Green Line this month is compliments of Devon Mann, co-chair of Southeast Neighbors. Her comprehensive article answers many questions on food composting.

Why use your yard debris bin for kitchen scraps?

All organic material, such as the food we eat, is made up of various types of carbonbased molecules. As massive amounts of discarded food waste decays in landfills, the carbon-based molecules in the food are converted to methane gas (CH4) which is then released into the atmosphere. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and, because of its chemical structure, more than 25 times as potent at trapping heat in the atmosphere as the more familiar greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2). Over the last two centuries, methane concentrations in the atmosphere have more than doubled, largely due to human-related activities. In 2021, 15% of all methane emissions in the US came from landfills.

Because methane is both a powerful greenhouse gas and short-lived compared to carbon dioxide, achieving significant reductions has a rapid and significant effect on atmospheric warming. Since food waste composes the majority of methane-emitting organic waste in landfills, as individuals and a community, we can reduce organic waste in our landfills by collecting kitchen scraps and composting food waste. Lucky for us in Eugene, local haulers provide bins that accept combined yard debris and food waste!

Which kitchen scraps can go into the yard debris bin?

In addition to yard debris, the following food waste items can also go in the bin: plate scrapings, meat, bones, dairy, eggs & egg shells, coffee grounds, baked goods, all parts of fruits and vegetables, and all kitchen trimmings. A good rule of thumb is that if it is (or once was) edible, it goes in!

Please note that compostable/biodegradable products including containers, serviceware and biodegradable bags should never go in the yard debris bin.

How do I collect kitchen scraps?

The easiest method for collecting kitchen scraps is with a container kept in the kitchen that is emptied regularly into either the curbside yard waste bin or your own outdoor composting bin/tumbler. The container doesn’t need to be fancy; any container with a tight-fitting lid that will fit on or under your countertop will work. Just scrape your plate right into the container instead of the kitchen garbage or sink disposal! (Emptying the container frequently and avoiding excess liquid in the container keep odors and fruit flies from being an issue.)

Why can’t I put items labeled “ biodegradable” or “compostable” in the yard debris bin?

Not all ‘certified’ compostable items will actually compost as fully or quickly as we need them to. This is because certification standards test compostability based on laboratory conditions. Those conditions are not always replicated in the real world (Eugene/Lane County composting facilities) which means that some “compostable” items don’t fully compost. The result is a finished compost that is contaminated with bits of partially degraded material.

In addition, the Oregon DEQ has found that compostable serviceware often has a larger environmental footprint than noncompostable items. For example, compostable materials may require more fossil energy use, release more greenhouse gases, or result in more ecological toxins than their non-compostable counterparts, mostly due to how they’re made.

What happens to the contents of the yard waste bin?

The combined food waste and yard debris collected is sent to local commercial composting facilities. They use a specialized process to break down organic matter, creating nutrient-rich compost that can be purchased at local retailers.