What can I legally do with food waste created in my home?
While not an exhaustive list, the most common options are composting, animal or livestock feed, donations, food-waste subscription services, or community-based efforts.
Residents can recycle food waste at home through backyard composting using a backyard pile or tumbler, or through vermicomposting, or using a bokashi kit (fermentation). Composting is a controlled biological decomposition of organic wastes (which includes food waste) into a stable product that can be used as a natural soil amendment. Other options include incorporating food waste in vegetable gardens using methods such as “lasagna” or layering gardening, which allows for use of non composted or otherwise treated food scraps. Generally, backyard composting does not allow for dairy or meat products. Adding compost to your soil increases water retention, decreases erosion, and keeps organic materials out of landfills. OF NOTE: In some communities, local zoning, health codes, or homeowner association deeds may prohibit backyard composting or might specify the types of approved composting vessels. For example, requirements may state that composting must be contained in enclosed composters. For more information on home composting, valuable information can be found on the Ohio EPA’s website http://epa.ohio.gov/dmwm/home/food_scrap.aspx#143164395-home-composting.
Food waste can also be used as animal feed for backyard animals such as chickens. Food waste should be appropriate to the animal’s natural diet. Some animals are more obvious food recipients than others. Pigs, specifically, are well suited for food waste feedings. For information on feeding food waste to livestock, please see the recent legal guide spearheaded by Harvard University http://www.chlpi.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Leftovers-for-Livestock_A-Legal-Guide_August-2016.pdf. For information on feeding pigs specifically, check out the website The Pig Idea thepigidea.org. You can also contact your local solid waste, county agricultural extension office, or public health agency for more detailed information.
Food waste that is not expired, opened, or partially consumed can often be donated to local food banks, community shelters, or other non-profit services. Most cities have at least one of these options available. Some services also accept excess fresh food from caterers and company cafeterias. While these services do not take prepared or fresh food directly from residents, residents could encourage hired caterers or employers to consider this option. Donations in good faith are protected from liability under the Federal Good Samaritan Food Donation Act. In Franklin County, the Mid-Ohio Foodbank is the primary foodbank and acts as a source of product for other county operations. In 2015, the Mid-Ohio Foodbank distributed over 26 million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to families in need. The Ohio EPA maintains an active list of primary donation outlets. http://epa.ohio.gov/dmwm/home/food_scrap.aspx#143164391-donations.
FOOD WASTE SERVICES
While there government-sponsored food waste collection programs are not yet a reality in Central Ohio, residents can work with local companies to have food scraps removed from their home. Some composting facilities accept food scraps and may accept them directly from homeowners. There are also a growing number of subscription service companies that will collect your food scraps at home for a fee. Dairy and meat products may be permissible, depending on the company. For a list of companies in the central ohio area, please see <<<<<< data-preserve-html-node="true">>>>>>>.
Community gardens sometimes accept food waste for their on-site composting. It’s also possible that neighbors would accept neighborhood scraps or could work together to form a compost co-op.
Is there anything I should not do or am not legally permitted to do with home food waste?
Dumping food waste by itself into a pile out in the open with no covering will cause odors and vermin nuisances. While not complicated, composting does require a certain mix of waste and a lack of light and oxygen. Open dumping of waste is illegal and will likely result in a nuisance and/or an open dumping violation, not to mention unhappy neighbors.
Is there an effort to create a city-wide curbside composting program?
Currently, there are no cities or municipalities in Central Ohio that offer a curbside composting program. Much like traditional curbside recycling, a government-sponsored curbside collection program is developed at the local level by communities working with their waste haulers. A limiting factor in Central Ohio to developing curbside food waste collection is a lack of facilities that can accept food waste.
Should you wish to gather support for such an effort, model cities to consider are San Francisco and Portland, Oregon. Links for more information on the San Francisco’s efforts - sfenvironment.org/zero-waste/downloads - or the company that helped make it happen - www.recology.com. For information on Portland, see the city’s website - www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/402972.
While Central Ohio may not have a city-wide composting program available for residents, there are a growing number of local companies offering residential curbside composting services. Compost Columbus and The Compost Exchange are two options available as of May 2017.
How do I start composting food waste at home?
The City of Columbus and Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District offer a rebate program on rain barrels, compost bins, and native plants or trees as part of their Community Backyards Conservation Program. City of Columbus residents as well as residents in partnering communities may be eligible for one rebate per address per year in the amount of $50. Eligibility is based on your primary tax district and you must participate in an online quiz or register for a local workshop. Click here for details.
How big of a compost pile can I maintain in my backyard?
The size of compost piles in a residential area will depend mostly on the specific municipality’s restrictions in the zoning or health codes. Some communities dictate that composting can only be done in fully enclosed backyard composters, while others allow open piles. For example, in Columbus, home composting piles or bins need to be smaller than 300 square feet or it will fall under more stringent regulations. While in xxx, …….. For more information...
Is there anything I can’t put in my backyard composter?
Can I take food waste to my local school’s garden or a local farm?
Yes, you are permitted to take your personal food waste to a school garden or farm. It is the responsibility of the school or farm to have the required exemptions and proper approvals that will allow them to accept food scraps.
Be sure to check with your local school or farm to be sure they are open to accepting the communities food waste, before you show up at their doorstep with a bucket of scraps.
Can I transport food waste across county lines?
The short answer is it depends.
In Ohio, the state is divided up into solid waste management districts. These districts, which can include a single county or multiple counties, have established rules around what can enter and leave their district. These are called “flow control” rules. These rules may require that any solid waste generated within the district is disposed of or recycled in facilities within the district, unless the transporter has been given approval to move the waste material out of the district. If the district doesn’t have flow control rules, then you can assume the food waste can be transported across county lines.
Below is a list of solid waste management districts reported by Ohio EPA as having flow control rules. Please contact your corresponding district to inquire about waste transport requirements.
List of flow controlled districts
For a full list of Ohio solid waste districts and contacts, please see the Ohio EPA portal
Can I legally apply food waste directly to my farm fields or home garden?
Yes, in general, you can apply food waste directly to your home garden using appropriate garden techniques. One popular and easily applied food waste option is the use of spent coffee grounds. As a fertilizer, used coffee grounds are slightly acidic and full of nitrogen, a mineral that aids vegetable and plant growth. Coffee grounds are particularly good for tomato plants, spinach, corn, roses, camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas.
Please note that some municipalities may have long-standing regulations that prohibit the direct and open application practice in order to prevent nuisance conditions, such as odor or vermin. But with appropriate gardening techniques, the average gardener should be able to avoid these conditions.
My neighbor has a backyard compost pile. Is it legal for me to put my food waste on their pile if I have their permission?
Yes. Neighbors can work together to divert their food waste by supporting each other’s efforts. There are no regulations or restrictions that prevent combining of food waste. Always be sure you work with the owner of the compost pile/system in order to keep it at optimum working order.