Curbside Pilot Program

Thank you for visiting the Frequently Asked Questions page for the upcoming curbside pilot program in the City of Cambridge. We know that you may have questions about the program, and we are excited to answer these questions to make you feel comfortable about participating in the program. Please see below to view FAQ’s related to the program.

Why is composting a good thing?

• It’s nature's way of recycling food scraps and compost makes wonderful soil to grow healthy food.

• It’s good for the environment and reducing waste feels good. Love food, hate waste!

• It helps protect the climate by reducing potent greenhouse gas emissions at landfills.

• Curbside compost collection will help the City control trash costs and meet its goals to reduce trash 30% by 2020 and 80% less by 2050.

• Farming and gardening with compost requires less water and helps to avoid the use of fertilizers and pesticides.

Are other communities doing this?

Yes! There are city-wide curbside composting programs active in Seattle, San Francisco, Portland (OR), Denver, Madison (WI) and Toronto. Cambridge, Massachusetts will be one of the first east coast cities in the US to pilot a curbside compost program!

Who is eligible to participate?

Residents must live in a specific area of North Cambridge (in green on the map). Residences must have city trash service. Your home can be a single-family, or a multi-family building with up to 12 units.

Why is the pilot program limited to such a small area?

This particular section of North Cambridge was chosen because it has a good selection of mixed housing types, and this area is underserved by the current compost drop off program.

Why not buildings with 13 + units or residences with private trash?

Similar to the beginning of the curbside recycling program in 1991, we are limiting participation to buildings with 12 or fewer units. This will allows the City to target the pilot and establish best practices for potential future roll out to larger multi-family buildings.

The City provides trash collection for about 2/3 of all residences, and therefore are priority participants for the pilot. Can I participate if I already compost at home?

Yes! In fact, we encourage you to do so. The curbside compost program will be a great addition to your home compost system since some materials such as meat, seafood, dairy, pet food, cannot be composted in a backyard compost system, they are accepted in the curbside compost pilot program. This is also a great way to keep other food scraps and soiled paper out of the trash.

What can I do if I’m not eligible to participate?

• Drop-Off Locations (Click here to view drop-off locations)

• Bicycle Pick-up Services (Metro Pedal Power & Bootstrap Compost)

• Compost outdoors or with worms at home! Click here to view how.

If my residence isn’t eligible, can I just bring my food scraps to a neighbor that is participating and eligible, and use their bin?

First and foremost, thank you for your commitment to composting, but please use the drop-off compost program or arrange for bicycle pick up. Since this is a pilot program, one of our goals is to collect good quality data about participation (i.e. pounds per household per week). We do not want non-eligible residents to impact the results of the pilot program, by skewing data used to measure program success, and ultimately the City’s ability to plan for the potential roll out of a citywide curbside compost program Thanks in advance for your cooperation, we appreciate your understanding and support.

Are businesses eligible to participate?

This program is limited to residences only. Businesses with small weekly quantities can contact 2 local bicycle companies for curbside collection, and businesses with large weekly quantities con contact several local haulers including Save that Stuff, Casella, B-P Trucking, EOMS, EL Harvey, or JRM for quotes on collection of food scraps. Click here to view a list of private haulers for recycling and trash.

How do I sign up?

Sign up online at CambridgeMa.Gov/CompostPickup. We are asking for your email address and phone number so we can stay in touch during the pilot program with updates and survey requests. If you don’t have access to a computer or can’t sign up online, call us at 617-349-4815 to sign up over the phone and make other arrangements to receive program communication. Please note: we will not share your email or phone number.

What is the deadline to sign up?

Please sign up by December 20th because the City’s goal is to recruit 500- 800 households. Eligible households will be able to sign up if the City has not reached its goal.

Someone from my building signed up already. Does that mean all the households in my building are automatically signed up?

No—all households need to individually submit the “I’m Interested” form to participate. Although we may have approved your building to participate, we still need information from each household that wants to participate to ensure they receive bins, bags and program updates.

Will my landlord or property manager already know about the program?

Please let your landlord about your interest in the program. You can also provide us your landlord or property managers email so that we can send them information. We also encourage you (or someone from your building) to offer to be the point of contact between the City and your residence during the pilot program.

When will the program start and how long will it last?

The program will run from April 7, 2014 through March 30, 2015 with weekly curbside pickup on Monday's. During holiday weeks, collection is delayed one day. Check the online schedule for holidays including President’s Day, Patriot’s Day, Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veteran's Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

What materials will I receive? Are they free?

Each participating household will receive a green kitchen container for food/soiled paper scraps, and a year supply of compostable BioBags (150 bags). Your residence will also get a green curbside bin, to share at multi-family buildings that have common recycling toters and trash barrels. All materials, and weekly pickup, are free to participating residents.

The Department of Public Works will set a schedule in during the first 2 weeks of March 2014 for participating households to pick up the materials from various locations in the pilot neighborhood.

What materials can I compost?

Please click here to view a list of materials that can be composted.

How will weekly collection work?

Throughout the week you will use your kitchen container, lined with a BioBag, to collect food scraps and soiled paper. When it gets full, remove the bag, tie it, and place in the curbside bin. Set your green curbside bin at the curb next to your trash and recycling after 6 pm the night before collection or by 7am on collection day. A dedicated Department of Public Works truck will come by to empty your green curbside bin.

Where will the compost go?

DPW will take the collected food scraps and soiled paper to Rocky Hill Farm in Saugus, MA. Rocky Hill Farm lets the material decompose in piles for 1-2 weeks and then loads it into their in-vessel digester. In 3 days, the material is completely broken down into compost. The digester is a rotating drum 53 feet long, 10 feet in diameter, with a capacity of 150 cubic yards. The drum turns once every 15 minutes and temperatures reaches between 140-160 degrees. The material is then put into windrows (long neat piles) for another 4 weeks to fully mature. The next stage is to screen the compost and remove any large particles. The finished compost is sold to farmers, gardeners, and landscapers. The compost can be spread on fields for the growing of vegetables, used as a soil amendment, turf dressing, erosion control, potted plants or used in heavy soils to increase drainage. Residents can get small amounts of the finished compost, great for gardens at the Recycling Center from April-October during open hours (Tuesday/Thursday 4pm-7:30pm & Saturday 9am-4pm).

What are the sizes of the kitchen containers and bins?

The green kitchen containers are 2.5 gallons, called the MaxAir bin, made by BioBag USA. The kitchen container is ventilated and the Biobags breathe. This design lets heat escape and moisture evaporate. This lets food scraps dry out, which slows the rotting process and avoids odor. The green curbside bins will be available in two sizes: 12 (for single family homes) and 21 gallons (for multi-family buildings up to 12 units). These bins are much smaller than the recycling toters (which are 65 gallons). Multi-family buildings can request a second curbside bin if one is not enough.

                 Norseman green bin

Does the green curbside bin lock?

Yes. The bin is a durable plastic on wheels with a secure locking lid that is resistant to pests.

Tell me about the compostable bags I will receive. Why are plastic bags not accepted?

Each participating household will receive a year supply of BioBags to line the kitchen container. Unlike regular plastic bags, BioBags are made from plant and vegetable oils/ resins that can be consumed by micro organisms that live in our soils. This means that the bag can easily be composted with the food scraps and soiled paper. Please DO NOT use plastic bags to collect your food scraps. Plastic bags are not compostable and considered a contaminant in the program.

You will receive 150 compostable bags, allowing you enough bags to fill your bags with compostable material 2-3 times per week. Place the BioBags in the green curbside bin. This amount should be sufficient. If you need more, local retailers including Whole Foods, Tags, and Pemberton Farms do sell compostable bags (typically about $5 for a box of 25). Acceptable bags must have the US Composting Council logo. Please not that if you plan on leaving your residents for a long period of time (2+ days), please tie and place your BioBag in your curbside bin.

How can I clean my kitchen container and bin?

You can clean your kitchen container in the dishwasher. If needed, you can clean the curbside bin with soap and water. Please drain the water onto a grassy area. Wash water should never enter a catch basin because it goes straight to the Charles River.

How can I avoid odor in my kitchen and green bin?

The kitchen container and the compostable BioBags have been specially designed to avoid odor. Because the container is ventilated and the bags breathe, heat escapes and moisture evaporates. This lets food scraps dry out, which slows the rotting process and avoids odor. For meat and fish scraps, it is best practice to wrap in newspaper or paper bags before placing in your kitchen container to prevent odors. Remember no liquids and no grease. Drain excess liquids from food and squeeze out your tea bag. These practices will help reduce moisture. Place bags of food scraps in green curbside bin 2-3 times per week, when it’s full, or if you will be gone for a few days.

To prevent odor from the green bin, please ttore the bin outside. Make sure the bin is locked after placing bags of food scraps inside. If possible store in a shady and well- ventilated area. Place the bin out at the curb for weekly pickup, even if it isn’t full


Will the curbside compost program attract rodents?

Just like when food scraps were in your trash, it is important to follow best practices to keep discarded material clean and neat. This means: Empty your kitchen container into your green curbside bin regularly. Ensure that the lock on the green curbside bin is shut securely after placing bags of food scraps inside. Never place loose food scraps in your green curbside bin, or on the ground. Set out the green curbside bin at the curb for weekly pickup, even if it is not full. View 10 tips on rodent control by clicking here and to view garden rodent control tips, please click here.


Is curbside compost pickup better than putting food scraps down a garbage disposal?

In Cambridge, residents may put small amounts of food scraps into sink disposers that grind up material into tiny particles. Please run the garbage disposal along with a moderate flow of cold water. The waste is transported in the City’s sewer system to the Deer Island Treatment Facility and turned into a fertilizer, good for lawns and gardens. Curbside compost pickup is an alternative way to compost food scraps, and more comprehensive. It offers an opportunity to also keep soiled paper and fibrous food scraps that cannot go in a sink disposer, such as corn husks, celery, artichokes, bones, and fruit pits. Never pour grease or oil down the drain. Pour into a can or jar with a lid, store until full and then place in the trash. Fats, oils, and grease cause sewer blockages leading to spills and overflows harmful to public health.

Why is meat, seafood and dairy accepted for curbside compost pickup and not in backyard composting?

These materials can tend to cause odors and can attract rodents and other pests. Also, backyard compost bins do not get to high temperatures needed to compost meat, seafood and dairy. At large composting facilities, temperatures reach between 140-160 degrees.

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