Eliminating the “Yuck Factor” in Composting
Do your residents complain that food scraps recycling is messy or stinky? It doesn’t have to be. Oakland residents have been setting aside food scraps for weekly composting collection since 2005. Here are a few tips from the field to help you and your residents create a successful compost collection program at your building.
Paper is the first line of defense against odors. It is a compostable and absorbent material that can help to reduce odor in the kitchen pail or green cart. Many paper products are readily available in the home for reuse in the kitchen pail. Consider the list of common products below, which you and your residents may use to overcome the “yuck factor.“
Newspaper—Two sheets from a newspaper can create a completely organic compostable liner for residents’ kitchen pails. A short video on the East Bay Rental Housing Association website (www.ebrha.com/zerowaste) shows how in a few simple folds, the newspaper becomes a bag to line the kitchen pail. Using newspaper as a liner reduces the need to wash out the kitchen pail each time it is emptied.
Paper Bags—To transport food scraps to the compost cart, simply tip the kitchen pail over an open grocery store-style paper bag to dump its contents. The paper bag is a convenient solution for bringing food scraps from an apartment or condo to the compost cart. Paper bags in the compost cart also help to reduce mess and odor by containing the food scraps and absorbing moisture and smells.
Paper Food Containers—In place of the free kitchen pail available from Waste Management (see sidebar), residents may use a variety of food product containers made from paper. The half-gallon ice cream or used take-out food carton is a great way to collect food scraps. Some people even use an empty cereal box. Tossing rather than emptying these containers into the compost cart help to reduce odor and contain the food to eliminate the mess.
Cardboard—A simple way to help keep the compost cart clean is to line it each week with a piece of cardboard at the bottom. Instead of recycling all the cardboard boxes from your next move-in, set some aside for lining the compost cart. The cardboard keeps food from caking on the bottom of the cart, minimizing odors and flies.
Shredded Paper—Place shredded paper along with food scraps in the collection cart. The paper soaks up extra liquid and easily covers exposed material. If an on-site management office is a source of shredded paper, put a bag of shredded paper next to the collection cart for residents to use to cover their material throughout the week.
Paper Towels and Napkins—Paper towels and napkins absorb moisture and reduce any food smells. Once used in the kitchen, line the bottom of the food scraps pail and continue to add used paper towels and napkins along with other food scraps.
Compostable Plastic Bags—If you or your residents want to contain food scraps in compostable plastic bags, please be sure to use products with the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) seal; this non-profit organization tests products to determine if they truly are compostable. Compostable plastic bags are made of a special material that is designed to hold food scraps and other compostable material securely during collection, then compost completely once the bag is processed in a commercial composting facility.
BPI defines compostable products as those that “can be broken down by microorganisms during the composting process… and leave no visible, distinguishable, or toxic residue.” Some bags may claim to be “biodegradable, bio-based, degradable, environmentally friendly, etc.,” but only “compostable” bags will actually break down as required.
There are a variety of compostable bags, some small enough to line residents’ kitchen pails and others large enough to line your building’s 32 or 64-gallon compost cart. For a complete list of BPI-certified products visit their website, bpiworld.org or visit OaklandRecycles.com for a link to their product catalog.
Other Tools—To help you and your tenants discover how easy food scraps recycling can be, a short video produced by Waste Management will soon be available for viewing in English, Spanish, Cantonese and Vietnamese on EBRHA.com/zerowaste. A multi-lingual how-to guide in the free kitchen pail is also available from Waste Management along with posters of what goes where, to install in common rooms and above carts and bins. You may request them online at EBRHA.com/zerowaste.
Food scraps recycling doesn’t have to be “yucky.” Food has always been part of what residents throw away; now it just has its own collection cart. Engaging with your tenants to determine what works best for your property – a compostable bag-lined compost cart, paper-lined kitchen pails or some combination of the tips above – will lead to greater participation. Increased participation could also result in less trash so that you may be able to reduce your trash service to save on your bills. The environmental benefits that come from creating soil-nourishing compost and eliminating greenhouse gas-producing food from our landfills are also important to our community. Diverting organic and recyclable material away from landfills is the goal of our Oakland Recycles services and the City’s zero waste program. Together, we will create a greener, cleaner environment without the “yuck factor.” rh
Karen Stern is the Waste Management of Alameda County Communications Manager and is a members of the Oakland Recycles team, responsible for the launch of the new Zero Waste collection services that went into effect July 1, 2015. She can be reached at .