Recycling Food Scraps

Archived Q&A and Reviews

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Keeping the kitchen composter clean

Jan 2009

We collect our food scraps, etc. in a plastic compost bin that the waste company provided us. We seem to be getting lots of mold in the compost bin and attracting lots of flies too. What is the best way to keep it clean? Frequency of cleaning? Should we be keeping it out of the kitchen? Thanks. compost issues

I use brown paper bags to line my green plastic container. I usually use the big brown bags. I usually tear off the top part. It keeps the mold and gross factor down so much so that I usually only wipe down the container before I line it again. The bio bags also seem to work. Rachel

Stinky Flies and Green Waste Disposal

Nov 2008

Hello, we have started collecting our ''green waste'' from the kitchen, ie: crusts of bread bits of veggies, etc. in a bowel in the kitchen and then we have put it in our Green Waste trash can to be picked up by the garbage truck every other week. So, we now have a very stinky garbage area and many flies. I was thinking this was the ''green'' thing to do, decrease land fill and all, but I am clearly not doing it right. Any suggestions as to how to dispose of kitchen waste in a way that doesn't lead to stink and flies? Also, if your answer is ''compost'', don't I need to eventually DO something with the compost too? I don't know take it out and spread it on my theoretical organic garden or something? Help Stinky

What I do is use the small green bin that Oakland delivers with a bio bag inside then empty that into the big green bin. No flies, no stink. greenie

You may want to rethink the 'bowel' :-) the joker

Its horrible if you don't use those biodegradable waste bags. I think the brand we use is called ''biobag'' or something weird like that. They line your compost pail and then when you go to throw it out, you just lift the bag out, tie it up, and toss the whole thing in the green bin. It contains all the gross stufffor the week its sitting there. If you don't use these, and just gather the rotting waste, you have a nasty mess both in the house and outside. genevieve or the ''rotline'' 510-444-soil can assist you with all your composting needs. I invested $30 in a nice stainless steel kitchen composting pail from elephant pharmacy (whole foods ext., totally worth it) it looks great, has a charcoal filter and holds 2-3 days worth of scraps. The green bin stinkyness can be resolved by adding ''dry'' layers after you dump your ''wet'' compost from the kitchen- newspapers, paper bags, leaves, hay ext. your bin will always be a bit icky- ive never had any problems with the lid down. maybe try keeping waste in a paper bag to keep off of the bin a bit? rotting rocks

Hiya, I'm right there with you on the green waste side effects. I spray both my green can and compost bowl with a vinegar/water mix, or solution of Meyer's Clean Day. Meyer's ends the flies much better and is not toxic. Soak your green can twice/month with Meyer's or Pine Sol. Good luck! Jennifer

It's a lot of extra work, but here's how I do it: I use a paper bag as a liner, but before I put it in, I put in a handful of those little wood shavings that you use for hamsters and rabbits and such -- I find that it helps to absorb the moisture really well. Plus, I empty that thing minimum every two days, if not every day. Is it a pain in the butt? Yep. But it keeps down the flies.

If fruit flies are your problem, I have two solutions. One kills them and one is live-catch. Killing them: take a jar and put some vinegar in it. Put some saran wrap over the jar and secure it with a rubber band around the mouth. Poke a hole or two in the sarah wrap: next morning, you'll have a bunch of dead fruit flies swimming around in the vinegar.

Catch and release outside: Take a jar and put some food scraps in it (banana peels work well... though vinegar might work well, too). Make a cone out of a piece of paper, and use tape to make it hold. Make sure that the cone can fit into the jar, but that it is even on all sides so the flies can't escape. This is kind of strange to imagine, so email me if you need more details. I am always amazed that the flies can't find their way out, even though there is a big open hole in the middle... Happy hunting! kevin

I use empty milk cartons to collect the waste, rather than the hard-to-clean plastic bin they gave us. The whole thing can go right into the big green bin, which keeps that cleaner, too. Another option, which I use to collect scraps for our compost pile (raw vegetation only), is a stainless steel pot. You don't need a special filtering one - an ordinary soup pot with a lid will work fine. It can be easily cleaned, and can even go into the dishwasher. This option still has you tossing the stuff right into the green can, but you can line the bottom with some layers of newspaper (if you don't have some leaves in there already) to reduce the ick factor. R.K.

I used to use the green liners for my kitchen green bin but found that the small ones slip down on the sides leaving a mess, and the big ones are too big. Also I am not so sure they are really biodegradable - I think some of those bags don't degrade so much as break down into tiny bits of plastic. At any rate, I have found it easier to just stockpile waxed cardboard milk cartons and keep one on the counter for scraps. After a day or two I just toss the whole thing into the big green recycling can outside. If I'm going to have a LOT of food scraps, like at Thanksgiving, I just use a double-bagged paper grocery bag, and toss the whole thing into the recycling after dinner. GO

What I find is easiest is this: before I start preparing a meal, I spread out two or three newspapers on the kitchen counter. All food scraps are deposited there. When I'm cleaning up after dinner, whatever food is getting thrown out also goes there. Then I wad up the whole thing tightly and it goes into the yard waste can. No smell, no fuss, no extra expense. The newspaper wads can even stay in a small lidded waste can inside the house for a couple of days, unless we've had fish or cantelope. Both of those I like to get out of the house as quickly as possible! (I prefer to cook fish the night before the recycling gets picked up, too.) Stink-No-More

Stinky, stinky debris bin

August 2008

Anyone have advice for how to deal with the overwhelming stink left every week in the debris bins? I'm so glad the kitchen scraps are going to be composted somewhere, but I'm really getting tired of the stink in the bin. Thank you. Loves to recycle

We have the same problem, but my husband has a bigger problem with it than I do. The only answer is to put your home compostables into the ''big bin'' every day. I don't, and my husband hates it, but since I grew up in a world of composting the smell doesn't bother me. I understand those who don't like it, but sometimes going a bit more eco means a bit of discomfort. A week's worth of rotting organic compound (which isn't much) is worth the smell(it's not that bad, again my in my opinion),and it hasn't caused any real problems in our tiny 900 square foot cottage. Anon

My neighbor uses newspaper to line the pail each week and dumps it all out together. That might help some. The other suggestion I read was to keep the container in the refrigerator or freezer if you have room, which should stop the stink from the rapid decomposition. Can't help you with the big bin if that's the problem. We started composting at home, and the jury is still out to see how well I'll like that over the long haul. anon

Stinky bin solution. First off start by soaking the bin thoroughly with a bleach and water solution, Next I like to pressure wash them which can be done at a do-it-yourself carwash if you don't have a pressure washer. A hose with a good nozzle will suffice if need be. Let the bin dry and it should now be odor free and like new. Next find a plastic garbage bag to line the bin. The bag needs to be a little oversize, not undersize. I use a rubberband or cable ties to secure it so it is not discarded each week by the garbage pick-up. You may need to drill a couple small holes in the bin for cable ties around the top. Poke a couple small holes in the bag to let air bleed out (use a pencil). I am able to use the same bag as a liner for many weeks-months until it becomes odorous and I then discard it and put a fresh liner in my odor free trash bin. Keeping trash in paper bags in the bin helps keep the liner clean and long lasting. This method keeps odors down, minimizes plastic in the landfill, and insures the trash slips out of the can easily each week. Works for me. Anon

I'm assuming the 'debris bin' is the little green box for municipal compost. This is how we solved the stinky bin problem: First, if you can (i.e. if you have a yard) start your own home compost. This will take care of by far the the great bulk of your compostables (fruit & veg waste, coffee grounds, egg shells, tea bags, etc) which will make the amount of stuff going into the debris bin quite manageable.

But even if it's not possible to do your own composting, my method may help you. I rinse out and save compostable containers. These are cardboard-based - like ice cream containers, take-out cartons (remove metal handles), milk/juice/cream cartons (no plastic or foil lined ones). I rinse these cartons and put them outside in the little green bin. We use them to take the compostable stuff we call 'city compost'. This is the stuff that is not recommended for home compost but is fine for municipal compost - e.g. any meat/fish/chicken scraps, fats, oils, cheese, breads and other grain products, etc.

When I need a carton, I take it from the green bin and put it on the kitchen counter and start filling it. I then close it with the lid (if an ice cream container, for example) or just fold down the opening if it's a beverage carton. (I keep on the little plastic bottle caps that are on some cartons so they stay entirely closeable. Only when I'm ready to put them out on the curb do I remove these plastic caps.) When one container is filled I place it - closed and upright - in the little green debris bin. This way no food waste touches the container. The night before pickup, I place the contents of the still clean and dry debris bin into the large yard waste bin.

If we have a lot of stuff - like a lot of paper plates, pizza boxes, corn cobs etc from a party - then I bag this all in a brown paper shopping bag and toss it directly in our yard waste bin. We do not allow food waste to get on any of our bins - garbage, recycling or yard waste, thus eliminating the source of stinky smells.

Sorry for the verbosity. Once you have a system it becomes second nature; easy and painless. Loves to recycle too

Since cardboard milk cartons and food-contaminated paper can be placed in the compost bin, I try to collect my compost in a milk carton, or butcher/deli paper, or pizza box, or sometimes just using a piece of newspaper to line my compost bowl. It's not perfect but does seem to cut down on some of the goo in the bin. I'm looking forward to hearing the tips that this post receives from others. L

Put your kitchen waste in a compostable plastic bag before dumping in the green bin, like the ones at Berkeley Natural Grocery & El Cerrito Natural Grocery (which fit the kitchen pails quite well). Fire stations in Berkeley also give away compostable plastic bags for garden waste, which I'm sure would also work well. Also consider minimizing the amount you're leaving for the City by starting a worm farm; they'll eat anything bacteria love, so leave out onions, garlic, citrus, and if they're fussy, like mine, tomatoes. Your plants will love the compost! If you live in Alameda County, you can buy a subsidized bin at this link: Good luck! Terry

We had the same problem and I couldn't stand it. My husband finally took a hoe to it and scraped off the sides, then he put a water and vinagre solution to it and let it sit. We did keep putting stuff in that week and when the garbage man came, he was out there to greet him. The garbage man dumped it, my husband hosed it off again and had him dump it again. Hope that helps...ours no longer stinks! Kim

I had the same issue until I saw a neighbor's Biobags. They're compostable and made to the size of our 3-gallon bins. I bought a case on-line. I've seen them for sale at the Farmers Mkt. at the Ecology Center table. Rosemary

hi there, i had the same problem, sunny warm days we the worst. i've been using biodegradable drain cleaner according to the package. earth enzymes is one and drainbo is the other. i sprinkle some in the bottom of the bin right after the garbage is picked up. it's helped with the smell and the ants too. i bought drainbo at whole foods and earth enzymes at farmer joes. good luck. liz

This may seem extreme, but we put our stinky (not home compostable) food scraps into milk cartons, paper bags, empty recyclable ice cream cartons, etc. and refrigerate or freeze them till the day before pickup. Then we toss the whole thing in the bin, on top of a layer of yard waste and under one. andrea

I gave up on the little green food scrap pail after just a week or two for that reason. My solution was to put a small paper bag (say, lunch-bag size) on the kitchen counter and put my debris in there, then dump the entire bag into the green pail when it got full and put out a new bag. It won't work for really wet food, but since it's open to the air and doesn't stay around very long, there's no odor problem, and there's no pail to try to clean out. Of course, you're throwing out an extra paper bag, but I figured that it's better to waste a bag if I'm thereby composting all its contents. Besides, I accumulate a lot of those bags that would just get recycled anyway -- perhaps you do too.

It doesn't look great on the kitchen counter, and I stopped doing it after a while because I was kind of lazy about taking the bags out when they filled up and it drove my husband crazy when they stayed on the counter, full, for a day or two. But it might be the solution you're looking for, if you can be more regular about taking the bags out than I was! good luck

Sink disposal vs Green bin?

Jan 2007

I recently moved to a home that has an in-sink disposal system and I have been very happy to grind away small amounts of veggies and fruit scraps. Since it is so easy to do, it got me wondering if this was not the best thing for the environment. (Easy tends to have a catch!)Is it better to grind waste or collect it as scraps for the green bins? environment matters

I am devoted to the green bin (we live in Oakland) which is a fabulously easy alternative, and I have not yet seen a ''catch.'' If you live in Oakland and have the WM green bin I recommend going with that - you can put ALL of your food scraps,oil,grease, bones plus food paper (pizza boxes, take out containers) in to the bucket, WM takes it away and cooks it down to a compost that is used as an alternative to chemical fertilizer. It also cuts way down on the amount of garbage so ultimately will reduce your monthly costs as well. Maggie

The sink drain is absolutely the worst place to put food waste. Composting it in green waste is the best, but if you don't do that, it's better to put it in the garbage than down the disposal. Two reasons: First, garbage disposed of down the drain winds up in the ocean -- this is a bigger environmental problem than the landfill, where it will ''compost'' eventually (although it will be wasted). Second, garbage down residential and restaurant sink drains is a major cause of clogged sewer pipes, which cause sewage back-ups that spew even worse stuff into our oceans and result in beach closures. To prevent this, you should put as little food as possible down the drain, and you should avoid pouring grease down the drain at all costs. ''Dry-wipe'' your grease covered pots and pans and throw the greasy paper towels into the green waste for compost. Disposal Avoider

I just read a book that discussed this, among lots of other interesting things. In ''Organic Housekeeping'' by Ellen Sanbeck (Scribner 2006), she says composting your kitchen waste is a much more environmentally sound and efficient way to deal with food waste than using the garbage disposal. Although garbage disposals are very convenient, ''the excess organic material they wash down the drain can strain the capacity of sewage treatment systems, deplete oxygen in waterways, prematurely clog septic systems, and last but not least, feed sewer rats that thrive on the prechewed, piped-in diet delivered to them via garbage disposals.'' Yuck! whitney

Food Scrap Recycling Container Insert

June 2005

I love my new little green food scrap recycling container that Waste Management has provided. But, I hate cleaning it out every week! Does anyone know if anyone makes an insert for those that can be purchased and that is also able to be put into the yard waste container? And, if there isn't already something out there - calling all buisness folks - someone could make a mint by making one...Thanks, Amy

I don't have any recommendation for an insert except what we're doing currently. We put a large handfull of shredded paper waste (from our paper shredder) in the bottom of the mini- greenie. This makes emptying it much simpler because then food waste doesn't cling to the bottom. And shredded paper is pretty worm-friendly. We empty the mini-greenie into a paper bag when it gets full and place it in the large curbside greenie. No muss, no fuss - and no big smell, all recycleable! Deborah

Try lining the green kitchen bin with newspaper. It's better than buying something to throw away! (My pet peeve with all garbage bags!)

I just line mine with an old newspaper section - works great and okay to put in green waste, as far as I know. JP

I purchased some biodegradable bags from Gardeners Supply online. Here is a link to the bags. They worked great. ProdGroupID=17627=19682=0=1 Karen

I just put a brown paper bag or newspaper inside first. I empty every other day, and it seems to work fine. compostin'!

Like you, I love the little green bin and hate having to wash it every week. I looked very carefully on the picture and it appears that newspapers are OK to go into it. So I find a new use for my recycle newspapers and have been lining my green bin with them. anon

I got a tupperware container that fits inside the green bin so I just empty that and rinse it but don't clean it that thoroughly. It stinks a bit but since it is sealed you can't smell it. I look forward to hearing others ideas. composter

If your service is the same as Albany's (I assume it is, since both are Waste Management), you can use milk cartons. It doesn't fill the whole green thing, but you can just replace it when it's full (assuming you drink milk or soy-milk or juice from cartons!). I actually bought an asparagus pot to use, since I like to keep it on the counter, and it's much prettier on my counter than the green mini-garbage can. I fold down the top of the milk carton, and it's almost a perfect fit. Asparagus pots are generally pretty pricey, but it was on clearance at Macy's around this time last year (after peak asparagus season), for a good price. R.K.

I was having the same problems with smell and hating cleaning the green bin. Now we just don't use it at all. Instead we take brown paper grocery bags, and fold one down to line to bottom of another so liquid doesn't seep through. We toss everything in there and contrary to what you'd think, it takes more than a couple of days before we notice any smell. Probably because it's not closed shut. Then we can just toss the whole thing in the green compost can. This makes for less smell, fewer trips out to garbage, no mess to clean up, and a good use for those shopping bags anon

Indoor compost container

Oct 2004

I'm looking for a compost container that we can keep indoors - once it fills up, it will end up in our larger outdoor container. Can anyone recommend one for inside that is as odor- free as possible? We've had some problems with ants, so it really needs to be odor-free and easy-to-clean.

I have tried various methods of saving up compost indoors and the best no-stink, no-flies technique I've found is freezing it until I get around to taking it outside. Just put it into a plastic produce bag, twist it closed and throw it in the freezer. An added plus is that, after it's frozen solid, you can hurl it against the kitchen counter and it will break up into tiny frozen shards that can then be compressed to make more room for another load. Very satisfying! And, small bits will decompose faster than big pieces in your compost bin. Ginger

I use a pretty, simple, medium-size stainless steel stock pot with lid. I keep it on my counter. I don't use any filters, and I often leave the lid off; except in really hot weather, that seems to keep it drier, so less prone to smelliness. (well, except when I get lazy and leave it way too long before emptying it). Assuming you compost ONLY raw fruit and vegetable scraps, and empty it every few day, ants and odor shouldn't be a problem. Cooked cerals and animal product scraps get smelly and attract ants, and aren't recommended for urban compost piles because they attract rodents. (But you CAN include them in your food waste can if you live in Albany). One more comment about my stainless steel compost pot - It doesn't absorb smells like plastic, and it's really easy to clean, either with hot soapy water or in the dishwasher. I got it really cheap at Macy's (discontinued, or mismatched, or somethinglike that) R.K.

We got ours a few years ago through a catalogue. I'm sure you can get one on line, or even at Smith Hawkens. Ours has this filter thing on the lid (It's essentially a green square bucket with a handle and a lid). It doesn't smell and the ants don't seem to like vegies and fruit. It wasn't expensive either. We rinse it out when we empty it and now and then we put it through the dish washer. Good luck. anon

Put something in the freezer. This is working amazingly at my house. We use a cut open milk carton, but anything works. No smell, no mess, no ants. You'll be thrilled. happy composter

Indoor compost container

March 2003

I used to buy these for our small under the sink green composting bin from ''Real Goods'' behind REI (Gilman and San Pablo) but see that the store has closed up. Can anyone tell me where I can purchase the squares from now? Thanks Vivienne

I just check the website for Real Goods. You can order the filters for the green kitchen compost bin for $6.00 for a package of three. martha

I found those charcoal squares online by searching for ''compost'' or ''composter'' or something. There are a number of garden supply type places that offer this sort of thing as accessories. I can't remember how they were listed, but I bought a pack of 6 or so for a reasonable price. Compost queen