habit shift: kitchen composting.

April 27, 2022

We’ve been composting our kitchen scraps since we moved to New York City more than ten years ago.

What exactly that’s looked like has shifted over the course of the years and been dependent on the services that the city itself provides, our proximity to drop-off sites, pandemic-related service disruptions, and the kindness of neighbors.

We started out by carting buckets of kitchen scraps to a compost drop-off location at our nearest farmers’ market. When the city started its brown bin program in 2018 we were lucky enough to live in a neighborhood (and a building) with the service. When that program halted entirely in the height of the pandemic, we had a short and successful stretch using an odorless indoor composting bin. Eventually, we befriended next door neighbors with a robust backyard compost operation and we began leaving a weekly bag of frozen compost for them to add to their pile. These days we’re back to having curbside compost collection and we’re back to using our building’s brown bin.

I’ll humbly submit that I think curbside compost collection should be a budgetary priority that’s accessible and indeed compulsory in every single neighborhood in this city. Currently the NYC program is available only in certain community boards and individuals have had to opt back into the program since it was reinstated last summer. So, here’s some earnest and updated encouragement for New Yorkers (and everyone) to stop trashing your organic waste.

In case specifics are helpful, here’s what’s been working best for us lately:

I suffer a bit from childhood memories of my grandmother’s very smelly countertop compost Tupperware, so I freeze my food scraps until they’re ready to add to the pile. Over the years we’ve kept these frozen scraps in brown paper bags, in stainless steel mixing bowls, in lidded plastic buckets with handles, and in compostable green bags. Most recently, our sweet spot has been lining a dedicated old mixing bowl with a compostable bag. The structure and support of the bowl means that it’s easy to pull out of the freezer and keep on the counter during food prep and to return again once finished. I resisted using compostable green bags for a long time because they’re not inexpensive and they seemed like an unnecessary additional step, but after lots of trial and error, I’ve found they keep things cleanest and make emptying the bowl into the brown bin significantly speedier than without. (I leave mine untied when they go into the bin to make sure they don’t interfere with decomposition.) There’s no one-size-fits-all here, but finding a process that works well for me right now has been crucial to me keeping up with the practice for so long.

For me, having a receptacle in the kitchen means that every single compostable item actually gets composted. Keeping that receptacle in the freezer means never dealing with odor or pest. And having that receptacle be large enough to hold several days to a week’s worth of scraps, saves on the number of trips I need to take down the stairs with compost in tow.

What works for you?

ACTION ITEMS:

If you live in NYC community boards (Brooklyn 1, 2, 6, and 7, Manhattan 6 and 7, and Bronx 8) currently being serviced by Curbside Composting, make sure you’ve opted into the service by filling out the Curbside Composting Request Form or by calling 311. Currently only 6% of addresses in the 44 districts with the brown bin service have opted back in and we need to show the current administration that people are clamoring for this critical service.

If you live anywhere in NYC, sign this petition to save GrowNYC’s zero-waste programs.

Good news: Councilmember Shahana Hanif (D-Brooklyn) is the lead sponsor of a universal composting measure, which would phase in organic waste pick-up from residential buildings by mid-2023. Voice your support to your councilmember!

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43 Comments

  • Reply B April 27, 2022 at 10:32 am

    I once lived with a yoga instructor and her under the bench lidded plastic compost bucket put me off composting too. I then went and lived with an outdoorsy high school teacher who kept his countertop compost in a large yoghurt plastic bucket without a bag, emptying it into a hole in the backyard every two to three days – and it never once smelled! Living where I am currently, I use green bags because I have a green bin I can make use of, and I put it inside a dark blue Falcon enamel camping billy tin, untied, with the lid on. It does not smell. I think this could be because it is not too big, like a large yoghurt container, and I don’t tie up the green bag, and because it goes out every three days at the most. I also use a small stainless steel measuring jug to put food scraps in for the backyard compost bin I have for the garden. That has no lid, and also no smell. It gets emptied every second day at the latest.

    • Reply B April 27, 2022 at 9:06 pm

      Just wanted to add that the teacher’s yoghurt bucket was unlidded, although plastic.

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  • Reply linda April 27, 2022 at 11:10 am

    i keep a lidded bin in the freezer also lined with a compost bag. it has served me well for the past 7 years. when it’s full, i tie it up and put it in my apt’s compost bin. 🙂 it’s been excellent in terms of keeping my regular garbage can from filling up quickly and smelling.

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    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 27, 2022 at 11:17 am

      yes! totally at the point now where i can’t *imagine* combining food waste and household trash!

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    • Reply steph April 29, 2022 at 11:53 am

      same! i love that we rarely have enough garbage to fill up our big trash can. my city has several drop off spots and provide the green bags for free. i’m not a fan of the bags b/c they do seem unnecessary and i’ve heard mixed things. we also keep our scraps in the freezer: one old salad box which we take to my in-laws and one plastic bag we reuse and take to the municipal spots b/c they take bones, grease and the occasional paper towel. i agree every municipality everywhere should offer curbside composting! litterless also has a handy list if you want to compost while traveling: https://www.litterless.com/wheretocompost
      food is such a big part of our lives and i love that composting is easy where i live b/c it definitely has a huge impact 🙂

  • Reply Lexie April 27, 2022 at 11:25 am

    My New Year’s Resolution this year was to start composting! I have a large tumbler compost bin in my backyard. I have enjoyed the process so far, but I hate having to contend with the bugs (even though they are helping!). I really wish this was a service my county provided. It seems much more manageable and realistic than the existing recycling services (especially plastic, which I am afraid end up in storage or in the landfill). I welcome any and all backyard compost tips!

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    • Reply B April 27, 2022 at 9:12 pm

      I went to a composting class at my local sustainability centre. I found it very helpful as there are a few things to consider to keep it going.

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    • Reply Mado April 29, 2022 at 7:06 pm

      Good for you! I just wanted to say you got this, as a lifelong disliker of bugs, my tolerance has increased quite a lot over the years of composting. Don’t feel like you have to confront the bugs all at once though! I’ve definitely had periods where I look inside, get too squicked out by some weird bug, and abandon the compost for a month(s). Part of the magic for me is that it just keeps doing it’s thing no matter what!

  • Reply Emily April 27, 2022 at 11:32 am

    We live in Portland Maine and use Garbage to Garden, a weekly curbside composting service. We love it! We keep our scraps in an open container on the counter and then dump it in the G2G bucket in the garage if things get too full or smelly. Somehow we haven’t had pest issues. G2G will swap food scraps for bags of compost that we use in our gardens occasionally, and they also pick up used cooking oil, which my husband takes advantage of when he deep fries anything. They turn it into biofuel and soap for cleaning the buckets! It’s strange now to visit people who don’t compost and put all those food scraps in the trash. We can go a couple weeks without having to empty our trash cans because they don’t fill up as fast and they don’t smell.

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    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 28, 2022 at 12:58 pm

      So great! Added a link for folks!

  • Reply Megan April 27, 2022 at 11:33 am

    We’ve been composting for 2 years since moving to Colorado and having municipal composting. We have a large green bin next to our landfill and recycling bins. Inside we keep a lidded compost bin lined with a compost or paper bag that lives under the kitchen sink and gets emptied every 3-5 days depending. I love not putting food waste in the trash can as it goes out less often and food gets smelly quick! We’re lucky our compost can handle animal products like dairy, fat, and bones, in addition to our pizza boxes 🙂 all for city composting for everyone, honestly feels silly to not.

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  • Reply Grace April 27, 2022 at 11:44 am

    We compost with Urban Canopy here in Chicago (which is also where we get our CSA when we join one). We’ve got a thrifted ceramic cookie jar with a decent seal on the counter and we empty it into a 5gal bucket on the fire escape daily (which has eluded the rats… so far!). Every other week we leave the bucket out in front of our building and it gets swapped out for an empty one. Every so often we receive a reward- a pound of worm casings, 5gal of finished compost, a gift card to a local nursery (we don’t have outdoor space so I redirect some of these resources to friends with yards). The service runs us $25/month- I wish it was free or city run, but I’m so grateful that it exists!! It makes me so happy to walk the neighborhood on pick-up day and see all of the buckets. https://www.theurbancanopy.org/compost-club

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    • Reply Meredith April 27, 2022 at 1:23 pm

      We use Urban Canopy as well! They are the best. I like that they also provide bike locks to secure your bucket if you have to leave it in a weird spot, like we do 🙂

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      • Reply Grace April 27, 2022 at 2:11 pm

        Cool cool, may our stems and peels and pizza boxes commingle into beautiful soil together :))

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    • Reply Amy April 28, 2022 at 1:36 pm

      Fellow Urban Canopy composter here! 🙂

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  • Reply Sarah April 27, 2022 at 11:59 am

    When we lived in apartments, we couldn’t compost (despite polite requests to landlords) until we found a local farmer who started a commercial composting business. I would save our compost in a five gallon bucket, lined with newspaper and topped with a twist-off lid and dump it at one of their collection points weekly.

    Now that we own a home, backyard compost was top priority for us. Scraps stay on the counter in whatever bowl is available until one of us takes it outside (we empty it quickly in nice weather, and are slower to get it out there when it’s cold). Using the compost on our garden is another story, because our dog will gleefully dig wherever we put it. So it generally just stays in the pile!

    I’ll echo everyone else that it makes the trash can way less smelly. I do miss the commercial composting service, though, and whole-heartedly support municipal composting, because their operations are large enough to handle animal scraps, too, and some containers made out of compostable materials that just won’t break down in our backyard.

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  • Reply Laure April 27, 2022 at 12:04 pm

    I keep a small lidded bin on my kitchen counter that gets emptied when full (every 1-2 days) to an 5 gallon lidded paint bucket. Once a week I take the big bucket along with glass (not allowed in the curbside recycle bins) and any any hazardous waste to the convenience center about 3 miles away while doing my weekly grocery shop. There is a company that will pick up compost (for a fee) but since I always have glass to recycle as well this works for me.

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  • Reply Diana April 27, 2022 at 1:57 pm

    Love your dedication! Watch Kiss the Ground on Netflix if you are like “why are people so passionate about composting?!” I found this documentary to be life-changing. And S/O to San Francisco and Recology for having one of the longest standing citywide compost pickup programs in the country!

    • Reply barbara swan April 28, 2022 at 7:31 pm

      I live in San Francisco and the citywide compost efforts are frustratingly sketchy depending on your neighborhood.

  • Reply Kelly April 27, 2022 at 2:13 pm

    We live in DC and utilize Veteran Compost services. It’s $25/month and they provide 7 or 14 gallon secure bins and collect them weekly from your front steps or entry of buildings. We keep the bin on a small back porch area we have and so far no problems with pests/major smells. We tried to store it ourselves and drop off at farmers markets or community gardens, but with two little kids and full time jobs we just weren’t doing it consistently. We decided to pay for this service to make it easy for us to do and haven’t looked back! Now to keep pressuring the DC govn’t to make it a part of our public services.

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    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 28, 2022 at 12:59 pm

      yes, indeed! added a link!

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  • Reply Gerry April 27, 2022 at 3:03 pm

    Your system for kitchen scraps sounds perfect. Not having composting services nearby, I settled on a GEOBIN in my backyard. It was very easy to set up and use. I removed the wooden handle from a broken snow shovel and stuck it into the center of the bin for occasional turns. The whole thing costed about $30.

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  • Reply Lindsey April 27, 2022 at 4:09 pm

    I live in Brooklyn, and I’ve been using a service called BK Rot for the past few years. They hire neighborhood youth to pick up the compost on bicycles, and it only costs 30/month for weekly pickup.
    I did opt in to the city composting, but my super doesn’t seem to understand it, and other people in my building are putting regular garbage in the brown bin…guess I have to keep paying for the service.
    I think there needs to be mire outreach and education on the city wide compost, especially in lower income neighborhoods.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 28, 2022 at 12:46 pm

      So great! Adding a link to BK Rot to help folks get there!

  • Reply Alix April 27, 2022 at 6:29 pm

    If you live in New York City and aren’t currently in a district with curbside compost collection or access to a nearby Greenmarket drop-off site, I’d highly recommend looking into Groundcycle! They offer an amazing full-circle bin swap program where they pick up your compost and leave you a weekly CSA delivery from the farm where they take the compost upstate. (I’ll admit I’m biased because I volunteer at their Compost Hub drop-off site in Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn.) Groundcycle is AAPI woman-owned and was started with the mission of bringing affordable compost access to every neighborhood in New York. They also offer delivery from Precycle (a zero waste store) and collect stretchy plastics for recycling.

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    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 28, 2022 at 12:46 pm

      Fantastic! Adding a link to Groundcycle and Precycle so folks can find them!

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  • Reply Rachel April 28, 2022 at 1:13 pm

    We use these compostable brown paper bags to wrangle our compost in the freezer, and dump the contents into the GrowNYC bins at the farmer’s market. Trying to reuse the paper bags until they are truly ready for composting themselves. Current count is 4 weeks maximum before, but every bit helps. Here’s the link if others are interested: https://www.bagtoearth.com/

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 28, 2022 at 1:15 pm

      so great! just swapping out your link to direct right to the company that makes them!

  • Reply Andrea April 28, 2022 at 1:19 pm

    I loooove seeing how others set up their compost sitch. I moved from Eugene, Oregon with free curbside composting by the city, to Kentucky with few options. I’ve had various backyard set ups for 3 years, and I currently love my 42 gallon raised tumbler with dual chambers, so I can let a pile finish in one chamber and move on to the next. I also have a blog post with free printables on my website if anyone is interested: https://www.andreawoodleedesign.com/post/2019/10/04/an-introduction-to-composting-with-free-printables

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 28, 2022 at 1:21 pm

      Thanks so much for sharing, Andrea!

  • Reply TC April 28, 2022 at 1:29 pm

    We keep an old yogurt tub on our kitchen counter and take it out to our bin every night (Tacoma, Washington has curbside composting services and you can have as many bins as you want delivered to your house for free). The yogurt tub isn’t the most attractive solution, but it works and because we take it out daily it’s not a big deal. I’ve tried lots of different ways, but have come to accept that having a bin on the counter is crucial and all bins will eventually get so nasty I’ll no longer want them around, so I’ll clean up this one and recycle it when it’s time for a new yogurt tub.

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  • Reply Meagan April 28, 2022 at 1:29 pm

    In Chicago we used Urban Canopy; we utilized the farmers market drop-off option, which was only $5 for a 5 gallon bucket swap. So economical and great for when money was tight!
    We recently moved and are either going to get a backyard tumbler style bin or use Compost Crusader, which services Southeast Wisconsin.
    https://www.compostcrusader.com/ I wish municipal composting was available everywhere!

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  • Reply M April 28, 2022 at 1:36 pm

    Shoutout to Minneapolis, where I just relocated, for having organics drop-off sites throughout the city. Any resident can sign up and drop off, for free, as much as they want, including citrus, meat, pizza boxes, Kleenex, paper towels and much more: https://www.minneapolismn.gov/resident-services/garbage-recycling-cleanup/organics-recycling/organics-drop-off-sites/. We keep it in a container lined with a green compost bag on our kitchen counter, covered to keep away the bugs. It does not smell unless we put something really gnarly in there like fish guts. We take it out every 1-2 days because we live in a small condo and I don’t want to give up precious freezer space. But, our assigned drop-off location is just a short walk away, by our neighborhood grocery store and one of my kid’s favorite playgrounds, so we walk that way all the time anyway. And the playground has been affectionately renamed “the compost park.”

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  • Reply inga April 28, 2022 at 3:14 pm

    In Germany it turns out, those compostable bags are a big problem because they take too long to compost and are even forbidden to use in the brown bin in some areas. Paper bags seem to be better.

  • Reply Jan April 28, 2022 at 3:43 pm

    Ok, jumping off after Erin’s show of gratitude on Insta.
    I lived in Phoenix a few yrs ago, and used a company called Recycled City. Fabulous. Their rule: if it was once alive, it’s compostable. They used the Bokshari method. I think that’s the word, sorry, early afternoon drinking,lol.
    Anyway, the great thing with Recycled City was if you didn’t need weekly pickup you could do according to your need, and of course, pay less.
    Now, I live in northern Minnesota and have a compost pile in my yard. No bears yet, but fox occasionally make an appearance. I had a black unsightly bin, but my hubby said it twas an eyesore, so I gave it away.
    This has been a brutal winter, tysm Erin for the lilac and cherry blossom videos, so grateful. Back to winter…it’s cold here,like 19 now at night, so the compost isn’t heating up. I’m covering it with leaves for now,bc they’ve emerged. But this summer(spring is cancelled), I will be working on a way to prod this pile of egg shell,coffee ground, vegie peel etc mess to decompose in a way nature has intended.
    I love being zero waste, and try my dangest to do my best. And I really LOVE reading posts and comments about folks who have similar values. It’s not easy, but it’s so kind of you.

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    • Reply LD April 30, 2022 at 5:16 pm

      I live in Asheville and have used bokashi composting here for the past 5 years. All of our neighbors have problems with bears knocking over their trashcans regularly and making a big mess but we have never had a single instance of this (although we do see bears wander through our yard all the time) because we compost every last scrap of food waste. Every 1-2 days (before any bad smells) I empty our under the sink compost container into a bucket in the basement where it gets stirred with bokashi bran. After 2 weeks of adding + 2 weeks of sitting we dump this outside. There is a strong fermented (not rotted) smell when you add to the bucket. It’s very simple, you don’t have to worry about getting the heat right or brown/green ratios, and best of all, no pests ever.

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  • Reply maggie April 28, 2022 at 3:46 pm

    We are in rural coastal new england, and have sufficient land for composting outdoors. We keep daily scraps in large lidded containers in the fridge, and in summer take them outside as needed to a 5gal bucket outfitted with a gamma seal screw lid. Once the bucket is full, we add to a bay in our 3 bay setup, with the addition of lots of leaves, seaweed, hardwood chips, etc. In winter we swap the small bucket for a large metal trash can, where the scraps stay frozen. One (admittedly not super fun) day in spring we add these to the pile, with the same additions noted above. Adding to the pile occasionally and with lots of carbon ensures that we have enough microbial activity for rapid decomposition, and keeps our piles animal free.

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  • Reply Erica April 28, 2022 at 4:59 pm

    I am in Dallas and my family goes to Recycle Revolution ( https://recyclerevolutiondallas.com/). They have a curbside service for some zip codes, but you can also drop off as well. They also accept styrofoam, batteries, scrap metal and plastic bags (some things they do for a fee but it’s nominal and worth it). The only thing they require is that you don’t use a compostable plastic bag- they have a place they take the compost to for processing that only wants organic materials. We have had some blips with our composting “journey” using different companies (mostly pandemic related) and RR has been the best one so far. We will never go back.

  • Reply Alison April 28, 2022 at 8:29 pm

    In NYC, I composted at my community garden. Most gardens have compost systems in the city but usually you have to be a member and can’t use compost bags since those are for commercial composting and need more heat to break down.

    Now that I’m outside the city, I just use an old Chinese soup container and dump it when full. I like this yogurt container idea tho so I might try it for the summer. The chickens usually eat most of the compost, so not the most effective if I wanted good soil but the girls sure do live the scraps!

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  • Reply Kalie April 28, 2022 at 9:03 pm

    Anyone from NE Ohio , check out rust belt riders to see if they serve your area. With two bunnies we compost way more than our tumbler can support! Our awesome landlord subscribes for all his tennants

  • Reply Mado April 29, 2022 at 7:01 pm

    Love all this composting! I am lucky to live in an apartment with a good sized patio, but we’ve given up about half of the covered outdoor space to two compost systems. One is a half barrel bin with two sections for worm composting, the other is a wood upright box with a door at the bottom where I layer leaves that fall abundantly from trees in the lot to the back of us with our organic waste. The upside to doing it myself: it’s pure magic! Especially last year when the wood box compost heated up a ton, felt like I had gained a new witch super power. The down sides are that we can only compost fresh fruit and veg scraps, no oil, protein, grain, meat, cooked things. And there are a lot of spiders currently. But maybe that’s also an upside since it’s been pushing me to overcome a lifelong fear? Inside what works best for us is a very large tall sturdy Tupperware-type with a lid. We only have to empty it once or twice a week (gross, but that’s just what works for us). It gets a little smelly but with the lid it doesn’t escape. And I only have to wash out the grossness once or twice a week as well!

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  • Reply Tess April 29, 2022 at 9:34 pm

    I’m from Australia and one of the things I’m most grateful to myMum for, is that we grew up throwing everything into the compost bin. As an adult I’ve never been able to throw food scraps in the bin. When I moved out of home into a tiny apartment on the other side of the city, I’d use indoor bokashi bin and when it was full I’d put it in a trolley, walk to the station, take a train to the city, another train to my home town and then walk it home to mum’s house and empty it into her compost bin. About 1.5 hour trip. I didn’t feel radical at the time, but looking back now… I’m pretty proud of my 24-year-old self.
    These days I divide into two countertop bins- one for onions, tea, coffee, banana peels and anything I’m fairly sure a rat wouldn’t bother to burrow into the compost bin for. Rest goes into bokashi bins and some stuff into our council collection. I try to avoid this though because we’re not allowed to use the bags and it just turns into a stinky rotten mess.
    Erin, I’ve been reading your blog since I stumbled upon your book at my local library and I love it. Thank you.

  • Reply Erica April 30, 2022 at 12:13 pm

    We compost in our yard, and we also use a curbside pickup.

    In wire bins: yard waste — most of our fall leaves are mulch-mowed right into the lawn, and we compost the rest with other soft yard waste like grass clippings and stems.

    In a covered bin: food, more in summer because it’s more pleasant to walk out to the bin, haha.

    In our kitchen: we keep an unlidded 4-gallon compost bucket on our kitchen counter, lined with a green compostable bag. If it contains hard-to-break-down stuff like avocado pits, paper, or shells, it goes to the curbside bin. If not, it goes to the backyard bin.

    Curbside: Our service picks up weekly. Love them!

    For those in Eastern MA and RI, check out Black Earth Compost! https://blackearthcompost.com/

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