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WasteNot Compost bins being loaded on truck
Photograph: Jamie Kelter Davis

5 easy ways to compost in Chicago

Don't toss your food scraps in the trash—instead, try these local services for composting in Chicago.

Emma Krupp
Written by
Emma Krupp
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If you're looking for ways to cut down on your environmental impact, home composting is one of the simplest—and most effective—methods of making a difference on an individual scale, helping to transform food scraps from methane-emitting garbage into nutrient-rich fertilizer. So how should an aspiring composter get started?

RECOMMENDED: Andersonville's composting program could be a model for Chicago

Chicago hasn't implemented any kind of citywide composting program yet, but that doesn't mean you're out of luck if you lack the yard space to dig your own pit (or don't want to spring for an indoor vermicomposting kit). We've rounded up all the local options for compost pick-up and drop-off in Chicago, whether you're looking for convenient weekly service or a bin you can share with your neighbors. Go forth and compost! 

Compost options throughout Chicago

What is it: Chicago's only zero-emissions composting service.

How it works: Upon sign-up, customers are given a 5-gallon bucket for collecting food scraps, clumps of hair, paper towels and other compostable waste (you can view a full list here). Then, on your scheduled pickup day—either weekly or biweekly, depending on the plan you select—folks from the WasteNot team arrive in an electric van to fetch your full bin and replace it with a new, clean one. 

Cost: $10 per pick-up/$40 per month for weekly service, $12 per pick-up/$24 per month for biweekly service. Multi-unit composting plans are also available upon request.

Neighborhoods served: Rogers Park south to McKinley Park, with additional service areas around Hyde Park and the northern suburbs. No service in your area? You can request expansion to your neighborhood via an online form.

What is it: An urban farm based on the South Side that offers compost pick-up for individuals and groups as part of its Compost Club, plus a compost drop-off program at its office and various farmers markets.

How it works: You'll get a 5-gallon bin for depositing scraps upon sign-up; buckets are picked up and replaced weekly, biweekly or monthly. A group of neighbors can also opt for a 35-gallon communal bucket, which is typically picked up and replaced weekly. The compostable waste is processed at The Urban Canopy's Englewood farm as well as commercial composting facilities. There are a few perks to signing up, too: For every 10 pickups, members get a $5 voucher to Plant Shop Chicago, City Grange Garden Center, The Urban Canopy's CSA program or restaurants that compost with the company's Compost Club. 

Cost: $35 a month for weekly service (4–5 stops per month), $25 a month for biweekly service (2–3 stops per month), $15 for monthly service (one stop per month); $30 per stop for communal buckets. 

Neighborhoods served: See Urban Canopy's map

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What is it: A community composting system that places shared 35-gallon bins around the city by request.

How it works: Neighbors subscribe to share a bin where they can drop off composting materials, with each subscriber paying a monthly fee based on the amount of waste they contribute to the bin every month. Block Bins staffers pick up each bin to be emptied and cleaned on a biweekly to monthly schedule, depending on how many people are subscribed to a given bin. The waste is then transported to an industrial composting facility.

To get started, consult the company's map of Block Bins throughout the city to see if there's an existing Block Bin near you; if so, you can subscribe and get access to the bin's four-digit pin. No bin nearby? Place a request and you'll be notified when there's enough community interest for a new bin to be delivered (you can also join existing requests in your neighborhood).

Cost: Pricing varies by location and how much waste you drop off each month, but averages around $10 a month for five gallons of waste. 

Neighborhoods served: See the Block Bins map

What is it: An Evanston-based, women-owned composting pick-up service that prioritizes food waste education.

How it works: Subscribers are given a 5-gallon bucket to store their scraps and additional compostable waste. The team at Collective Resource collects and replaces the bucket weekly, biweekly or every four weeks, and the waste is taken to a commercial composting facility.

Subscribers can also opt to share a 32-gallon compost tote as part of the company's Neighbor Totes program, which allows up to 24 people to use one communal tote. You'll have to know the people you're sharing with, since only one user is billed for pick-ups and the tote doesn't come with a lock (Collective Resource recommends placing it in a private yard or in a tucked-away indoor area in a multi-unit residence, like a basement).

Cost: $10.50 per pick-up/$42 per month for weekly service; $15.50 per pick-up/$31 per month for biweekly service; $20.50 per pick-up for service every four weeks. $24 per pick-up for Neighbor Totes service (frequency depends on the amount of people using the tote).

Neighborhoods served: Rogers Park south to the Near South Side, as well as a handful of north and northwest suburbs (see full map here—you can input your zip code to check whether your area is currently serviced). FYI: Evanston, Skokie and Morton Grove residents get special rates as part of a contract between Collective Resource and the City of Evanston/Villages of Morton Grove and Skokie.

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Farmers markets
Photograph: Tristan Zeier

Farmers markets

What is it: Drop-off bins or programs run through farmers markets and community gardens.

How it works: Several farmers markets across the city accept compost scraps for a small fee (bear in mind that many of these markets operate seasonally, so this may not be an option in winter). Some community gardens also offer drop-off points.

Cost: Varies, but drop-offs are often free or charge a nominal fee. At The Urban Canopy's farmers markets, for instance, customers are charged $5 for their first bucket and $5 per bucket swap.

Neighborhoods served: Markets and community gardens throughout Chicago. 

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