Composting While Traveling

Composting while traveling

Composting while traveling is hard. I've had my home composting set-up figured out for years, and when at home in Chicago I compost pretty much everything. Alas, this routine has also inculcated in me not only a devotion to composting but also a strong sense of guilt when I don't.

So, when I travel, I try to find places to compost the inevitable detritus of eating, of being a person: fruit peels, snacks that fell on the ground, cooking scraps, tea bags. Over the years, I've cobbled together a hodgepodge of various methods to try when I'm on the road. Below, the various strategies I use - and I'd love to hear yours, too.

Compost options while traveling.

-Check if the city offers composting. This, of course, is the ideal scenario. In the past year, I've traveled to two cities that offer municipal composting - Seattle and San Fransisco - and wow did that make it easy to stay zero waste. In Seattle, we collected food scraps in a bowl in the fridge of our Airbnb, then dropped them off in the apartment's communal compost bin for the city to pick up. Easy, peasy. In San Fransisco, I saw a compost bin as soon as I walked off the plane, and happily disposed of my orange peel and stale popcorn there. Then, I used my friend's compost bin in Oakland for anything else I acquired during the trip. Portland, Boulder, and Minneapolis offer public composting, too.

-Check if there are any local drop-off points. Even if the city doesn't collect compost, someplace within it might. In Asheville, we saved our food scraps to periodically drop off at the grocery store around the corner. (Of course, it helps to be in a slightly crunchy city where grocery stores do compost). In Philadelphia, I've bought a tea at a certain coffee shop just for the chance to toss my apple peel in their compost bin. In Madison, Wisconsin, we've utilized the university's public compost bins - which are always nearly empty, so I love the feeling that by using them we're helping prove that they're useful and needed.

The ethics of this choice are, of course, a tad murky; if possible, it's probably best to ask first if you can deposit a little compost from home in exchange for a purchase. But I will admit that in certain cases I've resorted to sneaking my compost bag in. You do what you do.

Composting while traveling

-Take it home with you. On a roadtrip, composting becomes a little easier, since you have all the room in the world to bring things with you. For an overnight trip, I'll bring a container like the one above, or a few containers of that size if I'm planning on cooking. My favorite move is to save a compostable takeout container from a past restaurant meal, because then at the end of the trip you can just put the whole thing straight into the compost, rather than having to deal with scraping out the food scraps and washing a less-than-pristine container.

If you'll be away on a roadtrip for a little longer, consider popping a compost bucket in the car. I've found that the five gallon bucket I use to hold my compost before it gets picked up doesn't smell if it's kept firmly closed, making it a contender for holding compost on the road.

Of course, none of this is really feasible on a longer trip, but maybe you can still collect a few small articles that aren't imminently perishable - the toothpick that came in your sandwich, the paper napkin from your restaurant meal - in a bag to take home with you to compost after the trip. Composting a little bit is always better than composting nothing at all.

-Reach out to someone local. This, of course, is a bit harder and more nebulous - but I've met so many lovely and generous people in this online zero waste community. Maybe you have a favorite blogger who'd be happy to meet up, or whom you can simply ask if they know of any hidden spots in their city to compost. Maybe you can message your burgeoning Instagram pal to ask if you can buy her a coffee in exchange for a place to compost. In Sonoma this April, I met up with a friend for dinner, and she graciously took my banana peel home with her, saying "What else are friends for?" Indeed.

-Use this guide to find a spot nearby. I keep a city-by-city list of where you can compost in the U.S. and Canada here, and my hope is that it's full of resources both for residents and for travelers. If you're headed somewhere new, take a peek! Maybe it will unearth just the composting tip you need.

Make it easier in your city.

If you'd like to make it a little easier on the next zero waste traveler to come to your town, a few ideas:

-Work toward municipal composting in your city. More thoughts on that, right here.

-Or work toward a smaller, easier solution. Maybe you volunteer at a community garden that you think could accept small donations of food scraps, or maybe you own a coffee shop and you'd love to open up your compost bin to the public in exchange for a donation or a purchase. 

-Update the guide with insider tips for your city. Check out your hometown here, and if you have something to add, use the form at the bottom of the page to send me your local composting ideas.

I'd love to hear how you approach composting while traveling, too - let's work together to make it easier for all of us! Tips to add?

Pictured here, a bit of compost from my weekend away.