How to Start Composting at Work or School

By Maureen Wise in Thinking Sustainably

Composting at work or school is not always the norm. In most cases, those of us  reducing our food waste just pack it back into our reusable bags to compost at home. You can be a trendsetter and start a composting program at your work or child’s school to make the practice easier and more efficient for you and your peers.

compost bin

Get Your Team Together and Plan

Before you head to the store to buy your commercial-grade compost receptacle, you need to prep. Gather a team of like-minded waste reducers that are digging your green office practices and make a plan. You also need to get approval from your boss or the principal to start a composting program. Let them know you’ll do it in an educated way and can start out small. Have a plan for what you’ll do with the finished compost (hand out bags to each employee, feed the school garden, etc.), and be ready to answer questions. You need to do your homework to understand what this process will take, so here are some steps to get your plan together.

Conduct a Waste Audit

First, you need to know how much waste you have to compost, so conduct an audit. Save your trash for a few days or even a week, and then assess the results.

  • First, is there more you can recycle? Do some of your recyclables end up in the landfill bin?
  • How much food does your group send to the landfill? Include your coffee grounds, filters, and tea bags. You need to be sure to have enough space in your compost bin for both this food waste and brown compostables that won’t break down as fast.
  • Do you have enough “browns” to mix with your food waste to create compost? Consider your non-confidential shredded paper and paperboard (toilet paper tubes, food boxes, etc.) and any grounds/green space waste you have as well.

Consider (Green) Space

Now, take a look outside and talk to the people who manage the grounds. Do you have the space outside to place the bin? Will raccoons or other animals be able to get into the area you have in mind? Do you have garden waste you can compost? Are the grounds maintenance people onboard?

Choose Your Composting Methods

If you do have outside space and plenty of browns, go with the traditional hot composting method with an outside bin. Many offices won’t have access to their grounds, however, and won’t have approval from the building manager to place a composter outside. Hope is not lost, though! Consider vermicomposting, and let worms eat your food scraps indoors. (Tom’s of Maine is already a fan.) Feeding red wigglers your food waste in a breathable bucket under your sink may sound crazy, but they’re easy to maintain and produce great compost.

Educate Your Audience 

First start your compost program at just one lunch period or with one office cluster. Create clear visual signs about what can and can’t be composted in your system. Be sure these signs show exactly where your users should put their compost (often in a smaller bin to be emptied later if the bin is outside). Your team, the maintenance workers, or janitorial staff should be briefed on how and where to empty these smaller bins into the larger bin outside.


Use pictures of actual food consumed at your workplace or school to show what can be composted and what can’t. Check the compost bins daily to take note of how much contamination by non-compostables exists. To ease the transition, conduct a survey at this pilot location after a week, and see what they think of the signs and systems. It may help to do another mini waste audit as well. 

Assess and Adjust

After reviewing the surveys and waste audit results, change your systems as needed. In the winter, you may need to tend to your bin more to keep it warm. When there’s an office party, you may need to donate your own browns from home. Stay on top of the compost to keep it functioning smoothly.

Composting at work or school really sets a green tone for the building. You may inspire more green lifestyle changes by introducing this new habit. Good luck!

Does your office or school compost now? Tell us about it on Twitter!

Image sources: Flickr | Flickr | Wikimedia Commons

This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.

Why It’s Good

By composting your food waste at work or school, you're reducing your overall waste. This saves landfill space and reduces your carbon footprint. By starting a composting program, you'll enable those around you to do the same.