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Ask Charlie | March 02, 2010

Q: What should I do with daily food scraps?

Q: Dear Charlie,

What should I do with daily food scraps before transferring them to my backyard composter or my food and yard waste cart?

A: Dear Candy,

There are many creative ways to temporarily store food scraps in the kitchen, at your desk or in workplace common areas.

One simple and FREE way to keep the fruit flies at bay and limit the smell of food scraps is to use what you already have available – any washable container with a lid. Some examples include empty paper milk cartons, large plastic tubs with lids or plastic juice pitchers.


Countertop Compost Marketplace
There are many countertop kitchen scrap catchers available for sale, including 1.5 gallon and 3 gallon odor-controlling containers made from stainless steel, bamboo, copper, ceramic and recycled plastic.  A quick search online, and you will find many possible vendors.

Two of the most comprehensive sites are and  If you visit either of these websites, search for “compost pails” or “countertop compost containers”. Locally, they are sold by grocery, drug and environmental specialty stores.

When shopping for a countertop scrap catcher, here is a list of things to consider:

How Do I Keep My Container Clean?
It is easy to keep your countertop containers clean by emptying and rinsing daily. A small amount of baking soda or vinegar can go a long way to help control odors and pests.

Another way to reduce odors is to line your food scraps container with paper bags, newspaper, used paper towels, or compostable bags, which are available in sizes that range from 3 – 96 gallons. If you keep your countertop compost container unlined, simply rinse out between trips to the food scraps can.

If you choose to use compostable bags, make sure to buy bags on the approved list which include: AL-Pack, BioBag, EcoSafe, EcoGuard, Bag-to-Nature, Nature-Friendly, and BioSak. 

Compostable bags can be found locally in most grocery stores, and are located in either the garbage bag or natural foods aisles. A quick search online, and you will find many possible vendors who stock the approved compostable bags.

Some countertop compost containers come with carbon filters, which can help reduce odors, but are not necessary if you empty and clean your container daily.

What Goes Where?
All food waste, including dairy, meat, shells, fruits, vegetables, coffee grounds and bones can go in your compost bin. Food-soiled paper like pizza boxes, coffee filters, napkins, paper towels, brown paper bags, deli paper (think: hot dog wrappers), uncoated paper plates and newspapers can go in too. Other items include teabags, wax and parchment paper, wax candy wrappers, and shredded paper.

What cannot be composted? Plastic, pet litter, milk and juice cartons, shiny food wrappers, paper plates and other containers coated with a thin, shiny layer of plastic, Styrofoam, foil, glass, metal, diapers and any hazardous waste.

For more information and tips, visit


Composting At Work
If your office has a composting program, great.  If not, start one – it is easy.  A successful office food composting program begins with placement of the compost cans. Containers for food scraps and food soiled paper (napkins, paper plates, etc.) should be located next to the garbage and recycling containers. Put your labeled food scraps can next to the garbage and recycling cans in office gathering areas, lunch areas and kitchen.  The second important step is education – make sure there are signs posted with information about what goes where.


If your workplace kitchen does not have a sink, it is easier to manage emptying and cleaning the compost containers if the containers are lined with compostable bags.


Backyard Composting & Worm Bins
There are many advantages to composting in your backyard – you can save money and create rich soil for your garden and plants. For most food scraps and some food soiled paper you can take the do-it-yourself approach and backyard compost. Even urban dwellers with little or no yard can home compost.

For home and backyard composting resources and ideas on how to get started, visit King County, Seattle Public Utilities or Seattle Tilth online.

composting  seattle  shoreline 


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