Tips for Composting Curbside Without Smells, Flies or Pests


Some cities will provide you with a designated kitchen pail for organics, while others will ask you to use your own sealable container. Photo: Flickr/WordRidden

If you live in a city that offers curbside commercial composting, the best thing you can do to help spread the trend is to participate in your local program. Why do your food scraps matter? To put it simply, greater participation means the program is more cost-effective — a top concern for other city governments that may be considering similar measures.

“The more people who participate [in city-wide programs], the better the cost profile,” says Michael Armstrong, sustainability manager for the city of Portland, who was instrumental in rolling out its new curbside composting program. “The overall system gets more efficient when we get stuff out of the garbage and into beneficial use. … That’s a really important piece of it.”

But for residents who are unfamiliar with composting, the concept of separating organics may seem a bit intimidating at first — a fact that more and more analysts are recognizing.

According to an industrial composting fact sheet from MIT’s Sloan School of Management, “Cities must be aware of the difficulties they will face during the implementation process. … One frequent challenge is resistance from citizens fearful of smell, the ‘yuck’ factor, and vermin. In each of these cases, education is a very effective means of combating such concerns.”

Armstrong echoed these calls for resident education, saying that, in essence, organics recovery programs only change the bin used to dispose of waste — not the waste itself. In other words, all those food scraps and soiled paper bits were still at the curb before programs rolled out; they were just in garbage bags instead of an organics cart.

That said, the composting pro recognizes that changing daily habits doesn’t come easy, and the last thing residents want to deal with is yucky smells or pest problems at the curb.

In Portland, city employees went door-to-door to educate residents about simple ways to keep kitchen food scrap pails and outdoor organics carts clean. Read on for some top clean composting tips from Portland and other cities with curbside composting in place, and banish the composting “yuck” factor for good.

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Mary Mazzoni


    1. people should not eat dead food anymore/animals…..and then we don’t have bones to trough out ….

  1. Washing out your cart after each use is a tall order. I’ve found an effective alternative in shredded cedar mulch, available in bags where landscape supplies are sold. After the cart is emptied, I put a modest layer in the bottom of the cart. Absorbs any liquid and deodorizes. One bag will last through many uses.

  2. Jim, I’d suggest using the Bokashi method for bones, eggs, meat, dairy along with your organic waste. Using a good bran will get the smell down and there are some fantastic benefits to the Bokashi tea for the garden.

  3. Gee, was this article sponsored by Ziploc?? Honestly, I cannot think of a company more anti-environment than SC Johnson.

  4. No mothballs, please! Do not use mothballs to discourage critters from getting into your food scraps. Mothballs are chemicals that do not belong in the composting process, which is where all those nice food scraps are headed! An alternative: Keep a pile of dried leaves or grass clippings — or even used paper towels or strips from an uncoated take-out pizza box — handy to put on top of food scraps to keep down odors.

  5. While I understand that getting the general population to compost will be a huge benefit, any discussion of compostable bags has to include a discussion of the pros and cons of compostable bags, such as that many are apparently simply plastic that breaks apart and is not actually biodegradable, and instead simply stays as small bits of plastic. “Compostable” doesn’t mean “biodegradable,” and many farms etc. using the compost for food are now refusing to accept these.

    Also, moth balls are not an environmentally friendly alternative at all.

    Most important is drying after you wash or rinse, for little buckets inside or big ones outside, and outside the sun when it’s open and rinsed will help dry it out and keep smells down.

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