Composting 101

Your food is natural and organic. You drive a hybrid car. So why is your garbage ending up in landfills, contributing to climate change? Perhaps you think composting is only for people who have yards large enough to grow veggies. Maybe your only plant is a cactus. Whatever your hesitation, we have tips on becoming part of Philly’s robust compost community and helping our City reach its zero waste goal.

The Basics

To start, you need a metal, plastic, or ceramic container to keep in your kitchen in which to collect organic waste. This includes eggshells, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, rice, pasta, bread, other grains, fruits, and vegetables without oil, butter, or salad dressing. It cannot contain meat, bones, grease, fats, oils, dairy products, ashes from charcoal barbeques or fireplaces, pet waste.

You will also need a compost bin system to keep outdoors. The City of Philadelphia provides a Backyard Composting Guide which explains the three types of bins available. They all work the same way, turning organic waste into compost through a chemical process. 

Composting is about layering “green” materials and “brown” materials. Green material includes Food scraps, fresh leaves, plant cuttings, weeds, grass clippings fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, and tea bags. Brown material includes Dead weeds, dry leaves, clipped brush, wood chips, eggshells, and paper products.  Each time you add new green material to your bin, cover it with a layer of fresh brown materials to avoid odors and pests

Compost needs airflow. If you’re using a two or three bin system, use a pitchfork to turn the compost every 3-5 days. Turn the pile frequently during the initial three to four weeks and once or twice during the remainder of the composting period. Once the compost is mostly broken down, it can be moved to your second bin and you can start over in the first. If using a tumbler, just turn it once every few days. 

A typical compost pile will take approximately three to four months to decompose. It’s “done” when it is no longer hot in the center, crumbles when squeezed, and smells like fresh dirt.

Community Garden Composting

Philadelphia has 400 community gardens, always looking for new members to get involved in composting. You don’t even need to live in the neighborhood. An affiliate of Neighborhood Gardens Trust, Old Tennis Court Farm, at 5407 Wissahickon Avenue in Germantown, has 63 members, several coming from as far away as Center City and South Philly. 

Margaret Lea at Old Tennis Court Farm. Photo: Rob Smith

“We do a lot of onsite composting and have constructed eleven composting stations,” said Mark Kearney who has been an active member since 2013. “Initially, we used household waste, but soon found it was attracting groundhogs, raccoons, and rats. We now only use material that is generated in the garden.”

With 49 gardening plots measuring 12 x 12 feet, managing the compost at this community garden takes a lot of manpower. “It’s a constant process of turning and moving the materials until they are ready to be mixed with the soil,” said Kearney. But it’s worth it. This one community garden yields abundant fresh vegetables to its members and those in need. “We take between 35 and 75 pounds of fresh organic vegetables per week to the Whosoever Gospel Mission in Germantown and to SHARE,” Kearney said.

Be a good neighbor

Philly residents without access to backyards or community gardens can have their compost recycled by Bennett Compost. They pick up compost from nearly 4,000 Philadelphia households and businesses every week, keeping over 70 tons of material out of the landfill every month. Once a year, they offer up to 10 gallons of free compost to customers. 

Bennett Compost provides five-gallon compost buckets with air-tight lids and picks them up on a weekly basis, leaving you with a fresh bucket.  In keeping with Solo Real Estate’s commitment to sustainability, we recently partnered with Bennett Compost to offer tenants and owners in over 400 properties a trial offer with two free months of compost pick-up service. Not a Solo tenant? You can still take advantage of Bennett’s free one month trial by signing up on their website.

Other residential compost services in Philly and nearby include Circle Compost (Philadelphia), Mother Compost (Main Line), and Kona Compost (Bucks County).

Additional Resources

Interested. in learning other ways you can help reduce your environmental footprint? Check out our article on Four Ways to Minimize your Waste Footprint in Philadelphia or our list on 5 Things Philly Renters can do for the Environment. If you’re a Solo tenant or owner and want to sign up for the trial offer from Bennett Compost, please e-mail us!

Four Ways to Minimize Your Waste Footprint in Philadelphia

It’s difficult not to notice the amount of garbage piling up on residential streets in Philadelphia these days. Home waste is up between 25 and 50 percent in Philly due to people staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Streets Department is processing 3,000 more tons of garbage per week than usual on average.

Mountains of bags and bins are a frustrating sight, but it’s not solely up to the city to remedy the issue. We’re all responsible for keeping Philadelphia clean, and residents can help by reducing the amount of waste we generate. The Streets Department recommends these tips as a starting point, and we recommend a few additional steps that will help reduce waste long-term. 

Solo Real Estate is committed to sustainability and now more than ever, we’re encouraging you to join us in our mission to “love where you live” by helping keep Philly as beautiful as it can be. Help us lessen our overall environmental impact by reducing your trash output and changing the way you approach your day-to-day with these four ways to minimize your waste.

1. Build Eco-Friendly Habits

Now is a great time for all of us to assess our habits, and make some environmentally conscious changes that will reduce our waste footprint. Build eco-friendly habits by:

Donating: Rather than throwing away working household items, small appliances, and gently used clothing, donate them! Philly AIDS Thrift and Circle Thrift are two organizations in the city that accept donations and give your unwanted items a second life. If your pantry is cluttered with non-perishable food, you can donate that, too. Philabundance has an interactive map of the agencies in the city that you can work with.

Buying secondhand: Reduction-based habits are the most effective, but reusing is also a great way to reduce your environmental impact. Purchase clothes and household items secondhand, and you’ll be helping the planet, saving money, and finding unique items too. The thrift stores listed above have wonderful selections to suit any taste. 

Avoiding single-use items: Single-use items like plastic water bottles, styrofoam coffee cups, cutlery, containers, and straws pile up quickly. Replace disposable plastic water bottles with a reusable bottle and go strawless or swap out plastic straws for metal or glass versions. Canvas totes are a no-brainer, but also consider the pre-packaged goods you buy and avoid items packaged in unnecessary layers of plastic and cardboard. That all adds up too.  

Avoid single-use items and opt for reusable alternatives like these metal straws.
Image: Open House

2. Start Composting

Food and yard scraps are compostable, yet they account for 28 percent of the waste that ends up in landfills in the United States, according to the EPA’s National Overview. Landfilling compostable material is a two-fold issue. For one, it takes up a lot of unnecessary space. Also, when it’s left to decay in a landfill, rather than compost properly, it releases methane gas — a major contributor to global warming. With that in mind, composting is a tremendously effective way to reduce the amount of trash you make.

Composting is increasing in popularity, with 27 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) having been composted in 2017, according to the EPA overview. However, 140 million tons of compostable MSW were landfilled that same year, so there’s plenty of room for improvement.

Do it yourself: If you have a garden space, you can compost and use it to supplement your soil. Clean PHL offers this comprehensive guide for setting up a home composting system that will steer you in the right direction. Generally, it comes down to installing a bin system to contain the compost, mixing nitrogen-rich materials (like fruit and vegetable peels, grass clippings, and other fresh yard scraps) with carbon-rich materials (like paper products, dead leaves, and egg shells), keeping them damp, and occasionally turning and mixing. 

Hire a service: If you don’t have a yard, garden, or enough space, you can still compost! There are two local services for residents of Philadelphia that will help. For an affordable price, Circle Compost and Bennett Compost will give you a customized five-gallon bin in which you can toss your compostable scraps, then they’ll collect it from your home on a regular schedule. Not sure if this is right for you? You can also sign up for a free one month trial to test it out.

Bennett Compost and Circle Compost make composting easy for Philadelphia's residents and businesses.
Bennett Compost and Circle Compost make composting easy for Philadelphia’s residents and businesses. Image: Bennett Compost

3. Buy Local

Waste is inevitable in each step of the food supply chain. According to NRDC research, up to 40 percent of food never survives its journey from farm to plate. If you want to help change that, the best thing you can do is shop locally. Local supply chains are shorter than their non-local counterparts, and that means higher percentages of products successfully make it from the farm to your table. 

Participate in the local food economy in any of the following ways:

Farmers’ markets: There are almost 40 farmers’ markets scattered throughout every neighborhood in Philadelphia. While we think of them as a summertime activity, many farmers’ markets remain open until around the holidays, and some move indoors through the winter. This article features a comprehensive list of all the farmers’ markets you can find in Philly.

CSAs: The community-supported agriculture (CSA) model allows consumers to buy directly from farmers on a regular schedule, and that’s beneficial to everyone involved. Joining a CSA will give you the opportunity to build relationships with the farmers who produce your food, as well as help to ensure their financial security. You start paying for your share in a CSA at the beginning of the growing season, so the farmer has capital upfront to be able to operate. Come harvest time, a percentage of the yield will be yours, and you’ll receive your food (typically) on a weekly basis. 

The Lancaster Farm Fresh Co-op is one of the most well-known and comprehensive CSAs accessible to Philadelphia residents, and there are a substantial number of others you can join, too. Do some research and find a CSA that’s right for you.

Alternatively, Philly Food Works is an easy-to-use, year-round food share program that offers subscriptions and a la carte purchasing. Their program includes local produce, meat, dairy, baked goods, and more, and you can place orders directly through their website. 

While CSAs typically operate between spring and fall, there are several that go year-round, including Jack’s Farm for produce and Landisdale Farm for produce and meat. The Common Market runs through February and features a range of items from local farms.

Locally-conscious grocers: There are several brick-and-mortar grocery stores in the city that emphasize locally-sourced products. In North Philly, Riverwards Produce and Kensington Community Food Co-op offer a wide range of high-quality local items. In Mount Airy you can find Weavers Way and in West Philly, Mariposa Food Co-op should be your go-to.

Take an extra step to reduce waste at these stores by bringing your own bags, using the bulk bins, and purchasing their bags of discounted produce (produce that’s cosmetically damaged or bruised but is still perfectly good to eat). Beeswax wraps, like these colorful ones made locally by Supra Endura, are a great alternative to plastic wrap when it’s time to store your purchases. 

Beeswax wraps, like these made locally by Supra Endura, are a great sustainable alternative to plastic wrap. Image: Supra Endura
Beeswax wraps, like these made locally by Supra Endura, are a great sustainable alternative to plastic wrap. Image: Supra Endura

4. Recycle Right

After you reduce and reuse as much as you can, there will be items left over that don’t fall into either of those categories and needs to be thrown away. Take care to recycle properly.

Have the right type of container. In Philly, that can be any household bin that’s less than 32 gallons and has the word “recycling” written on it clearly and legibly. If you need a new bin, we have them for you at Solo Real Estate. Reach out to us if you’d like one, and we’ll arrange a pick-up at our office.

Solo Real Estate recycling bins
Solo Real Estate Recycling Bins are available free of cost.

Fill it only with items that the city will accept. This includes emptied and rinsed plastics, paper products that aren’t in their plastic sleeves, emptied and rinsed cartons, certain types of metal, and glass bottles and jars. Take a look at the Streets Department’s website for a comprehensive list of acceptable recyclables. Some of the items that the city cannot process include plastic bags, styrofoam, tissues and paper towels, disposable plates, and light bulbs.

Put your recycling out only on pickup day. The city just rolled out a real-time tool for residents to view live trash and recycling collection updates. Use the map function on PickupPHL on garbage day to get a sense of where the trucks are, and if they’re going to be delayed that week. To avoid delays you can also drop off your trash and recycling directly at one of the city’s sanitation convenience centers.