Published: April 11, 2022 By

I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, but a passion for sustainability drew me halfway across the country to University of Colorado Boulder. When I arrived here, I thought I had it all figured out. I recycled all my papers and plastics, used tupperware, and thrifted most of my clothes. However, shortly into my time on campus, I realized there was much more to being zero waste than I had ever expected. The sharpest learning curve was composting.

Prior to moving to Boulder, I thought composting was just something that could be done on the individual scale to make soil using food scraps. I had heard of compostable plastics, but never had the chance to use them, and thought them to be a bit of a novelty product. It wasn’t until I began working at the Environmental Center that I learned about industrial composting facilities. These facilities are capable of taking on high volumes of organic waste and have the ability to properly decompose compostable plastics. All compostables at CU Boulder are taken to A1 Organics, an industrial composting facility. This is when I realized that compostable plastics are not just a novelty product, but are a valuable tool in limiting the amount of waste that is sent to landfills, and began focusing on properly sorting my waste.

Compostable plastics look and feel almost identical to the typical petroleum based plastics we’re all used to. This makes it really easy to put compostables in the wrong bin. However, there are some tips that have helped me to get it right. First, compostable plastics in Boulder are labeled with a number seven in the recycling symbol on the bottom. Second, most compostable plastics will be clearly labeled as compostable. Just look for any writing on the cups or silverware that you’re using and it will tell you where it needs to go. Finally, almost all plastics and containers used on the CU campus are compostable. Whenever I get food on campus, I automatically assume it should land in a compost bin. However, it’s important to be mindful and double check so nothing ends up in the wrong place. In addition to compostable plastics, food scraps, napkins, and paper towels can be sent to composting facilities. CU Boulder also hands out coffee cups and food containers made out of compostable paper. On these items, it is important to look for words identifying the item as compostable to be sure they’re going to the right bin




After figuring out how to identify a compostable, I had to learn the hardest part of composting: where to put it. Compost bins are spread all over campus, but can be hard to find. This is because most buildings place their compost bins in the bathrooms, where they are sure to catch high quantities of compostable paper towels. It took me quite some time to build the habit of taking the few extra steps to reach the bathroom compost. Now, it is second nature to collect all my food scraps and compostable plastics and take it to the bathroom. Select buildings, such as the UMC, have compost bins next to the trash and recycling with clear signs on what to put in each bin. When beginning your journey through composting at CU, this is a great place to start in order to build knowledge on what goes in each bin. Off-campus composting should also be available at every house and apartment in Boulder. If your house or apartment does not have landfill, recycling, and compost bins, contact your landlord! Finally, it is important to know that compostable plastics and papers are not recyclable. If you have a number seven plastic and composting is not available, be sure to throw it in the landfill bin. Compostable plastics are common contaminants in the recycling process and too many can make recycling unusable.

There were a lot of things I didn’t realize were important about compost:

  • Composting creates a nutrient rich soil to be used instead of toxic fertilizers

  • Compost helps to reduce climate change

  • Compostables in landfills will create methane, a much stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide

  • Landfills are often located in someone’s backyard, and that someone is often part of a low income community who can’t escape from the smells, noise, and run off from landfill operations

  • Keeping material out of landfills will reduce the need to build landfills

We are lucky to go to a school that prioritizes composting as a way to dispose of waste. It can be hard and confusing to know where to start when it comes to composting on campus, but eventually it will become second nature. I was once befuddled by the mysterious compostable plastics but I have grown to appreciate them for being better for our planet. I hope this article helps you to build your understanding of composting and kickstarts your own journey to being a compost lover!  

For other resources on composting check out these articles from the Zero Waste Outreach Team: 

What is Industrial Composting?

Geek Out With Us: Composting!

Composting 101