Where to Compost in Chicago
Composting is central to a zero waste routine. Organic matter can't fully decompose in the anaerobic environment of a landfill and will sit there unyielding more or less forever (guacamole unearthed in a landfill 15 years later was still bright green!). Instead of throwing food scraps into the trash, letting them decompose naturally into rich soil keeps landfills smaller, greenhouse gas emissions lower, and gardens and farms healthier - it's just a really efficient system.
If you've begun composting thanks to our resources, we'd be grateful if you could take one minute to fill out the form at the bottom of this page - this helps us track our impact across the Chicago area.
For renters and apartment or condo dwellers, compost pickup services are a great option. These services will drop off a clean, empty bucket, and retrieve your full compost bucket, on a set schedule - you can typically choose weekly, biweekly, or monthly. Because these services compost using larger-scale processes, they can often handle things that at-home composting couldn't, like meats, oils, citrus peels, and more.
Even if you don't have any outdoor space in which to keep them, we've found that these buckets don't smell at all when kept closed. To minimize having to open and close the bucket, consider keeping your food scraps in a bowl in the fridge or freezer.
Chicago-area pickup services:
-Collective Resource - When you sign up on their website, enter "Zero Waste Chicago" in the comments section to help us track our impact.
-Healthy Soil Compost - When you sign up on their website, enter "Zero Waste Chicago" in the "How did you hear about us?" field to help us track our impact.
-WasteNot Compost - Sign up using the code "ZWC18" to help us track our impact.
-The Urban Canopy - When you sign up on their website, select "Zero Waste Chicago" in the "How did you hear about us?" field to help us track our impact.
-Oak Park compost program
-Illinois Food Scrap Coalition - has more information on providers that service towns and cities around the state.
Note: the resources above all cover slightly different service areas, although there are many overlaps where you can choose between multiple providers. If you reach out to a company and they don't offer service where you live, try another one! Between these five, most of the Chicago area is covered. And, let us know if we can help point you in the right direction, too.
Photograph by WasteNot Compost.
You can also drop off your food scraps at several locations throughout the city. Some accept food scraps for free, and others charge a small fee - either way, this option is usually much less expensive than using a pick-up service. Be sure to check the rules of what you can compost at each location before you begin.
Chicago-area drop-off locations:
-The Altgeld Sawyer Corner Farm accepts chopped food scraps (except for meat, oil, and dairy) on Wednesday from 6-7:30 pm, May through October, for free.
-Growing Power Chicago’s Iron Street Farm takes food scraps (except meat and dairy) in its community compost bin near the entrance from 8:30 to 5:30, Monday through Saturday.
-Heartland Cafe in Rogers Park serves as a drop-off location for those enrolled in the Ground Rules Compost Program. You can sign up with a cashier at Heartland Cafe and receive a Ground Rules bucket to begin collecting your food scraps. More information about their program can be found here.
-The Urban Canopy accepts compost bucket drop-offs at their farmers' market stands. Find the list of locations here.
Composting at Home
If you have a yard, you can set up a backyard composter, which is an easy, low-maintenance solution. We'd recommend keeping a small bowl or bin on your countertop or in your freezer for food scraps, and when it’s full they carrying it outside to the composter. One of the drawbacks of this setup is that meat, cheese, and other oils can’t be composted because the richer food can attract animals. However, it’s a convenient and inexpensive solution – plus, you'll end up with rich soil to use in your garden.
There are a few other at-home composting options to explore, too. Vermicomposting, pictured at right, uses worms to break down food matter quickly. Nature's Little Recyclers offers a local source for vermicomposting worms and supplies. Or, you can also try bokashi composting.
Photograph by No Trash Project.
We try to accurately track our impact in the Chicago area - if you've signed up for a compost service, started dropping off your compost at one of the locations above, or begun composting at home thanks to our resources, we'd love for you to fill out our quick form to share the details with us! It takes less than a minute, and we'll always keep your information private. Click the button below to let us know that you started composting: