Composting Guide For Businesses and Organizations: How To Start

Composting: A Guide To Addressing Organics For Businesses and Organization

This guide outlines the steps any organization can take to reduce the amount of organics sent to the landfill or incinerator. Composting is just one approach to dealing with food and organic waste. Great Forest’s organics program is customized to work with each client’s individual needs, and may include composting, as well as anaerobic and aerobic digestion.

1) Why address organics?

For many businesses, organics make up the largest portion of divertable material found in the trash stream — about 36 percent. This was confirmed in the largest and most comprehensive waste characterization study to date focused on commercial buildings, completed by Great Forest in August 2021, with data gathered from waste audits conducted at over 100 buildings across the US and internationally, analyzing over 170,000 pounds of waste.

According to the EPA, organics make up the largest component of Municipal Solid Waste. Organic materials decomposing in landfills or burned in incinerators have a direct impact on climate change. Emissions from methane are 72% more powerful than carbon in increasing global temperatures.

Diverting organics through composting and other means helps to reduce climate impact and will position your organization as an environmental leader, supporting corporate sustainability goals, from Zero Waste, LEED and B Corp certification, to reducing Scope 3 emissions. It has also been shown that businesses get high returns for addressing organics.

2) Should your business or organization  separate out organic waste?

Organics may have a greater impact on your bottom line and recycling diversion ratio if your organization has employee cafeterias, or if your business is part of the hotel and food industry, which generates a large amount of food waste. While businesses related to food service can make a bigger impact by addressing organics, in general, most businesses will benefit from implementing an organics program that may include composting and other diversion methods.

3) What are the costs?

Organics programs can be surprisingly low cost to implement. In many cases, there is no need for new purchases.  An organization’s existing waste bins can simply be repurposed or repositioned for use with a new organics program. New and optional costs might include the purchase of compostable bags to line compost bins, and items like compostable napkins, cups, trays and utensils that make composting easier (and potentially more successful) because they can be thrown into the compost bins along with food waste. These costs may be offset by savings in waste removal fees as well.

4) How much time and training is involved?

Installing an organics program does require a little education but this can be accomplished quickly and easily with short training sessions, supplemented with occasional reminders. Raising staff awareness about the benefits of organics recycling and composting will motivate them to comply as well as build support for the organics program.

5) What about space constraints and smells?

These are two of the biggest fears related to composting and organics in an urban environment. But remember, since the volume of waste and recycling generated will not change (you are simply separating out your organic material for processing), additional space may not even be necessary; and there won’t be any new smells since the organics you are separating out was previously part of your trash.

If you start an organics program, here’s how to ensure success:

1) Install a pilot organics program

Every building and business has a different set-up and requires an organics program designed to fit its needs. Testing the program will allow you to make changes that will lead to success, or save you from investing in a program that may not work for reasons that may not be in your control.

2) Back-of- house or front-of- house?

Many buildings and businesses begin their organics program with “back-of- house” (“pre-consumer”) operations, which focus efforts in the kitchen and prep areas, where the majority of food waste is generated. This requires education and training of food prep workers and cleaning/janitorial staff.

On the other hand, “front-of- house” (“post-consumer”) organics programs aim to source separate food waste from more public areas like cafeterias and office pantries. This requires more education and monitoring because it involves participation from all employees, not just those who work in the kitchen or in janitorial.

3) Maintenance

Finally, as with all other sustainability efforts, maintenance is crucial. Once your organics program is up and running, your sustainability consultant or officer should check on its progress to ensure continued success and suggest changes, if necessary, to improve


  • This Great Forest guide was updated July 2017. It was originally published as a guide to composting in Environmental Leader, November 7, 2013. 
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