Find a composting facility – then what?

As frustrating as it may be, even if you can find a composting facility near you, its presence may not guarantee your ability to recycle even the most common household organics.  Facilities that accept compostable resins are rarer still, and it might be best to buy recyclable plastics, instead.  

In the world of waste-related search terms, this one – “find a composting facility near me” (or some variant thereof) — is not unusual. People are actively searching for ways to recycle food waste, compostable serviceware and packaging, and other organics.  

Unfortunately, the fact that a composting facility may be operating near you does not guarantee your ability to recycle all organics via composting.

For individual households, composting options for food waste beyond the backyard may still be limited.  According to industry resources, more than half of the composting facilities in the US only accept yard waste.

Of those operations equipped to handle more challenging materials – like food waste – some will be large operations like McGill that specialize in services to high-volume generators only.

Other composting operations may be able to compost the actual food, but not the compostable plates on which it was served.

Relatively new to the industry are a growing number of entrepreneurs offering door-to-door food waste collection outside of the municipal disposal system.  Some transport the food to larger composting facilities; some will operate their own food composting systems.  But this is very much an emerging service, mostly in larger metropolitan areas.

Wish-cycling won’t make it so

Wish-cycling describes the practice of tossing anything designed to be recycled into the recycling bin, hoping someone on down the line will figure out where it is supposed to go.

Sadly, this isn’t the way recycling (including composting) works.  Until the day when scanners and robots take over sorting lines, households and businesses must pay attention to separation guidelines.

There is no such thing as a universal recycling mandate.  Every jurisdiction will have its own list of what can or cannot be diverted from the landfill or incinerator.

That list can depend on many factors.  Distance from the recycling facility, current prices for and availability of recycled feedstocks or recycling services, and other considerations influence the recycling options for any given community.

How do you find a composting facility?

Before grabbing that package of compostable cups on the grocer’s shelves, find out what is and is not compostable in your community.   

A call to City Hall or a quick web search will usually do the trick.  There are also a couple of sites maintained by national entities that can help you with that search:

Once you have determined what can and cannot be recycled/composted in your town, make a copy of the list and tack it up somewhere near your sorting and recycling bin area so there will be no excuses for convenient memory lapses.

Avoid cross-contaminating recycling/composting streams

More and more restaurants and groceries are separating their food waste from landfill-bound trash and diverting it to composting.

Do seek them out and spend your dollars with businesses with good waste habits.

But when dining or shopping at these establishments, don’t screw up all that good work by being careless with your own trash separation choices.

Clearing a tray by dumping everything into the food waste bin – including that aluminum soda can and plastic fork – contaminates the entire container. 

One aluminum can might not seem like much. It’s big and bright and can easily be spotted and snatched out of the pile some time before, during, or after processing … right?

Wrong.  When a truckload of similarly contaminated bins gets to the composting facility, that entire load could be rejected and sent to the landfill.    Feedstock contamination is a major problem for composting facilities.  It can damage equipment, diminish the value and reuse potential of the finished product, and impact worker safety. 

Tossing a compostable bottle in with the traditional plastics can cause big problems for those recyclers, too.  In fact, a single compostable item can ruin an entire processing batch of conventional resins.

Bottom-line:  Pay attention to the symbols and sort accordingly.

Buy goods that can be recycled in your community

Plastic waste has become something of a planetary nightmare.  But it’s the plastic that doesn’t get recycled that’s causing the biggest problems.

Here’s the truth:  It can make more recycling sense to buy a plastic cup that can be recycled in your community than a compostable one that cannot, because that compostable will only end up in the landfill.

To put an end to your household’s wish-cycling, shop smart.  Take that recyclables list to the grocery store and check recycling symbols before dropping a package into your cart.  If it can’t be recycled, choose a different product.  If your favorite fast food restaurant or coffee shop doesn’t serve their beverages in a cup that can be composted or recycled in your community, go somewhere else – and tell them why.

By practicing good buying and recycling habits, every household can do its part to reduce waste.  Just compost what you can and recycle the rest.