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Food service compost guide

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Learn how to set up and maintain a food scraps compost program at your restaurant, grocery store, bakery, or other food-related business.
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Food businesses in Portland will be required to compost their food scraps, starting in 2023 for some businesses. Learn more.

Set up service

You’ll need to set up food scraps compost collection service from a permitted garbage and recycling company

While all garbage companies are required to provide compost pickup when asked, the following companies are actively interested in new compost customers:

If your property manager provides garbage service, they are required to provide compost and recycling services, at service levels that meet your needs, upon request.

If you are responsible for garbage service, contact a permitted garbage and recycling company to set up food scraps compost collection service. Unlike residential service, the City does not assign haulers or set rates for businesses: you choose a company and negotiate service levels and costs.

Get multiple quotes. We recommend getting quotes from your current garbage company as well as a few others to compare service options and costs. All permitted garbage companies are required to offer compost pickup, but prices may vary based on a number of factors, including whether they’re already picking up compost from a nearby business.

Negotiate costs. Garbage service for Portland businesses is an open, competitive market—the City of Portland does not set rates.

Contracts: The City does not require businesses to enter into a contract with a garbage and recycling company. If you choose to sign a contract for service, read the details; it may be difficult to change your levels or cost of service during the duration of your contract. 

If you are currently under contract with your garbage company, you may be required to use them for compost service. Review the contract language and end date.

Discuss container size and frequency of pickup. When getting quotes, ask the garbage company what type and size of container will work best within the space your building has available, how many containers you'll need, and how frequently they’ll be picked up. 

Pickup is required at least once a week. If you don’t have a lot of room, you may need smaller containers and more frequent pickups. If you have a large amount of food waste, you may be able to reduce the size or frequency of pickup of your garbage containers once you start composting.


Set up your space 

An employee puts a bag of food scraps into a compost roll cart outside a restaurant. A cook throws salad green trimmings into a compost bin inside a commercial kitchen. A restaurant owner holds a 5-gallon bucket with a "food only" label on it.

Outdoor containers

Your garbage company will provide compost containers for your main waste collection area. These may be roll carts, dumpsters, or a compactor. All containers – compost, recycling, and garbage – should be well-labeled with stickers showing what can and cannot go in each container.

Indoor containers

Place containers where food is prepped and plates are scraped. Small containers work best since food waste is heavy: They're easier to lift, carry, and empty into roll carts or dumpsters. 

A square green bucket is shown nesting within a gray slim garbage can. Next to it a round green bucket is shown dumping out into a slim green compost waste bin.

Buckets with handles are easy to carry, empty, and wash.

They can be used on top or beneath food prep areas. Or nest a square bucket for food scraps within a slim garbage container.

You can reuse old food storage buckets or purchase green buckets.

You can request free green square buckets from your garbage company to get started (up to two per business). Square buckets hold 4 gallons and are 13" tall by 9.5" wide.

Slim containers are another option.

Green slim containers for collecting food scraps are available for free from your garbage and recycling company (containers are purchased by the City and distributed by garbage and recycling companies).

Slim containers often hold 23 gallons and measure around 30" tall x 25” wide x 13.5” deep.

Because food waste is heavy and compostable bags aren’t as strong as regular plastic bags, empty the container before it's completely filled.

Posters and stickers

A square sticker outlined in green reads "Food only" and shows an apple core icon. Photos of food waste are shown: a banana peel, egg shells, shrimp, coffee grounds in coffee filter, pizza, salad, toast, chicken bones. At the bottom reads "no pet waste, liquids, to-go containers, napkins, garbage. A rectangular green stickers shows a white apple core icon and text that reads Food Only.

Use our free posters and stickers to label all waste containers clearly, ideally on top, front, and sides.

These labels show staff what should and shouldn’t go in each container. This is especially important since the guidelines for composting at home are different than at work, and an on-the-spot reminder is helpful.

Always use posters and stickers provided by the City of Portland, since guidelines outside of the Portland metro area are different.

Get free posters and stickers

Bags and bin liners

You don’t have to use bin liners, but many restaurants use them to keep containers clean and to reduce mess and odors.

A green trash bag is filled with food scraps. The "BPI" logo is highlighted on the bag to show that it's a BPI-certified compostable bag.

Advantages of using bags: Minimizes the need to wash containers and can reduce odor or fruit fly problems during the summer. Keeps exterior collection containers cleaner. Makes emptying containers easier.

Disadvantages of using bags: Cost. Compostable bags can degrade if not used within a certain timeframe. Compostable bags are generally not as strong as conventional plastic bags. Double bagging may be necessary.

Only BPI-certified compostable bags are allowed in Portland’s compost program. Find BPI-certified compostable bags at restaurant supply stores or through janitorial supply vendors.

Size of bags: 32-gallon bags generally fit slim containers (slim containers are around 30" tall x 25” wide x 13.5” deep).


Train staff

The first photo shows a commercial kitchen staff member sweeps carrot peels into a 5-gallon green bucket. The next photo shows another kitchen staffer emptying the green bucket into an outdoor rollcart labeled with "food only" stickers. The third photo shows a person using a commercial kitchen sprayer to rinse out the green bucket in a large stainless steel kitchen sink.

Before you start composting, make sure that staff understands what goes in the compost, where to empty the containers, and how to keep containers clean.

What goes in, what stays out. Label all waste containers with stickers and waste areas with posters to show what can and can’t go in each bin.

Business compost is food only: No napkins, paper products, or other non-food items. Conduct occasional spot checks to make sure non-food items aren’t going into the compost bin. Correct issues before they become a habit.

An image of an 8.5x11 PDF showing three instructional photos: The first photo shows a commercial kitchen staff member sweeps carrot peels into a 5-gallon green bucket. The next photo shows another kitchen staffer emptying the green bucket into an outdoor rollcart labeled with "food only" stickers. The third photo shows a person using a commercial kitchen sprayer to rinse out the green bucket in a large stainless steel kitchen sink.

Lift safely. Compost containers can get heavy quickly. Don’t fill containers to the top. 

When emptying internal containers into a dumpster or large roll cart, it's best to have two people lift and dump the container, especially with the larger 23-gallon slim container.

Clean containers. Containers should be cleaned regularly to prevent odors and fruit flies. For sanitation reasons, containers must be cleaned out at the dump sink, not the food prep sinks.

Five-gallon buckets can go in many dishwashers for easy cleaning. For larger indoor containers, use soap and water and make sure to dispose of the rinse water in a sanitary sewer drain (not storm drains).

Training videos

Compost and recycling training for commercial kitchens

This video teaches kitchen staff:

  • What can and cannot go in recycling and compost bins.
  • How to safely lift heavy compost bags and containers.
  • The importance of keeping containers clean.

Español: Video de capacitación sobre el compostaje y el reciclaje

Watch the 3-minute video

How to set up compost

Hear how The Old Spaghetti Factory set up food scrap collection. General Manager Gary Shepard shares how they:

  • Got help from their local government Waste Specialist.
  • Found space for compost bins outside and in the kitchen.
  • Used green buckets and slim containers to collect plate scrapings and other food waste.
  • Worked one-on-one with employees to show them how easy it was to separate food scraps.

He explained that he was hesitant at first but found they were able to compost without any inconvenience or additional labor, and that staff supported it almost instantly.

Watch the 2.5-minute video

Compost tips from an experienced Chef

Providence Milwaukie Hospital’s Grapevine Cafe has been composting since 2012. Executive Chef Martin Pedersen shares how they:

  • Set up the bins and dish stations.
  • Strain wet food waste before composting it.
  • Separate waste when scraping plates.

Chef Pedersen also talks about the benefits and positive staff and customer response.

Watch the 2-minute video


Additional tips

Avoid odors and pests

Internal containers: Empty containers daily. Clean containers daily. 5-gallon buckets or other small collection containers can be run through the dishwasher. Use compostable bags to reduce the build-up of food in the containers. If your 23-gallon slim indoor container, provided by your garbage company, is cracked or leaking, contact your garbage company for a replacement.

External containers: Your garbage company can clean your external compost containers or replace them (charges may apply). If your outdoor containers are leaking, contact your garbage company for new bins. 

If fruit flies appear: Seal, cover, or refrigerate all fruits and vegetables. Trap fruit flies in a shallow dish of apple cider vinegar doused with a few drops of dish soap. Clean drains regularly. Consider using baking soda and vinegar, rather than a chemical drain cleaner.

Front-of-house compost collection

We do not recommend compost collection in areas where customers dispose of their own waste, because customers often put napkins, to-go cups, or other non-food items in the compost. 

Collect front-of-house, sort back-of-house. If you would like to collect food waste from customers, direct them to put all waste in dish tubs and have staff bring the tubs back-of-house to sort properly. Cafes and coffee shops often do this when they’re using reusable dishware and want to collect food waste and recyclables like cans and bottles. This saves customers the hassle of sorting and assures waste will be sorted correctly.


Benefits of composting

Find opportunities to trim waste

Embassy Suites hotel found that separating food scraps helped them find ways to reduce food waste and save thousands of dollars a month. General Manager Scott Youngblood and Executive Chef Scott Hensley share how they:

  • Set up compost service and collected food scraps separately from trash.
  • Did a waste audit of the food they collected to find out if any of the waste could have been prevented.
  • Reduced the size of buffet plates from 10” to 8”, which reduced customer food waste by 50%.
  • Made changes to purchasing, prep, and cross-utilizing ingredients to reduce wasted food.

Watch the 3-minute video

Once you start collecting food waste, you can more easily tell what is frequently wasted each day. Knowing this might help you reduce how much of certain foods you order and prepare, which can lower your purchasing costs and cut prep time.

Learn more and contact us for assistance.

Turn food scraps into fuel and fertilizer

Over half the food waste thrown away in the Portland region comes from businesses [1]. That’s about 100,000 tons of food waste per year.

When food scraps are sent to the landfill, they decompose and create methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change and is over twenty-five times more potent than carbon dioxide (C02) [2].

Food scraps collected at Portland businesses are sent to a processing facility that converts them into biogas, which can be used to power homes and businesses or provide liquefied natural gas fuel for trucks.

In addition to energy, these facilities also create a nutrient-rich liquid fertilizer used to improve soil quality and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers. Healthier soil is better at retaining water, so farmers need less water to grow crops.

Learn more about how food scraps are converted to fuel and fertilizer.

References:

  1. Food in the garbage: By the numbers, Metro
  2. Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Understanding Global Warming Potentials, EPA

Get personalized assistance

Our staff have been helping businesses with compost and recycling for years and are familiar with common challenges and solutions.

Request assistance