters or order free printed copies:

Food scraps poster   Food scraps poster   

Contact us for stickers:

Food scraps sticker   Food scraps sticker

STEP 3: Talk with janitorial staff

Before you start composting, talk with janitorial staff about how frequently to empty containers, where to empty compost containers, and how to keep containers clean.

Frequent collection: Compost containers inside your office should be emptied as often, if not more often, than garbage containers. Once a day, or twice a day in larger offices, is best.

BPI compostable bagsLift safely; avoid broken bags. Compost containers can get heavy quickly, and compostable bags aren’t as strong as regular plastic bags. It may make sense to only partially fill the compost container before emptying. Placing something in the bottom of the kitchen container—like an upside down cardboard box—may help take up some of the space so the bag never gets too full to safely lift without breaking.

Compostable bags

You don’t have to use bags to line compost containers, but we highly recommended them for an office setting. They keep containers clean, and reduce mess, odors and fruit flies.

Only BPI-certified compostable bags are allowed in Portland’s compost program. Find BPI-certified compostable bags through janitorial supply vendors.

Make sure your janitorial company is purchasing BPI-certified compostable bags to use in compost containers.

STEP 4: Educate employees

Let staff know your office is starting to compost, and remind people what can and cannot go into compost.

You may also want to include information about the benefits of composting and frequently asked questions.

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

Schedule a short presentation and Q&A at an all-staff meeting to review the “what” and “why” of compost and recycling. We’re happy to give a presentation or arrange for an expert Master Recycler to present to your staff. Contact us to schedule a presentation.

Get help. We’re here to answer questions, help you get set up and educate your coworkers. Contact us any time.

Additional tips

Avoid odors and pests

Internal containers should be empty compost containers daily.

  • Clean compost containers in your kitchen daily.
  • Use compostable bags to reduce the build-up of food in the containers.

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

If fruit flies appear: Trap fruit flies in a shallow dish of apple cider vinegar doused with a few drops of dish soap. Avoid leaving fruits and vegetables out.  Clean kitchen or break room sink drain. (Consider using baking soda and vinegar to clean your drain rather than a chemical drain cleaner.)

Leaky containers: If your outdoor containers are leaking, contact your garbage company for new bins.

Learn more