Published: Oct. 5, 2020

Composting is easier than you might think. It has major environmental benefits and is something you can do wherever you are. According to the EPA, over 28% of what we put in landfills is compostable. 

Not only does composting enrich soil, it also reduces our need for chemical fertilizers and reduces our carbon footprint. Reducing our carbon footprint is one reason the city of Boulder has set the zero waste goal to have all Boulder houses, apartments and townhomes recycle and compost 85% of their waste. What you can compost depends on whether you’re making your own compost or putting it in a bin that goes to a composting facility.

When composting, it’s important to avoid contamination. What if your compost or recycling gets too contaminated?

  • Delivery of compost or recycling will be rejected and sent to the landfill.
  • Even if the material is accepted, too much contamination makes processing and sorting the waste more challenging.

Composting at home

Compostable items include food waste, certain plastics (check the label), certain paper products and napkins and wood products. For city of Boulder residents, compost bins are provided with landfill and recycling containers. Waste haulers will collect your compost along with your recycling and landfill bin. If you do not have curbside compost service, you have the option to drop off your compost at a facility in Boulder County. To do this, collect your compostable material in a bin or paper sack, then drop it off at a center like Eco-Cycle’s Center for Hard to Recycle Materials (CHaRM). You can see a full list of facilities on the Boulder County website.

Your curbside compost goes to an industrial composting facility where giant compost piles can reach up to 150 degrees. This allows them to break down many of the items that wouldn’t break down in your backyard compost pile. This process also destroys pathogens, making it safe to compost paper towels, tissues and raw meat. Within four months, your leftover food can be returned to the earth to feed plants or improve degraded land. For composting guidelines and a list of compostable items, visit the curbside composting site for Boulder County.

Students living off campus in the city of Boulder can obtain a free EcoBuffs kit. This kit includes a compost collection bin that fits on your counter or under your kitchen sink. Sign up to get your free EcoBuffs kit.

Composting on campus

Thanks to Campus Dining Services, nearly all of the packaging and utensils can be composted or recycled. Look for the word “compostable” on the container. All food, including meat and dairy, can also be composted. 

To ensure we keep as much material out of the landfill as possible, we need your help getting food and containers in the right place.

  • Paper products go into compost (napkins, paper to-go containers, etc.)
  • Plastic to-go containers go into recycle bins (clear plastic, black plastic, white plastic, etc.)
  • Plant-based plastics go into compost (clear cups with a green stripe)
  • Condiment packets go into landfill (ketchup, mustard, dressing, etc.)
  • Sandwich wraps go into landfill (clear film plastic)
  • Cups labeled “compostable,” “#7 PLA” and “BPI Certified” are all compostable. Most other cups go in the landfill.

If you are confused with what items should go in compost, recycling and landfill bins, you can find more details here. If you live in a residence hall, check out this helpful video on recycling and composting in the halls.

Sustainable Buffs is a series brought to you by the Environmental Center. Learn more sustainability tips and ways to get involved at