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.
- Fruits and vegetables
- Coffee grounds and filters
- Shredded newspaper*
- Paper towels, napkins
- Compostable BPI certified cutlery
- Yard/grass trimmings*
- Hay and straw
- 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
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 email@example.com or call 781-393-2480 to learn more.
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 year-round for $59. These compost bins are highly recommended by the State Department of Environmental Protection. To buy a DPW compost bin, please make out a check to “The City of Medford” in the amount of $59 and bring it to Medford DPW in City Hall Room 304 during business hours. If you have questions about the bins, please contact the department at 781-393-2417 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
New-Age Compost bins are available from Medford DPW year-round, for $59
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
The City has received many inquiries about the possibility of a compost collection program in Medford. With municipal compost programs growing in the region and many companies offering this service, we partnered with the Tufts Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning Program to have Tufts graduate students research this for the city.
They completed an in-depth study of the social, environmental, financial, and practical issues related to municipal scale composting in this region. While composting at a municipal level is not uncommon in some parts of the country, we’ve found that several of the municipalities in the area that have implemented pilot programs have decided to not move forward in municipal-wide composting. Therefore, we wanted to understand the barriers and difficulties of various program models before jumping right into a program.
Their full report is 150 pages and is available for download here. The Executive Summary, available as a separate file here, provides all of the key findings and recommendations from their research.