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You can compost your yard waste in a backyard compost pile. There are also drop-off sites for yard waste provided by the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority, local compost facilities accept drop-offs, and the City's Large Item Pick-Up service if you have a lot.
In the Fall, the City collects leaves from resident curbsides and brings them to be composted. Residential curbside composting pick-up is also available locally (for a fee) and accepts yard waste.
Learn more about Yard Waste options on the City's Waste Management webpage.
First things first, you need a way to start collecting your compost scraps. They can be collected in your kitchen in any stainless steel container or similar contraption that will block out some of the odors.
Next, you’ll need a place to take your compost scraps. Drop-off locations and curbside contracted services are available in Charlottesville. If you'd like to compost in your backyard, you'll need an outdoor compost bin - a structure used to house and make compost until it can be used in the garden. Most are designed to hasten the decomposition of organic matter through proper aeration and moisture retention.
In your outdoor bin, you’ll need to make sure to mix your compost in layers of greens and browns, a typical ratio of 1:3. For more information on getting started, check out this article by NPR, or the City's Backyard Composting webpage.
There are many varieties of compost bins available online, such as tumbling and stacking bins. Alternatively, DIY compost bins are easy to make from materials like chicken wire with twist ties, or wooden pallets. You could even have an open pile at the edge of your property!
Food scraps, referred to as “greens”, include fruits, vegetables, nuts, grain, and coffee grounds and filters; and yard waste - referred to as “browns", which are generally dry and include grass clippings, leaves, twigs, flowers, and wood chips. The ratio of browns to greens should be around 3 to 1 for efficient backyard composting. Be careful however, certain items that are compostable in facilities - such as meats and animal fats - should not go in your outdoor bin! For more information and tips on the best at-home outdoor composting practices, check out our webpage on backyard composting.
Frequent turning of your outdoor compost will aid in the decomposition process. Weekly turning is recommended. Try to layer the greens and browns and keep the pile moist but not soggy. Once the pile becomes hard to turn, stop adding new materials and consider starting a second pile. For more information on the best outdoor composting practices, visit our Backyard Composting webpage.
Please keep pet waste out of your backyard compost pile. Home piles typically do not get hot enough to sterilize pathogens often found in pet waste.
Pet waste can be included in compost bins that are brought to a certified commercial composting facility.
If you can’t compost at home, there are still several options available to you in Charlottesville through drop-off programs and contracting with a curbside pick-up vendor.
Learn more about where you can compost in Charlottesville.
While they sound similar, be sure not to mix up biodegradable and compostable! The main difference is the time it takes for the material to break down, which is an important factor in deciding what to accept into a compost pile. While biodegradable items are any material that breaks down and decomposes in the environment, compostable refers to organic matter that breaks down to become a pile of nutrient-rich soil. If an item is certified compostable, then it has been tested to completely breakdown, leaving no residues, after 90 days in the heated and microbial conditions of a commercial compost facility. At best, biodegradable means that the product will break down into its constituent components, but this does leave residues. Biodegradable products can also take years (or decades!) to break down, which is a long time to wait!
Compostable plastics will be labeled as compostable. Unlined and uncoated paper-based products are compostable, with the paperboard clamshell being the most popular.
Shiny paperboard typically is a sign that it is plastic-lined and NOT compostable.
Look for the certification label from the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI - see image below). BPI World certifies whether products are able to be composted in commercially run composting facilities.
You can also Tweet or email a picture of the item in question @CvillePW or firstname.lastname@example.org .
Yes! You can use plastic compostable bags (not biodegradable bags) when you drop off compost. Some participants use paper bags such as lunch sacks or grocery bags, all of which are compostable as well. You are also free to tip your compostable items directly into the bin.
If you sign up for the City's 24/7 residential drop-off service, we will provide 10 compostable plastic bags in your Welcome Kit to get you started. We also will include information in your welcome email and flyer about the BPI logo to look for when purchasing additional compostable plastic bags.
Try not to wait too long before emptying your kitchen container. If you’re waiting to take your compost to an offsite drop-off location, you can freeze your food scraps. To do so, place the compostable bag inside a sturdy plastic bag or container to eliminate any leakage, and store it in the freezer. Plastic sealed containers (e.g. laundry detergent buckets) can be used for transporting to your drop-off location.
Uncoated paper products like paper bags, towels, tissues, and napkins can all be composted at home. Don’t compost certain items at home that need to be processed at a commercial composting facility, such as meat, bones, dairy products, and fats. Check out this flier (pdf) for more information on the difference between what is compostable at home and what is acceptable in a drop-off program.
To set up your kitchen for composting, you can purchase a countertop compost container or just use a bowl or plastic food storage container. There are many countertop compost containers available for sale online and are made from different materials (ceramic, plastic, stainless steel). We have also seen many DIY containers made from plastic food storage containers. If you choose to make your own, it is best to drill holes in the lid for aeration.
When looking for a container, consider what size you need, having a lid of some sort, a solid bottom, and ventilation holes to allow aeration and moisture to evaporate. Having a charcoal filter in the lid/on the backside of the ventilation holes can help with smells and fruit flies.
Good question! There are several reasons to compost. First, finished compost can be used to enhance soil fertility by providing nutrients and retaining moisture. It can create healthier, more nutritious crops in your local area, without as much need for chemical fertilizers that can negatively affect the local ecosystem. Additionally, much too much food waste is being dumped in landfills - about 1/3 of all landfill waste is made up of compostable materials. When this food waste is trapped beneath the landfill, it decomposes anaerobically, and consequently releases greenhouse gases, such as methane, into our atmosphere. Check out our Why Compost webpage for more information.
The City Market provides free compostable plastic bags with handle. They are purchased in bulk (quantities of 500 in a case).
Plastic compostable bags are available from many online vendors. Check to make sure they are BPI certified, are the size you need, and look for models with handles (shopping bags) if you prefer that style.
These are the specifications for the bags provided at the City Market Composting Station:
It is not recommended to compost meat, eggshells, oils, fats, or compostable plastics in your backyard bin because they take long to break down, can get stinky, may attract critters, and need to reach specific heat temperatures to break down fully and kill any pathogens.
However, these materials can all be composted at the City’s drop-off locations since the collected materials go to a certified commercial composting facility, or with a similar service from a curbside vendor.
Fruit flies are an unfortunate seasonal issue. Try emptying your kitchen container frequently, washing it out regularly, and making sure the lid is secure and has a charcoal air filter to let the container 'breathe' while keeping smells inside. When emptying your kitchen container, twist and tie off the compostable liner bags to keep any fruit flies inside the bags.
Containers with rinseable and replaceable charcoal filters can help manage odor. Another tip is to keep compostable materials in the refrigerator or freezer.
Yes! You can compost brown paper bags, even the ones with print on them.
If the bag appears to be lined with plastic, however, please do not compost it and throw it out instead.
Yes! Although cardboard pizza boxes are often too greasy to be recycled, they can be composted at drop-off locations. We do not recommend composting them in a backyard compost pile.
When dropping pizza boxes off for composting, please fold or collapse the box to save space in the bin.
The collected compostable materials are brought for processing to a commercial composting facility that is permitted by the VA Department of Environmental Quality. After the materials are turned into the final compost product, they are available for sale and can be used for local agriculture, gardening, or landscaping projects. There is no lack of demand for compost in our region, as compost facilities annually sell out!
’Greens’ are food scraps - typically fruit and vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, and other similar items. ’Browns’ are items that are more carbon-filled. These include dried leaves, newspaper, egg cartons, corn stalks, or shredded cardboard. You don’t need to worry about separating or layering Greens from Browns when participating in the residential drop-off program or dumping your compost at McIntire, but these are needed for backyard compost piles. Learn more about Backyard Composting.