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How to Start a Composting Program at Work

S. Davies is a business communications coach who gives workshops on how to keep your professional reputation squeaky-clean and drama-free.

If recycling paper and cardboard is already part of your green routine at the office, why not add composting to the mix? Learn more about how to keep organic waste, such as apple cores and coffee grounds, from ending up in a landfill.

If recycling paper and cardboard is already part of your green routine at the office, why not add composting to the mix? Learn more about how to keep organic waste, such as apple cores and coffee grounds, from ending up in a landfill.

Start a Composting Program Without Getting Your Hands Dirty

If you compost at home, whether through a municipal collection program or by keeping a compost pit or bin in your backyard, you may have wondered if it would be possible to do the same thing at work. And the answer is ‘yes’! You can start a compost at work and encourage your office to be greener and more environmentally conscious. Here are some tips and suggestions on how to start a composting program at work, including how-to videos, office composting guidelines, and links to composting pick-up services.

Why Should Your Office Start a Composting Program?

Here are a few reasons that you can take to your boss or share with your employees to convince them that now is the time to start an office compost.

  • Your company will save money. The less waste your janitor or garbage removal company has to take away, the less it will cost your business. In addition to reducing waste collection fees, many cities are starting to implement policies aimed at keeping compostable waste out of the landfill. Depending on how your city implements its waste diversion plan, your business may be hit with a fee if you don’t make an effort to start reducing organic waste.
  • Composting can help reduce global warming. When organic waste ends up in a landfill packed between non-organic material, it can take years, even decades, to break down. Then there's the environmental cost of trucking all that waste that could've been composted to a landfill. And if the landfill is located far away, that puts more heavy vehicles on the road, increasing the carbon emissions that lead to global warming.
  • Composting creates good karma! Taking a proactive approach to reducing waste can have a positive impact on the environment, and it can also foster a positive team spirit within the office. People like to know that they're working for ethical, responsible employers who share their values. And happy, engaged employees who feel like they can make a difference, even in small ways, tend to be more productive and pleasant to work with!
With the right tools and information, composting at work can be as easy as composting at home.

With the right tools and information, composting at work can be as easy as composting at home.

How to Get Started

  1. Create a composting committee. Someone is going to have to get this idea off the ground and help establish the program in your office.
  2. Choose an indoor kitchen composting bin that suits your office’s needs. Make sure the bin is solid and well-made. This isn’t the time to skimp on a compost bin. Choose a receptacle with a tight seal and efficient design so that it’s easy to use. The compost bin must look like a compost container and not a plain old garbage can with a lid. Otherwise, people will just toss all manner of trash in it. Then you won’t have a very good composting program at work!
  3. Figure out what you're going to do with your compostable material. Here are some important questions to ask before you start collecting organic material at work:
    • Will you have a company come and pick up your compost and make sure that it’s returned to the earth where it belongs?
    • Does your municipality have a green waste collection program that can pick up the compost material along with other garbage?
    • Do you have a green space on your business’s property that will benefit from compost material without attracting bothersome pests?
    • Can someone take the compost material home and add it to their own garden compost each week?
    • Your office will need to have a consistent plan for how the organic material will be removed from the office compost bin on a timely basis.
  4. Design or purchase posters that are eye-catching and easy to read. Posters will make it easier for staff to determine what goes into the bin and what stays out. You can find printable posters online, or you can ask your compost collection service to provide posters and educational material for your staff.
  5. Announce the new composting initiative at the next staff meeting. Learning how to compost at the office may take time, and it will definitely require everyone to get on board in order for it to work. If you need help explaining how composting works and why this is such a good idea for your business, some eco-organizations offer free in-house workshops on office composting. Likewise, if you are hiring a company to pick up your office’s green organic waste, they'll likely have a representative that can come in and explain how the compost collection service works.

What Can You Put in a Compost Bin at Work?

Here’s a list of food items and packaging that can be composted in your workplace compost bin. The items in the 'definitely' category are pretty straight-forward and are less likely to cause odor problems. Coffee grounds act as a natural odor neutralizer, and so as long as your office likes a mean cup of java, you won’t have as many odor problems.

Here are some items that you can definitely put in your office compost bin:

  • Plant and produce waste such as vegetables, fruit peels, cores, and pits
  • Paper coffee cups—make sure to remove the lid and dump excess liquid. Otherwise, you’ll have a soupy mess at the bottom of your compost bin
  • Uncoated paper and cardboard takeout food containers, paper napkins, and paper plates
  • Teabags, tea leaves, coffee grounds, and coffee filters
  • Wooden stir sticks, chopsticks, toothpicks, skewers, etc
  • Plant-based cutlery and cups that are marked as compostable
  • Plants, plant trimmings, and cut flowers

Depending on the type of composting bin you have, you may be able to put the following items in your office compost bin. (Note: Some composting experts don't recommend putting these items in a composter unless you are creating a full-size compost where you can separate your "greens and browns.")

  • Bread, plain grains, rice, and pasta
  • Dairy products (cheese, yogurt, etc.)
  • Meat (fish, meat, eggs, and eggshells)

If you choose a composting pick-up service for your office, make sure they give you detailed instructions on what can and can not go into the office composting bin.

Don't contaminate the contents of your composting bin. These items should not go into the office compost collection container:

  • Solid or liquid fats (oils, lard, butter, margarine, cream)
  • Meat or fish bones
  • Plastic containers or plastic bags
  • Metal
  • Glass

Never, ever, ever put these things into a compost bin at work or home:

  • Digestive waste of any kind, human or animal, because that’s just gross and unsanitary, not to mention an extreme health hazard.
  • Materials soiled with human waste or bodily fluids (feminine products, diapers, used first aid supplies, bandages, etc.)

The Dos and Don'ts of Composting at Work


Post clear signs near the compost bin at work to remind staff of what goes in the bin.

Don't assume that everyone knows how to compost.

Share the responsibility for taking care of the compost.

Don't act like composting is someone else's job because you're 'too busy'.

Follow the directions posted near the office compost bin.

Don't treat your compost bin as a trash can.

Pay attention to what you are putting in the bin.

Don't contaminate the compost bin by putting non-compostable items in it.

Put the office compost bin a spot that is noticeable, easy to see, but out of the way so it won't get knocked over.

Don't put the compost bin in a place where no one will find it.

Ask questions if you don't know how to compost.

Don't be ignorant of the office composting rules.

Be neat and tidy.

Don't be gross and sloppy when you put stuff in the bin.

Close the bin tightly after you have put your items in.

Don't leave the lid off the compost bin.

Hire a professional composting service if you think it will be too hard to manage a compost program at work.

Don't give up on the idea of composting at work because it's too hard.

Let your clients and customers know that your office composts.

Don't miss out on the opportunity to be a good example of eco-values in the business community.

Don't Give Up

If it turns out that you can’t start an office composting program because it’s just not practical at the moment, don’t give up. Encourage employees to take their own organic waste home and put it in their own compost receptacle. A sealable plastic bag or their washable, re-useable lunch container can be used to take leftover meal waste home.

Bonus Green Tip: Get an Office Rain Barrel

If your office has an uncovered outdoor space such as a patio, terrace, or rooftop deck and you are located in a region that gets a lot of rain, consider getting a rain barrel as part of your green office program. A rain barrel collects rainwater that can be used to water outdoor or indoor plants. You can find rain barrels at your local hardware or garden store. Some cities and municipalities committed to making their communities more eco-savvy sell rain barrels at reasonable prices (often at or below retail prices.)

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2014 S Davies


Deborah Minter from U.S, California on August 27, 2017:

Good suggestions...

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on June 27, 2014:

Excellent job thank you much.