Composting Questions and Confusions

This article addresses composting in Austin. I’ve included information for apartments and curbside residents.

Don’t forget to check out my previous posts on composting:

City of Austin apartment and condominium composting and recycling information is located at here.
-The Texas Farmers Market at Mueller (Saturday only composts), and Lakeline Mall, accepts compost of a limited sort. Check their website for limitations. They’ve requested contributions be frozen or refrigerated to help reduce smell, and dropped off near the end of the event if possible. They don’t mind if it’s BPI-bagged or loose.
– If you have curbside composting service neighbors, consider asking if they’ll let you use their cart. Several apartment dwellers do this and it’s working out well. Most Mueller homes don’t fill up their compost carts so there’s usually room.
– The City of Austin recommends finding a community garden near you to drop off compost. Mueller’s community garden doesn’t currently have a compost program, so check the website listed above for locations.

My favorite City of Austin flyer for compost and recycling information is here.

Do Not Include the following in the compost carts:
– No blood, human or animal
– No urine, human or animal
– No feces, human or animal
– No kitty litter, any type/material
– No pet waste, no dog waste bags
– No lint: too much lint is polyester, a plastic, so no lint at all to be safe
– No cotton balls/cotton rounds: same as above, a lot of cotton balls/cotton batting are polyester not cotton and it’s hard to tell the difference so no cotton balls.
– No dryer sheets: polyester/plastic
– No disposable baby wipes: polyester/plastic
– No disposable makeup remover wipes or pads with solution/chemicals: polyester/plastic and chemicals
– No paper towels with window cleaner or any other chemical

Compost Service Dates for Residential Curbside Pickup
– Collection of City of Austin curbside carts for compost, recycling and trash in Mueller is on Friday mornings.
– Carts should be put out by 6:30 a.m. Friday mornings/collection day. Trucks start to show up by 7:00 a.m.
-Compost and trash are every week. Recycling is every other week.
– Use My Schedule to get a personalized collection calendar for all residential curbside services. You can add your schedule to Google, iCal or Outlook, or you can print it. You can also sign up for text, email or phone call reminders and alerts.

Best and Highest Use
When in doubt about whether to compost or recycle something, e.g. cardboard egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, newspaper, etc., the best and highest use is recycling. The City of Austin receives revenue for recyclables. The City does not receive revenue on the compost produced by Organics by Gosh, the contractor for curbside compost collection.

That being said, any paper item with grease and/or food on it should go in the green compost cart: pizza boxes, to-go/take-out bags and containers, broken egg goo-covered cardboard cartons, etc.

Bugs and Pests
I leave my compost cart outside my house out in the sun all day. I include meat. I use the BPI compostable bags and tie a knot in each bag when I throw it in the cart. I don’t have maggots (the white grub-looking things) or roaches. Maggots and roaches may be a result of loose/unsealed bags. Try tying bags closed and see if that helps. Please do not spray or bait anything in your compost that includes chemicals.

-Use BPI compostable bags and tie a knot. These come in kitchen counter size and full cart size. Bugs don’t go in or come out if the bag is closed.
-Rinse the cart out at least once a month. Leave the lid open if it’s going to rain and then tip it over to drain out.
-Line the bin with baking soda. Lining it with newspaper and leaves at the bottom also seem to help neighbors. Linings help soak up the fluids that may be attracting pests due to the sweet smell.
-Freeze proteins (meat, chicken, fish, bones, dairy, cheese, etc.) to reduce temptations and maggots. Maggots come out of decomposing meat so freezing at least this type of compostable should reduce maggots. Neighbors are having success double-bagging their compost to reduce maggots.
-Some of the neighbors are having raccoon issues. Use a bungee cord or a clamp to keep the lid closed. Don’t use a lock or combination that the truck operators will have to request assistance for or take time to figure out. They’re on a timed schedule but they don’t show up at the same time every week.

Shredded Paper and color newspaper

Effective 2022 What Do I Do With? advises that shredded paper should go in the compost carts. This includes/allows for color newspaper. While shredding used to be allowed in the recycling, it does tend to come apart and jam the single-stream sorting machines even when paper bagged so it’s safer and more appropriate to put it in the compost cart. If you are shredding documents for the compost cart, please make sure to remove plastic, staples, tape, binders and rubber bands.
Shredded paper may go in either cart. It may be more helpful in the compost cart as padding/soaking up the fluids. If it goes in the recycling, the paper fiber is already shorter than is ideal and so the paper product it would be turned into would be a down-cycled product. You also are required to put shredded paper intended for the recycling cart into a top-down paper bag. So I recommend you use it in the compost carts.

Colored newspaper may go in the compost cart.

Paper Plates and Cups
The City of Austin has not specified that colored paper plates are not accepted, so for now you may include them. It would provide a better compost product to use plain paper plates as they have no dye, but colored paper plates are acceptable.

Traditional paper cups for food sold at the grocery store are compostable. Coffee cups, containers specifically labeled for temperature specific food (i.e. hot or cold), or moisture barrier containers are paper coated in plastic and are not compostable. Coffee cups, ice cream containers and oatmeal tubes go in the trash carts.

Parchment Paper
I’ve requested ARR update their What Do I Do With? web-page to address parchment paper. In the meantime, you’ll need to read your box to determine if your parchment paper is compostable. Most parchment papers are lined with silicone to be non-stick and these should not be composted. If you use a brand such as If You Care Parchment Backing Sheets or Backing Paper, this brand is certified compostable and you may compost this brand. If You Care baking products are available at Central Market, Wheatsville Coop and Amazon.

Compostable utensils/plate-ware
The City errs on the side of believing the companies so if single-use cutlery or plate-ware says compostable, it may go in the green curbside compost carts.

Bioplastics/alternative plastics
If the plastic says compostable, it can be composted. The City of Austin is accepting “compostable.” If the plastic says biodegradable or plant-based, or corn or some other non-petroleum material, and it does not say compostable, put it in the trash. Only petroleum-based plastics are recyclable with the City’s contractors. Non-petroleum plastics will contaminate the petroleum plastic stream that the City is selling. It’s kind of a catch-22 with these new non-petroleum plastics. It’s good they aren’t based on a non-renewable fossil fuel like petroleum; however there aren’t facilities in place to recycle these new products. They’re too new and the source stream is too small.

Teabags are compostable. We have not received any instruction that requires removing the paper tag, string, or possible staple. So just throw the whole tea bag in the cart.

Produce Stickers
These are plastic. Sorry people. They may be attached with a food-grade adhesive but they’re plastic. I have not been instructed that produce stickers are considered a contaminant, and it’s not listed as a “do not include” in the education material, but as it is plastic, if you can remember to take the stickers off produce before you compost it (usually this is avocados, tomatoes or bananas I can’t get to fast enough), we can contribute to a higher quality end product. Don’t stress out or freak out if you don’t do this or forget. Again, it’s not a listed contaminant, it just helps.

Tissues/Kleenex can go in the compost. Snot/blown-nose tissues are okay.
Bloody noses tissues should go in the trash cart.

Cooking Oil
A small amount of cooking oil, like one pan’s worth, may go in the compost cart. Your breakfast bacon grease is okay in the compost cart.

Your Fry Daddy oil cannot go in the compost cart. Lidded containers of used cooking oil may be dropped off at the Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center for recycling.

Wood Shavings/Wood products
If the wood is untreated then untreated wood and sawdust may go in the compost cart. Sawdust should be in paper bags.

Popsicle sticks, kabob sticks, and single use chopsticks may all go in the compost cart.

If sawdust or wood pieces are from treated wood they go in the trash.
If wood is painted, like painted Popsicle stick art, it goes in the trash.

If you are aware of a plant/wood than can stunt the growth or is toxic to other plants, or is infested with something, that should always go in the trash so as not to poison, kill, or spread disease to other plants once the finished compost product is available.

Can I get a smaller compost cart?
We are so lucky to have the size we do! The first compost pilot gave residents a 96 gallon; that’s the size of our blue recycling carts! Our green compost carts are 32 gallons. The 32 gallon cart is intended to provide composting space and replace the lawn and leaf bags for yard homeowners. If a resident fills up their compost cart, the overflow landscaping material may go in a lawn and leaf bag.

I know we have space issues in Mueller. It would be nice if they offered a 24 gallon, the same size as the smallest trash cart, but everyone having a 32 gallon is most cost effective right now. As the City is currently focusing on spreading composting services to all Austin residents there won’t be a discussion on smaller compost and recycling carts right now, but when the opportunity comes up with a City poll or open house, please comment as they’re working on updating the Master Plan. This update will be an opportunity to recommend alternative cart sizes and configurations for areas like Mueller.

We probably won’t get carts smaller than the 24 gallon soon, if ever. Anything smaller than 24 gallons would possibly require a new truck design and that could be very expensive: in the design, procurement, re-training, etc.

Do I have to have a compost cart?
No, you do not; however you will still be billed for compost service at the $1 per month fee. This fee allows the program to expand so all curbside residents in Austin will have access to curbside composting service. There is no fee to have your compost cart picked up if you don’t want it, but if you change your mind the City will charge you a $15 delivery fee to return the compost cart. New residents should not be charged the initial delivery for all three carts.

Thanks so much for your interest in providing a cleaner and robust compost product! Please Comment if you have additional questions!

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