Composting at the Office

by Marcos Cordero on August 4, 2011
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Your business may already be recycling a full range of materials. Paper, cardboard, plastic, glass, and metal are all generally collected by commercial recyclers, and making receptacles for these materials accessible to your staff makes it easy for them to do their part in reducing your waste stream.

However, if your business is ready to take the next step in its waste reduction, you may have overlooked the opportunity to capture organic waste through composting. There are a number of different methods you can consider for composting at your office:

1) Indoor VermicompostingVermicomposting uses red wriggler worms to break waste down into a rich soil fertilizer (which can then be added to office plants). Though some employees may feel uneasy with worms in the breakroom, vermicomposting units are well contained, and worms actually remain largely invisible (they tend to hide below compost layers away from light). For many, vermicomposting can be fun, and the bins require minimal maintenance. Adding newspaper or other compostable paper products along with food waste will help to keep your worms happy by balancing humidity levels inside the bin. Prepared compost will also need to be periodically collected from the bin. (An employee with a green thumb or passion for sustainability may be interested in taking on this task.)

2) Mechanical Indoor Units - If composting with worms seems a bit too formidable for your office setting, mechanical indoor composters are also now widely available. These compact devices simply plug into the wall and are largely maintenance-free. Employees simply add food waste to these devices at any time. Sawdust pellets (available through the device manufacturers) are added periodically to keep the right balance of material types, and the device will even let you know when compost is ready to be collected.

3) Outdoor Bins or Piles – If your business has large quantities of organic waste or generates a lot of landscaping waste, an outdoor recycling bin or pile may be the right choice. Outdoor composting can have some additional considerations (like making sure bins are sealed appropriately to discourage vermin, or turning piles regularly to maintain the correct temperatures and moisture levels), but these higher maintenance needs can allow for much larger volumes of material to be composted.

4) Commercial Composting Collection – Looking to take advantage of composting’s waste reduction benefits without managing the process yourself? Some municipalities now provide curbside composting collection, and some waste management agencies also now collect organic waste. Contact your waste services provider to see what options might be available for businesses in your area (and if it’s not offered yet, let them know it’s a service you’d like to see).

Once a system is in place, you can bring employees into the composting process by making sure that composting collection points are located in key areas (like your breakroom or cafeteria), and are bundled with other garbage and recycling receptacles. Provide signage on what’s compostable and what’s not, so employees have clear guidance on what to include in the bin. Finally, if you currently provide disposable serving-ware to your staff, consider moving to compostable products (including plates, utensils, cups, and napkins/towels) — or more permanent, washable ones.

For your employees, going beyond recycling demonstrates your commitment to sustainability, while encouraging eco-friendly practices. In using an approach that’s appropriate for your business, composting can be an easy and fun way to handle an often ignored category of waste in an sustainable way.

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