Citywide Composting


In November, we flew to Seattle for vacation. And, guys, it was a composting HEAVEN. At my apartment in Chicago, I compost using a pickup service. I pay them a small fee each month, for which they pick up a five gallon bucket of my food scraps and replace it with a clean one I can fill up the following month. This system works well for me, but when I'm out and about composting gets harder. If a restaurant offers me a paper napkin I can't refuse, I'll take it home to compost. Same with lemon slices in my water, wooden toothpicks in sandwiches, tea bags, and more. I literally squirrel away all these little things to take home to compost, which is funny and weird.

In Seattle, though, composting is mandated by the city, which also provides bins and pickup services for it. So, at a restaurant, I could leave food on my plate, knowing it would be taken care of sustainably. Paper napkins I could throw in the compost on my way out. At coffee shops, I would compost my tea right there in the shop instead of taking it home with me. We were able to compost easily at our Airbnb, saving food scraps in the fridge and then tossing them in the apartment's shared compost bin on our way out the door. I felt free of the low-level compost guilt or obligation that I might feel at a Chicago restaurant; composting was so easy, integrated with my life rather than necessitating extra effort.

While the federal government refuses to take leadership on mitigating climate change and other environmental problems, we can ask our cities to step up. Seattle, San Fransisco, and Portland (and maybe a few other cities - does yours?) currently offer mandatory municipal composting. Their leadership proves that national action on this isn't necessary to create change - it can start with local cities serving as examples.

Composting is an essential part of an environmentally sound community. It diverts waste from the landfill, provides super-rich soil for increasingly depleted farmlands, and promotes a circular system in which "useless" food waste instead becomes regenerated into something that can grow more food. (And this article helps explain the ways in which composting can be financially beneficial for cities, too.)

If for you, like me, Seattle's system sounds like something you wish your city offered, let's start the long, long process of getting there. Can you start or sign a petition? Do an internet search to see if these efforts already exist in your area and offer your support? Talk with a local representative about the feasibility of getting started? Get together with a few zero waste friends together to start figuring out a way to lobby your city council?

There are so many ways in which our cities could do better sustainability-wise, so it's completely okay if this issue doesn't light your fire and you prefer to work on other things. Hopefully it lights someone else's!

In the meantime, if you don't compost currently, maybe this list can help you figure out how to do it where you live, whether you have a backyard or not.


PS. Cities can be environmental leaders in other ways, too. Seattle's city council just voted to divest over three billion dollars in city funds from Wells Fargo, which funds the Dakota Access Pipeline. Read more on that here, if you'd like. If your city isn't ready for composting, could you support its leadership on another environmental issue? Within the next month I'm planning to share what getting involved at a city level will look like for me going forward... stay tuned. Thanks for reading, friends.

Photograph from a dessert spot where we stopped in Seattle - isn't that the fanciest compost set-up you've ever seen?