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A staggering percentage of the waste we send to landfills could find a happier home in community gardens, where food scraps can transform into fertilizer and feed soil. Not everyone understands how to separate their trash into recyclables and compostables, but even fewer of us are equipped to complete the full composting process at home. That’s where composting services come in.
In many cities around the country, private or public services exist to pick up your compostable waste at regular intervals, the same way your trash is collected. Some cities offer public services for pickup or drop-off of your compostables, while other areas rely on startups and community-led organizations to help citizens compost. Most compost services are highly local, so the best way to find the right one for you is to check into the options in your specific area. Here, we’ve selected four of the best composting services, each of which offers a unique benefit or business model.
Best Overall: CompostNow
Why We Chose It: With locations around the Southeast, this North Carolina-based company is affordable, hassle-free, and mission-minded.
Affordable monthly fee
Weekly pickups that include a new, clean compost bin
Website connects users outside the service area with other local compost services
Limited service area
Founded in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 2011, CompostNow serves households around the Southeast in pursuit of a single mission: to “close the loop on food waste” by saving more scraps from landfills. The company offers a weekly pickup service for its residential customers. To use it, just fill your CompostNow-provided bin with compostable waste throughout the week, and set it outside your home on collection day. CompostNow will take the bin—and your waste—and leave behind a fresh, clean container for you to use in the coming week.
Plans start at $29 per month, and additional options are available on request for offices or food service businesses. Customers can choose to earn back compost or donate the spoils of their food waste to a local community garden. As of January 2021, CompostNow has saved more than 28 million pounds of food waste from being sent to landfills, resulting in more than 9 million pounds of soil-enriching compost.
Its straightforward, beginner-friendly model makes composting easy for customers, but if the company hasn’t expanded to your area yet, you’re not totally out of luck. CompostNow keeps a directory of compost pickup services around the country on its website, another sign that saving the planet is just as important to the company as finding its own customers. If you do go with CompostNow, though, they’ll reward you for it: Members can earn a $10 credit for every referral.
Most Customizable: Compostable
Why We Chose It: A relative newcomer, this Los Angeles service allows users to choose between weekly or biweekly pickups, with the option for those with extra waste to add a second bin.
Affordable monthly fees with various pickup frequencies
Option to add odor-reducing sawdust to subscription
Compost donated to local community gardens, with option to take some home twice per year
Service area limited to Los Angeles
One-time setup fee
When Monique Figueiredo moved to Los Angeles from Boston, she was surprised to find that composting wasn’t as easy as she hoped it would be. She did something about it, and in 2019, Compostable was born. Since then, the company—which picks up compost bins from customers and delivers them to one of two composting locations—has successfully repurposed more than 70,000 pounds of compost into feed soil as of January 2021, educating scores of customers on sustainability in the process.
To sign up for Compostable’s services, just indicate your preferred pickup frequency: Biweekly service runs about $30 per month, while more regular weekly pickups cost about $45 per month. If you find yourself needing to empty the compost bin more often than this, you can also add a second bin for $20 per month—a perfect fix for those with a lot of organic food waste. Every membership requires a small one-time setup fee, and subscribers can opt to receive sawdust (an add-on that can decrease odor, mold, and pests) with their subscriptions for about $2 per month.
Compostable hauls all pickups to Cottonwood Urban Farm or GrowGood Farm, where waste is naturally converted into compost and used to help gardens throughout the year. Twice yearly, members can visit Cottonwood to see what their kitchen scraps have helped grow—and take home some compost themselves if they wish.
Best for Sustainability: Reclaimed Organics
Why We Chose It: While composting in general is a positive step for sustainability, this New York City organization raises the stakes by conducting its pickups by bike.
Pickups conducted by bike
Actively advocates for free community composting
Cleans buckets and replaces compost liner with every pickup
Only available in Manhattan
No option to keep compost
Reclaimed Organics is an offshoot of Common Ground Compost, an organization dedicated to reducing waste in New York City through consulting, advocacy, education, and other avenues. So, it’s no wonder that the Manhattan service’s green priorities extend to its delivery method: Most of the pickups completed by Reclaimed Organics are completed by bike.
Once you sign up for the organization’s compost pickup service, you’ll receive a five-gallon plastic compost bucket lined with a compostable bag. Depending on your location within the city, the cost is $20 to $25 (and per bucket, if you have more than one). At each collection, your bucket will be sanitized and the compostable liner will be replaced. While this service is primarily focused on residential customers, Reclaimed Organics does offer solutions for small businesses like coffee shops on request.
After pickup, all scraps go to the East Side Outside Community Garden in the East Village, where they are repurposed to enrich the soil and help new plant growth. And while Reclaimed Organics’ service area is relatively small, it does occasionally offer options for those who may be out of range: Keep an eye on the company’s website and social media channels for pop-up drop-off stations.
Best for Nationwide Service: TerraCycle
Why We Chose It: By operating through the mail to recycle or compost your waste, this environmentally conscious company offers service in areas many other composting services don’t—even if it does come at a cost.
Offers many recycling options in addition to composting
No regular pickup schedule, ideal for low-waste users
Offers composting in areas that might not otherwise have it
Partnership with Dyper offers composting option for new parents
Costs can be high
Shipping may negate some environmental benefits of composting
No option to keep compost
Founded by Tom Szaky when he was a freshman at Princeton in 2001, TerraCycle began by converting food waste from the university’s cafeteria into fertilizer, eventually selling it as plant food through many major retailers. Throughout its history, the company has partnered with major corporations to recycle common items—like Capri-Sun for drink pouches or Stonyfield Farm for yogurt cups. In 2014, TerraCycle launched its Zero Waste Box program, which allows users across the country to collect recyclable or compostable waste at home before mailing it to the company for processing.
Zero Waste Boxes come in many varieties, from specific models for single-use coffee pods to general boxes for recyclables. If you’re looking for a composting service specifically, you’ll likely need the Organics Zero Waste Container, a sealable five-gallon drum you can use to both collect and ship your compostable waste. When it’s full, ship it back to TerraCycle—you can use the same box it arrived in, along with the prepaid shipping label that's provided. Then order a new one to keep composting.
At about $170 per pail, composting with TerraCycle comes with a significant startup cost, especially if you have a lot of compostable waste. But for those who don’t fill a compost bin very quickly or lack a quality local composting option, TerraCycle might be the right choice: You can move at your own pace without paying for regular pickups that you don’t need. The company also recently announced a partnership with Dyper, a compostable diaper subscription company. The “ReDyper” service uses HazMat shipping standards to allow parents to compost diapers rather than throwing them away.
When it comes to a composting service that is straightforward, affordable, and easy to set up, CompostNow sets the standard. Its easy-to-use website and weekly bin replacement is the kind of program every composter should have access to. And with a presence in multiple Southern cities, CompostNow is slowly expanding to make that a reality.
TerraCycle, while expensive and not always the greenest option, was the only composting service available nationwide. At $170 per bucket, it’s not an accessible option for many composters, but may be a possibility for those with a mobile lifestyle or folks who only fill their composting bin once every few months.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is a Composting Service?
Much of the organic matter you usually throw away releases nutrients as it decomposes that can enrich the soil and help new food or growth flourish—but that doesn’t happen when you send those items to landfills. When you separate and collect this organic waste (such as vegetable peels, apple cores, other food scraps, leaves, and more), composting services pick up the decomposing matter on a regular basis or by request, transporting it to a farm or garden where nature can run its course. In some cases, composting services also offer the compost back to their clients for them to use in their own gardens when the natural process is complete.
How Much Does a Composting Service Cost?
Each composting service has a different price structure, whether they charge monthly, weekly, or per pickup. While public options through your city or county may be free, composting services from private companies tend to run between $8 and $20 per pickup, with lower costs in smaller cities and special deals for those who subscribe to frequent pickups. Occasionally, there may be an initial setup fee to account for your collection bucket and administrative expenses. If you opt for a service that operates through the mail such as TerraCycle, be prepared to pay much more: TerraCycle's Zero Waste Box for organic matter costs more than $150 per fill.
Why Use a Composting Service?
Many consumers want to limit the amount of waste they send to landfills and build habits that preserve our planet, but not everyone has the space at home (or the time) to compost all of their kitchen waste themselves. Composting services outsource this duty to farms and community gardens that can handle a large volume of decomposing matter, saving the average composting client time and mess while, in many cases, still allowing them to reap the benefits of fertilized soil.
Why Doesn’t This List Include a Composting Service in My City?
In most cases, the best option for composting service is a local provider, not a national brand. To find the very best composting service in your area, start by looking for nearby community gardens or organizations that might be able to point you in the right direction. You can also check municipal websites. While this list does include a mail-in provider and a multi-city regional organization, the most cost-efficient and environmentally conscious composting choice is always one that is local to you—and no single list could include every worthy provider in the country. To find a local option, you can still start with the top providers we’ve listed here: CompostNow offers a handy map to help would-be composters find providers in their area.
How We Chose the Best Composting Services
To choose the best composting services, we started by looking for companies that offered nationwide compost pickup, but we quickly learned that this service is almost entirely handled by local organizations and city governments. So, we focused on looking for organizations that offer compost services in particularly unique, innovative, or intuitive ways, to shine a light on their practices and point local consumers their way.
CompostNow, one of few companies that operate in more than one city, rose to the top for its easy-to-use website, affordable prices, and its willingness to give compost back to subscribers. And the company connects users with compost services even if they’re out of CompostNow’s service area: Look at its map of composting services around the nation as ample proof.
Compostable, a relative newcomer in Los Angeles, stood out for the several ways users can customize their composting subscriptions. Reclaimed Organics, a Manhattan-based service, takes sustainability to the next level by shrinking the service’s carbon footprint.
And Terracycle—an outlier in price, but also in the large number of service area options—offers the unusual service of composting by mail, a decent choice for users with little waste or who may spend time on the road and in RVs.