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Sustainability at Work

Providing free tools and expertise to achieve your goals

Phone: 503-823-7037

Email: sustainabilityatwork@portlandoregon.gov

When is "compostable" not compostable?

What should you do with an item labeled "compostable" or "biodegradable?"

Put it in the trash.

Not in compost. Labels like "compostable" and "biodegradable" are well-intentioned, but they’re not always accurate. Many products labeled "compostable" or "biodegradable" don’t break down at our local composting facilities.

Additionally, these products add little or no nutrients to the compost, and the goal of compost is to provide nutrients to the soil.

Not in recycling. Compostable and biodegradable products should also never be put in recycling, as they cause major problems for the recycling industry. 

Focus on the food. To keep our regional composting program running, we need to keep it clean, and that means focusing on the food. And food should be the focus – it’s what gives compost the nutrient-rich punch that makes gardens grow.

Compostable products go in the trash

FAQs about composting

Q: What do I do with items labeled "compostable" or "biodegradable," like take-out containers, cups and utensils?

A: These items go in your garbage container, not in compost or recycling. This is true both at home and at businesses. Learn more:

  • What goes in your compost cart at home.
  • What goes in your compost at work.

*The one exception is BPI-certified compostable bags, which are allowed in both your home and business compost.

Q: But I thought compostable products were the greenest option? Now what?

A: The greenest option is the one that’s used over and over again. Re-useable coffee mugs, water bottles and real dishware and utensils are environmentally better than their throw-away counterparts, even if the throw-away items could be recycled or composted. Just think of all the energy and resources that go into making something that only gets used once!

Encourage your favorite restaurants to switch to re-usable dishware and utensils for eat-in orders. For to-go orders, take away as little packaging and paper as possible. Bring your own coffee mug, and ask your local coffee shop to offer discounts for bringing your own mug.

Learn more:

Business Compost PosterAlready composting at your business or want to start?

Read more composting FAQs, how-to information for restaurants and offices, and get free compost posters.

Questions? Contact us at 503-823-7037 or by email.