Household Composting

Composting Essentials

Household composting can take many forms. Some residents choose to set up compost bins at home and break down food scraps and other compostable materials in their own backyards. Others use curbside services which collect subscribers’ food scraps and other compostable materials each week to bring to a local facility. The City of Medford has partnered with Garbage to Garden as our recommended residential compost vendor and residents can subscribe to their service at a lower negotiated rate.

Composting is a process of recycling organic matter, like leaves and food scraps. Composting involves putting food and some paper products in a separate container so they can be naturally broken down to create rich dirt, frequently used by gardeners. This transformation happens through a process called biodegradation, where bacteria and fungi convert organic matter.

There are many benefits to composting. Here are just a few:

Reduces the waste stream. Food and garden waste consist of 28% of what we throw away. Food waste is both a burden on the environment and is expensive to process. Composting can divert some of this waste from landfills and be repurposed for other uses (gardening, farming, etc).

Improves soil health and encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create humus, a rich nutrient-filled material.

Decreases methane emissions, potent greenhouse gases which trap heat in the atmosphere, from landfills.

In general, only biodegradable materials can be composted. At-home compost bins are smaller and cannot generate enough heat to safely break down some items like meat and dairy food scraps. Check out the EPA’s complete list of what to compost at home here and read more in the resources below.

It is important that your compost bin has three basic ingredients:

  • Browns – Materials like dead leaves, branches, twigs, and shredded newspaper provide carbon to your compost pile.
  • Greens – Materials such as grass clippings, vegetable waste, fruit scraps, and coffee grounds are wet and nitrogen-rich
  • Water – Moisture is needed to help break down the organic matter

According to the EPA, your compost pile should have plenty of water and an equal amount of brown materials and green materials to ensure that matter breaks down easily.

In general, only biodegradable materials can be composted. Check the packaging to ensure an item is compostable.

Allowed materials will vary depending on what company provides the collection service, but here is a list from the US Environmental Protection Agency as a guide. Items with a * may not be accepted depending on the service provider.

  • Eggshells
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Teabags
  • Nutshells
  • Shredded newspaper*
  • Cardboard
  • Paper towels, napkins
  • Compostable BPI certified cutlery
  • Yard/grass trimmings*
  • Houseplants
  • Hay and straw
  • Sawdust
  • Wood chips
  • Cotton and Wool Rags*
  • Hair and fur
  • Fireplace ashes
  • Fats, grease, lard, or oils*
  • Meat or fish bones and scraps*
  • Dairy products (e.g., butter, milk, sour cream, yogurt) and eggs*

Here is a list of items NOT to compost from the US Environmental Protection Agency:

  • Black walnut tree leaves or twigs
  • Coal or charcoal ash
  • Diseased or insect-ridden plants
  • Recyclables and other trash
  • Pet wastes (e.g., dog or cat feces, soiled cat litter)
  • Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides
  • Used diapers

If you are composting at home, it is important to leave out the following items as well:

  • Fats, grease, lard, or oils
  • Meat or fish bones and scraps
  • Dairy products (e.g., butter, milk, sour cream, yogurt) and eggs

If you are using a curbside composting service, always check the company’s resources to see what you can and cannot compost.

A properly managed compost bin will not smell bad. Most compost collection services make secure and sealable bins available for the collection of food scraps/organic waste products. If you’re composting at home, secure containers are usually available at the local hardware store. Keeping the bin closed should prevent odors. If you’re nervous about smells, a common practice is to put food scraps in a small container in the freezer and to empty it into the compost bin as it fills. This limits the number of times you open the compost container and is an extra precaution for avoiding pests.

Many compost collection services also recommend the use of compostable bag liners for bins. This allows for easy removal of food waste on collection day, easy wipe-downs of the container for maintenance, and prevents spills from any liquids.

Similar to unwanted smells, unwanted pests should not be an issue so long as the compost bin is managed and properly maintained. Keeping the bin closed and secure unless actively adding to it prevents flies or bugs from hanging around a kitchen container. If keeping a bin outside, making sure the lid is on and locked to prevent curious critters from making a mess. Using the freezer method (mentioned in the answer above) with meat, dairy, or seafood scraps can be an extra precaution for avoiding pests. Another precaution: when throwing meat/dairy food scraps into an outdoor container, bury them under other less-tempting waste (cardboard, napkins, etc).

There is no need to switch to Garbage to Garden if you are already happily signed up with a different curbside composting service! We want residents to compost using the best way that works for them. Garbage to Garden is simply the vendor recommended by the City to residents interested in getting started with curbside composting. This partnership was chosen through a Request for Proposals process in spring 2021 where the City determined that Garbage to Garden would be the most suitable vendor for a municipal partnership.

Curbside Compost Pickup

How it works:
Curbside composting allows subscribers to recycle food scraps and compostable materials through a pickup service. Every week, subscribers put their compost bins on the curb for their chosen company to collect, and their food scraps, bones and meats, paper products, and other biodegradable material are taken away to be composted at a local facility. Depending on the service, members can request bags of rich composted dirt from the company to fertilize their backyard gardens.
 
Why subscribe?
Curbside composting is a great option for first-time composters learning about the process, residents who might not have time or space to compost at home, or those trying to be a “Zero-Waste Household’ as you can include many things that would not be appropriate in backyard composting. It makes composting as quick and easy as taking out the trash.
Recommended Vendor: Garbage to Garden
Garbage to Garden is a curbside composting company that was founded in 2012 in Portland, Maine. They have since expanded operations to Massachusetts and today, they service over 8,000 households, schools, restaurants, businesses, and events.
 
In June 2021, the City selected Garbage to Garden as Medford’s recommended residential compost vendor after reviewing proposals through a Request for Proposals process in spring 2021.
Garbage to Garden Service:

Interested residents can now request curbside compost pickup at a lower negotiated monthly rate for Medford households. Residents who subscribe to the service will also make a one-time purchase of a 12-gallon locking, rolling bin to hold food scraps and other compostable material. On trash day, subscribers will put this bin on the curb for Garbage to Garden to service. Garbage to Garden then brings the food scraps to local Massachusetts farms to be composted.

For residents from low-income households, starter packs are available from the City, which include the rolling tote container, a table-top bin, and two rolls of compostable bin liners. Please contact the City at ocd@medford-ma.gov or call 781-393-2480 to learn more. 

At-Home Composting

How it works:

Some residents prefer to compost at home. We strongly recommend doing research on home compost before beginning to ensure that your bin is protected against pests and that you are only composting safe materials (see above list). There are many options for at-home composting, including methods that do not require a backyard space. Please check out the resources listed below, especially if you are a first-time DIY composter.

Many different varieties of household compost bins can be purchased at your local hardware store or you can create your own backyard bin through this helpful guide. The Medford Department of Public Works also sells compost bins. Please contact the department at 781-393-2417 or email mmenezes@medford-ma.gov for more information.

Why DIY Compost?

At-home composting can be a great learning tool for kids as it provides a hands-on example for teaching them about natural science and decomposition. DIY composting is a rewarding process as you can watch your food scraps transform into rich black earth in front of you. Backyard composting is also a great resource for gardeners as the dirt produced has an abundance of nutrients and minerals for your plants.

An example of at-home compost bins

Helpful Links and Resources

Environmental Protection Agency: Composting Basics

Environmental Protection Agency: How to Compost at Home

US Department of Agriculture: Compost in Your Backyard

Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection: Home Composting

Cornell Waste Management Institute: Composting at Home