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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

Email: sustainabilityatwork@portlandoregon.gov

What can be composted

Business compost is Food Only.

Please note: Residential compost guidelines are different. Find out more in the FAQs.

All food scraps can go in business compost: Raw and cooked foods, plate scrapings, spoiled food, trim from food preparation, fruit and vegetable peels and pits, meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, bones, eggs and eggshells, cheese, dairy products, bread, baked goods, pasta, rice, beans, nuts and seeds.

Food scraps, coffee filters and BPI bags

*While food scraps are what’s most valuable to compost, a few other items are allowed: Coffee grounds (paper coffee filters ok, but no single-use pods), tea bags, loose leaf tea and BPI-certified compostable bags.


Garbage items 

These items are not allowed in business compost.

Please note: Some of these items are allowed in residential compost.

Cardboard: Waxed cardboard, pizza boxes, plastic-coated cardboard, to-go cardboard containers. (Unwaxed, clean cardboard is not allowed in compost but can be recycled.)

Paper products: Paper towels, napkins, paper plates, coffee cups, plastic-lined papers, to-go boxes.

"Compostable" products: Even if something says "compostable," "biodegradable," or "made from plants" it CANNOT go into the compost. The only exception is BPI-certified compostable bags, which are allowed for collecting food for composting.

Flowers, leavesWood: Raw, painted, or treated wood; stumps, branches; pallets.

Other: Beverage stir sticks (wood or plastic), toothpicks, plastic garbage bags, plastic wrap/film, metal, glass.

Yard debris: Flowers, tree trimmings, leaves, grass, branches.

While yard debris is not allowed in Portland’s business compost program, businesses can request a bin and pick-up service just for yard debris from their garbage and recycling company.

Used cooking oil canLiquids, grease, cooking oil: No liquids of any kind are allowed in Portland’s business compost program.

Businesses can set up collection of used cooking oil and/or animal rendering from independent processors. Find out which companies offer this pick up service by using Metro’s Find a Recycler or calling their Recycling Information Hotline: 503-234-3000.


Print guides

Well-labeled waste bins provide on-the-spot reminders for staff of what goes in each bin. Order or download posters and stickers to label compost and other waste bins. 

Food scraps poster     Garbage poster


FAQs about business compost

"compostable" tablewear isn't compostableWhy can’t items labeled “compostable” or “biodegradable” go in the compost?

Labels like "compostable" and "biodegradable" are well-intentioned, but not always accurate.  The ability to compost a manufactured product depends on the type of facility that’s processing the food waste. Some facilities around the country allow certain types of these products, with the hope that the products will make it easier for people to get more food into the compost. Other facilities, including those in the Portland area, don’t want these products because they often contaminate the compost (either the products don’t break down, or they cause confusion that results in plastics ending up in the compost).

Learn more: What’s the most sustainable disposable dishware?

Why are some items allowed in residential compost, but not in business compost?

Portland’s residential compost program allows yard debris, pizza boxes, paper towels and paper napkins. These things are not allowed in the business compost program, which is food only. This is because residential and business compost get processed at different types of facilities.

Compost from your residential green bin is taken to a commercial compost facility, which functions like a bigger, hotter version of a backyard compost bin. Food is the most beneficial thing to put into compost: It gives compost the nutrient-rich boost that makes farms and gardens grow. However, a few non-food items (yard debris pizza boxes, paper towels) are helpful for getting the right mix of materials (high-fiber and low-fiber, wet and dry) for the compost piles.

Food scraps from Portland businesses go to a different type of facility – an anaerobic digester, where the scraps are blended up into a liquid and then broken down by bacteria. This process creates methane, which is captured and burned to make electricity. Non-food materials don’t provide the nutrients needed to make energy and must be screened out. The screened-out materials are sent to the landfill, adding time and cost to the process.

If non-food items – such as waxed or regular cardboard, “compostable” serviceware, flowers, yard debris, or paper – are in your food waste bin, it may be sent to the landfill, and your garbage company may charge you for the additional cost.

Learn more: Where does business food waste go?

BPI compostable bagsAre compostable bags okay?
Yes, but only if they are BPI-certified compostable.

Are any non-food items allowed?
Coffee filters, tea bags, and BPI-certified compostable bags are the only non-food items allowed.

Do you expect to expand what is accepted in the future?
Metro, Portland’s regional government, has no plans to accept anything other than food scraps at this time.


 Learn more