Business compost tips

Free posters and stickers, staff training tools, and guidelines for your office/restaurant.

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How to compost at your restaurant

1. Set up your space 

Indoor containers

  • Place containers where food is prepped and plates are scraped.  
  • If you purchase your own containers, buy green for compost, blue for recycling, and brown, grey, or black for garbage.
Slim compost container
A green recycling container
  • Available for FREE from your garbage and recycling company.*
  • Size: 23 gallon, 30" tall x 25” wide x 13.5” deep

*The City of Portland purchases these containers to make composting easier for businesses. The containers are distributed by permitted garbage and recycling companies.

5 gallon bucket
  • Reuse existing food storage buckets (square or round) or purchase green buckets.
  • Place buckets on top of, or beneath, food prep areas. Or nest a square bucket within a slim garbage container.

Posters and stickers

Use our free posters and stickers to label all waste containers clearly. These labels show staff what should and shouldn’t be put in each container.

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.

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

Disadvantages of using bags: Cost of bags. Potentially limited shelf-life -- bags can degrade if not used within certain timeframe. Limited strength of bags: compostable bags are generally not as strong as conventional plastic bags. Double-bagging may be necessary.

Bag discounts availableContact us for an up-to-date list of where to purchase discounted bags in quantities of one case or more.

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.

2. Train staff

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.

This three-minute video explains how to compost and recycle, and how to safely lift heavy compost containers. Video is also available en español.

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. Conduct occasional spot checks to make sure non-food items aren’t going into the compost bin. Correct issues before they become a habit.

Lift safely. Compostcontainers can get heavy quickly. Don’t fill containers to the top, and make sure staff know when to empty compost containers so that they don’t become too heavy to safely lift. For larger containers, it may be best to have two people lift the container when emptying the smaller container into a dumpster or large roll cart.

Cleaning 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).

Get help. Want in-person assistance, training or Q&A? Contact us.

Additional tips

Find opportunities to trim waste

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.

“Composting helped us reduce food costs – when you see what gets tossed, you can pinpoint waste.” – Dave, bakery manager, NE Portland

Front-of-house compost collection

Front-of-house composting is not recommended due to high levels of contamination. It’s common for customers to confuse what items go where. They often put things in the compost container that can’t be composted – like to-go cups, containers and napkins. When this happens, either staff must pick trash out of the compost, or the contaminated front-of-house compost is emptied into the main compost container. This puts the whole container at risk of being sent to the landfill (and wastes all the effort staff put into back-of-house compost).

Collect front-of-house, sort back-of-house. The best way to collect food waste from front-of-house is to have customers put their waste in dish tubs that staff can then sort once it’s back-of-house. Cafes and coffee shops often do this when they’re using reusable dishware, and want to collect food waste and recyclables like drink bottles. This saves customers the hassle of sorting, and assures waste will be sorted correctly.

Avoid odors and pests

Empty internal compost containers regularly (at least daily). Clean containers daily: Small buckets can be run through the dishwasher. Use compostable bags to reduce the build-up of food in the containers.

Your garbage company can clean your external compost containers, or replace them (charges may apply).

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.

If your outdoor containers are leaking, contact your garbage company for new bins. If your 23-gallon slim indoor container, provided by your garbage company, is cracked or leaking, contact your garbage company for a replacement.


How to compost at your office

1. Set up your space

Indoor containers

Three compost containers
  • Size: A 15-gallon container works well for most offices. If you choose to use a larger container, you may want to place an empty cardboard box at the base of the bin to take up some space. Food waste is heavy and compostable bags aren’t as strong as conventional plastic bags. A broken bag of food waste isn’t fun to clean up! A small countertop bin would work as well, but will require more frequent emptying.
  • Color: Try to use green for the compost bin, blue for recycling and black or gray for garbage.
  • Lids and step-cans: Use a bin with a lid, if possible, preferably one with a pedal-activated lid (not critical but nice to have).
  • Placement: To encourage staff to compost, and to avoid trash going into the compost bin, place compost containers next to (or very close to) garbage and recycling containers.

Posters and stickers

Use our free posters and stickers to label all waste containers clearly, ideally on top, front and sides. These labels provide show staff what should, and shouldn’t be put in each container. This is especially important since the guidelines for residential compost is different than business compost, and an on-the-spot reminder is helpful.

Get free posters and stickers

2. Talk with janitorial staff

Before you start composting, talk with janitorial staff about how frequently to empty containers, where to empty compost containers, and how to keep containers clean.

Frequent collection: Compost containers inside your office should be emptied as often, if not more often, than garbage containers. Once a day, or twice a day in larger offices, is best.

Lift safely; avoid broken bags. Compostcontainers can get heavy quickly, and compostable bags aren’t as strong as regular plastic bags. It may make sense to only partially fill the compost container before emptying. Placing something in the bottom of the kitchen container—like an upside down cardboard box—may help take up some of the space so the bag never gets too full to safely lift without breaking.

Compostable bags

You don’t have to use bags to line compost containers, but we highly recommended them for an office setting. They keep containers clean, and reduce mess, odors and fruit flies.

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

Make sure your janitorial company is purchasing BPI-certified compostable bags to use in compost containers.

3. Educate employees

Let staff know your office is starting to compost, and remind people what can and cannot go into compost.

What goes in, what stays out. Label all containers with stickers and waste collection areas with posters that show what can and can’t go in each bin. Do spot checks to make sure non-food items aren’t going into the compost bin, and correct issues before they become a habit.

Schedule a short presentation and Q&A at an all-staff meeting to review the “what” and “why” of compost and recycling. We’re happy to give a presentation or arrange for an expert Master Recycler to present to your staff. Contact us to schedule a presentation.

Get help. We’re here to answer questions, help you get set up and educate your coworkers. Contact us any time.

Additional tips

Avoid odors and pests

Internal containers should be empty compost containers daily.

  • Clean compost containers in your kitchen daily.
  • Use compostable bags to reduce the build-up of food in the containers.

External containers: Your garbage company can clean your external compost containers, or replace them (charges may apply).

If fruit flies appear: Trap fruit flies in a shallow dish of apple cider vinegar doused with a few drops of dish soap. Avoid leaving fruits and vegetables out.  Clean kitchen or break room sink drain. (Consider using baking soda and vinegar to clean your drain rather than a chemical drain cleaner.)

Leaky containers: If your outdoor containers are leaking, contact your garbage company for new bins.