1) Engage Owners, Managers, and StaffPhoto credit to Jepson Prairie Organics

  • Talk with the owner or highest decision-making body early on in the process. Buy in from the top is vital.
  • Do you have a Green Team that could take care of some of the research or planning tasks outlined below?
  • Consider appointing a Compost Champion to be the point-person. Assigning a point-person helps ensure longevity and success of your program.
  • As with any operational change, your compost program will be more successful with buy-in from your employees. Get key employees involved early in the process and make sure your compost goals are clear.

2) Ask Questions (Do Research)

  • Contact your garbage/recycling company. Call and ask them if they offer a compost program (sometimes called “food scrap” or “organics” programs).
  • Research other options. If your garbage company does not offer compost collection, see the list of compost haulers. You might consider changing your waste and recycling hauler to one company that provides all three services in order to secure package pricing.
    • When they do offer compost services, here are some questions to ask:
      • The Essentials
      1. What size containers/bins do you offer for composting?
      2. How frequently will the containers/bins be picked up?
      3. Will all containers/bins (Landfill, Recycling, Compost) fit in the current dumpster area?
      4. What is the cost of the service? Will this cost be offset by an equivalent decrease in garbage pickup frequency/cost?
      5. When are you available for a walk-through so I can assess how to set up a compost program for my business operations?
      • Additional Questions
      1. What types of food items are acceptable? Cooked food? Meat? Bones?
      2. What types of non-food items are acceptable? Napkins? Paper service ware? BPI certified compostable products?
      3. What compost related services do they offer (indoor bins, signage, staff training, waste audits)?
      4. Is using a specific type of bin liner (compostable bags) required?
      5. Are there other customers in the area with a compost program?

3) Tee It Up (Prepare for Launch)

  • Do a walk-through with your service provider and key staff members. Have a rep from the compost company see your business in action. Determine the following details:
    • Discuss common food scrap discards. List the types of food scraps and leftovers common in your business. Meat scraps? Bones? Fruit peels? Vegetable scraps?
    • Discuss common non-food compostables. List other items commonly discarded that your program will accept. These often include: napkins, paper towels, waxed paper, and paper plates/cups.
    • Identify key locations of food scrap generation (such as prep and dish washing stations). Make sure there is room to place compost, recycling, and trash containers and signage in each of these locations.
  • Set up signs and containers. Below are tips to set you up for success!
    • Start your compost program in the back-of-house areas first, where you have more control over operations and then add front-of-house once your employees are up to speed.
    • Create visual and color-coded signage. Include actual photos of the  recyclable, compostable, and landfill items generated at your business. Have signs in multiple languages. The color coding below is the most common and is recommended for all signage.









    • Make sure signs are placed at eye-level directly above the containers to which they apply.
    • Cluster the containers. Always position the three bins together in “stations” to ensure the proper items are placed in the correct bins. If you have multiple stations, set them all up in the same order. The arrangement displayed is in order of priority with compost first, recycle second, and landfill last in line! You will have more success if the compost bin is always paired with recycling and landfill bins. A lone compost container is likely to be treated as a general trash can!
    • Increase food scrap collection points by placing small countertop collection containers that are then transferred to larger collection points.        
  • Train your staff. Have a compost training and make it fun and engaging!
    Here are some ideas for you.
    • Hold a special training session on composting. Here's a training slideshow you can use. Connect them to the “why” of composting. Tell them what goes where and then have them put it into practice with a “compost relay” either through a PowerPoint presentation or an actual relay where employees physically sort items into the three bins.
    • Designate a team leader for each work area to guide and remind staff of the proper way to sort.
    • Have “pop quizzes” at the beginning of each shift to ensure employees know what is compostable and what is not.
    • Have monthly goals on pounds composted. Share results with a compost “thermometer” posted in the kitchen or employee area of the progress made. Reward staff when the goal is reached.
    • Frequently share information with employees on common items improperly placed in the compost bin. What non-compostable items are you finding in the compost bins?

4) Shoot for the Stars! (Next Steps)

  • Decrease garbage service. Collecting compost separately means less stuff going into your garbage dumpster. Assess this periodically and decrease the size and/or pickup frequency of your garbage container and save $$!
  • Monitor contamination. Have your Green Team or Compost Champion periodically check the compost containers for items that shouldn’t be there such as plastic wrap, aluminum foil, and latex gloves.
  • Expand and improve the program.
    • Continually gather advice from employees on how the signs and containers are set up around the restaurant. They are your most frequent users, and their feedback is invaluable!
    • If you started with back-of-house collection, expand to front-of-house.
    • Do you have other locations or partner restaurants where this program might be a success?
  • Advertise your program! Post signage announcing your compost program. Customers will be impressed by your green efforts. A recent survey showed 71% of Americans consider the environment when they shop.
  • Get recognized. Consider pursuing these certifications and awards.
  • Close the loop! Purchase finished compost to use on your landscape and planters or give some finished compost to your employees as a thank you.
This program is made possible through the generosity of the Searle Funds at the Chicago Community Trust.

Image credits

  • http://www.jepsonprairieorganics.com/index.htm
  • http://www.recologysf.com/images/RecologySF/compostcart.jpg
  • Compost Collection Network sign
  • http://img.archiexpo.com/images_ae/photo-g/recycling-bins-waste-separation-public-spaces-80022-5563053.jpg
  • Chef Evan training staff at Uncommon Ground
  • http://planetforward.ca/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/reduce-your-waste.jpg
  • We Compost recognition program badge