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 to provide curbside pick up at no cost to residents beginning on July 1st, 2024. 

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. However, the municipal composting program is provided at no cost to residents. To be eligible, residents must live at an address with four units or fewer. 

Municipal Curbside Composting Program

The City is partnering with Garbage to Garden to launch a municipal composting program at no cost to residents. This collaboration aims to reduce waste, promote composting, and work towards Medford’s goals of reducing emissions by fifty percent by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
Service will begin on July 1st, 2024 for residents that opt into the program. Enrollment for the first year of the program will be capped at 6,000 people and will expand each year to encourage city-wide participation. Compost pickup will occur on the same day as weekly trash service.
Interested residents can join the waitlist for enrollment in the program here. If you would prefer to start curbside composting immediately, you can sign up here and pay $8.99/month until the municipal program begins July 1st.
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. 
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.
About the 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.

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 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 $65 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 for more information.

New-Age Compost bins are available from Medford DPW year-round, for $65

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

Final Report on Organics Diversion in the City of Medford

In 2019, the Office of Planning, Development, & Sustainability partnered with the Tufts Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning Program to have Tufts graduate students research the possibility of implementing a municipal composting program 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.

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