How to Start a Composting Program at Your Office
a no-fail guide to making your office greener, even in a not-so-green city
If there’s anything that annoys me at work, it’s having to throw compostable organics in the trash.
(I mean, besides getting stuck trying to hunt down ONE PERSON who hasn’t yet signed Tim’s birthday card so I can get rid of it and move on with my day...but you get the point.)
From talking to others who work in an office environment, I’ve learned that most offices don’t already have a composting program. If you’re committed to reducing waste at work just like you do at home, you may need to be the one to start the program yourself.
I’ve put together this post because I didn’t find the process of starting a composting program at my office easy. The information wasn’t readily available, the information that was out there strongly implied that starting this program might be impossible, and I couldn’t find others in my city who’d done this already to guide me through the process. I wanted to make sure that anyone who was interested could start a compost program at work easily.
In this article, I’ll tell you exactly how to duplicate what I started at my office at your own office. I’ve also included a downloadable guide to this program that includes everything you’ll need to get started, including:
- A checklist that takes you through the whole process, from ideation to your first drop-off
- A sign-up sheet where you coworkers can get involved in compost drop-off AND
- A letter to share with your office manager that’s sure to get the project the green light
To get this guide, enter your email address below and I'll send it right to your inbox (make sure to check your promotional folder)!
Keep in mind, my office is in New York City. Not all cities are the same when it comes to waste collection, and New York City isn’t a particularly advanced city when it comes to composting — at the time of writing this article, curbside organics collection for small residences is only being piloted, and only in some neighborhoods (curse you, Park Slope!!). Because all cities are different, you may need to tweak your composting program to fit your area.
That said, this program is designed to work in locales with only the barest of compost infrastructure — it should work for most places, as long as you’re able to locate a compost drop-off location. If anything, you may have a simpler solution available to you if you live in a more compost-savvy city (I’m lookin’ at you, Portland).
This program is also designed to work without it getting expensive (and harder to get approved) — but, if your company is ready to shell out for this, you may be able to find a hauling service to do some of the legwork for you.
What’s a composting program, and why is it important at my office?
Composting is a process that recycles decomposed organic materials and turns them into soil fertilizer. Many people throw organics like apple cores, coffee grounds, and eggshells into the trash, where they’ll head to decompose in landfills. By throwing these items into a compost bin instead, you’re turning your organic scraps into valuable fertilizer that can be used in farming, avoiding letting the scraps sit in landfill where they’ll generate harmful greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, and producing zero waste in the process.
In reality, what you’ll be starting at your office using this process is an organics collection program. You won’t actually be composting your scraps (turning them into fertilizer) on site, rather making it possible for you and your coworkers to properly sort organics, just like you would trash and recycling, to divert materials that can be used productively in the future from landfills.
You may be thinking, “does my office really produce enough organic scraps to make a program like this worth it?” I thought that at first too — since I produce most of my food scraps while cooking, and I don’t cook meals at the office — but, chances are, your office produces more compostable waste than you think.
Take my company, for example. We’re about 70 people. Imagine if even half of our team ate just one piece of fruit each day. By the end of one week, we’d have almost two hundred apple cores, orange rinds, and banana peels that could be diverted to compost instead of put in the trash. Plus, we’re a tech company so you know we drink loooooooooots of coffee — and lots of coffee means lots of coffee grounds, which, you guessed it: can go in the compost.
How the program works
When I first started looking into composting options for my office, I was disappointed by the lack of options in NYC. Right now, NYC only offers curbside collection for residences, schools, and businesses that produce food waste on a commercial scale (like restaurants) — but it doesn’t have a lot of options for collecting organics at a normal business like my office. Regular offices, even though tons of people work in them, seem to be a total blind spot of NYC’s organics collection. That’s weird to me, because I spend a lot of time at my office, and often eat two out of my three (ok, you caught me, five) meals there.
I reached out to the NYC Department of Sanitation and called 311 for more information, and both confirmed my suspicion — the city wasn’t going to be of any help in getting a compost program going at my office, because of the reasons mentioned above. (By the way — if you live in New York, or another city that’s super behind the times when it comes to composting, I recommend reaching out to your city’s sanitation department to make your voice heard about making composting services accessible).
Since I wasn’t going to be able to set up anything that worked as seamlessly as our garbage and recycling collection does (without having my company shell out for a hauler), I decided to create a composting system at work that’s pretty similar to what I do at home — collect the organics on site and then transport them to the nearest drop-off site.
To get started, I got the green light from our office manager. I created a resource you can use to share with your office manager, too, that you can get in the downloadable guide at the beginning and end of this post.
Next, I found a drop-off location within walking distance of my office. If you work in NYC, you can find the drop-off site closest to you here:
If you’re not in NYC, never fear — most cities, no matter how unsavvy they may be about compost, do have drop-off sites available. If you’re not sure how to find one, I’d recommend chatting with someone at your local farmer’s market to get a hint.
From there, I ordered a compost bin that I thought would be a good fit for my office. There are tons of different kinds of bins with various merits, but I chose this one:
I chose this bin because it had a large capacity but would be easy to transport, didn’t require a bin liner (the compost system we’re participating in at our drop off site isn’t equipped to handle compostable plastics), was durable, and had a tight seal that would keep in odors.
Because we’ll be walking to drop off our scraps, I also ordered a hand cart to make the bin easier to transport. If you’ll be making drop-offs in a car, you can probably skip this.
Next, I created a schedule & sign-up sheet so that people from my company could sign up for partnered shifts to bring the compost over to the drop off site. I’ve shared the sign-up sheet template in the downloadable guide so that you can use it too. I decided on once-a-week drop-offs, but they can be made more frequently if you have more volume and available volunteers on your team. (Psst...a great thing about the partnered shifts is that it doubles as an opportunity to get to know another coworker over a shared interest).
Lastly, I hosted a short, half hour training at work to make sure all my coworkers knew about the new program and knew what could and couldn’t be added to our new compost pile.
That’s it! This program is super simple and could be implemented in almost any office, plus it’s cheap — making it easy to get approved. If you’re able to order a bucket, find a drop off site, and have enough interested teammates to do the drop-offs, you can start this program in your own office this week.
If you’d like to start a composting program in your office, download the guide, which includes everything you’ll need to get started:
- A checklist that takes you through the whole process
- A sign-up sheet for compost drop off at your office AND
- A letter you can share with your office manager to get the project the green light at your office
To get the guide, enter your email address below and it'll arrive in your email shortly (make sure to check your promotional folder)!
I hope you enjoyed this article! Have questions along the way? See something you don’t think will quite work for your office? Let me know in the comments and I’ll do what I can to help! I want every office to have a composting program :)