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How to start composting at home in Chicago

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Reduce your impact on the environment in 2020

An image of three bins marked with: Landfill, Recycle, and Compost. Getty Images/Cavan Images RF

Determined to watch your waste in the new year? Well, it’s easier than ever before to compost your kitchen scraps in Chicago. While there’s no municipal composting program, thankfully a handful of collection services and drop-off spots are making the process more convenient.

Just exploring ways to be more green in 2020? Here’s what you need to know about composting. It diverts organic waste from sitting in a landfill where it can produce one of the most harmful greenhouse gasses, methane. Plus, composting turns waste into reusable material like soil, fertilizer, or mulch.

In some cases, it’s more helpful than recycling. Less than 9 percent of residential waste actually gets recycled in Chicago—that’s the worst rate in the country, according to an investigation by the Better Government Association.

One simple way to figure out your home’s environmental impact is taking inventory of the trash. This way you can take note of how frequently you might need a pick-up if you opt for that service. Plus, it can lead to other small changes as well. Perhaps you notice a lot of paper towels going into the garbage, you could then consider cleaning with washable cloth instead (these towels from IKEA would be perfect, and they’re just 79 cents).

There is more than one way to go green and if you’re ready to compost we’ll help you figure out the best solution. There are a few different ways to compost in the city—here’s how to get started in the new year.

If you want a service to pick-up and compost

With services like this, companies will usually drop on off a 5-gallon bucket when you sign up. All you have to do is fill it up, then leave it out to be collected and commercially composted. Services start at around $10 for once-a-month pick-ups, and increase to about $40 for weekly service. Members who sign up for subscriptions can also sometimes get soil back in the spring for backyard gardens or potting plants.

If you’re looking for a company committed to sustainability, Healthy Soil Compost collects their 5-gallon buckets with the help of cargo bikes. There’s also Collective Resource and the Urban Canopy which serve different areas of the city. If you need help finding a composting service, it’s worth it to reaching out to organizations like Zero Waste Chicago, Recycle by City, or Illinois Composters for a list of resources in your neighborhood.

If you want to drop-off your container of food scraps

Many of the farmers markets in Chicago have compost drop-off locations which can be more economical than a weekly pick-up service. To drop off your container, it typically costs just $5. Plus, you can haul it in on your own schedule.

This is easier to accomplish in the summer when outdoor farmers markets are open across the city. However, the Green City Market has indoor locations all year long where you can make a drop-off.

If you want to do it all at home

Buying a machine that automatically composts your food waste at home might be a good option for people who garden or don’t have service that suits them. Top of the line, high-tech composters could run upwards of $1,000 like Whirlpool’s Zera Food Recycler which turns a week’s worth of organic material into fertilizer in 24 hours. Even mid-range composting machines will be a few hundred bucks. The most economical option for folks looking to do it on their own is vermicomposting which uses worms to break down the organic material. Here’s a quick explainer on how to build your own container.

If you want to be more hands on

Those looking to learn more can attend a composting class to learn more about the process. The Garfield Park Conservatory has a free weekly composting demo. Talk to knowledgeable volunteers that will help weigh the pros and cons of different machines, services, and vermicomposting.

If you want to get rid other organic waste

Kitchen scraps like banana peels and kale stems aren’t the only type of organic waste you can compost. When it’s time to take down the Christmas tree, it can be recycled into mulch for city parks. The city also has a yard waste composting program. Residents can gather leaves, grass, small branches, and garden waste then schedule a free pick-up through 311.