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Community Composting at Plant Chicago: Where Your Food Scraps Go

Written By: 2022 Communications Intern, Jeanese Shanks

Composting at home can be expensive. In a city like Chicago, it can be impractical because many people do not have backyards to process their own food scraps. In order to help close the food cycle and reduce waste, Plant Chicago offers free composting for neighbors.

Circular Economy Operations Specialist, Eric Weber recalls, “We have been composting in one way, shape, or form since the organization started. At the time we had a lot more outdoor greens growing than we do now, we had a lot of greens growing from that and our indoor farm was a lot bigger. We were not in a situation where we were going to throw it out so the answer is composting.” You don’t need to be an environmental nonprofit or even growing your own food to compost though - everyone can benefit!

Many of the people dropping off food scraps at the firehouse believe Plant Chicago processes the compost onsite. While we do practice 4 different types of composting, these systems are smaller scale teaching tools used for processing staff lunch scraps, Indoor Victory Garden waste, and yard waste (not public drop offs.) We believe treating waste disposal as a hidden practice contributes to a loss of personal responsibility. So for the sake of transparency, here's where your food scraps go when you drop off at Plant Chicago:


Those choosing to compost will need to first figure out what can and cannot be composted by checking out this list from our third party partner, The Urban Canopy. They can then begin collecting their food scraps at home in any container they choose. On Fridays and Saturdays, scraps can be brought to Plant Chicago and sorted into the "compost" section of our Firehouse Market waste station. Every pound of waste that comes through the firehouse is weighed and recorded in order to calculate our diversion rate. Plant Chicago aims to send less than 20% of waste to the landfill.


From the waste station, food scraps are moved to large bins that are picked up by The Urban Canopy once a week. The Urban Canopy is a Chicago-based nonprofit focused on creating and maintaining a circular food cycle. “Composting is at the heart of what we do,” said Tom, Co-Lead of Urban Canopy’s Compost Club. Plant Chicago pays for this collection service and is proud to front those costs so that neighbors can compost free of charge. Our hope is that the city will support a wider public composting program to increase access and reduce the burden on trailblazing sites like plant Chicago.


From The Urban Canopy, the scraps are transported by Lakeshore Recycling Systems to a large industrial composting center outside of Cook County to be processed. The most common processing technique used by these industrial centers is windrow composting. Microorganisms break down the organic material while the compost literally "cooks," ultimately reaching temperatures of over 140 degrees. A healthy compost pile will be finished converting the scraps into valuable compost in as little as 3 weeks. The finished compost is then, most often, sold to landscaping companies and soil mixers to be used for future growing.


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