Chicago is testing its first composting program

By Damita Menezes
Medill Reports

As people become more environmentally conscious, local governments are working on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and building eco-cities. And Chicago is finally taking its first step into composting. The city announced the launch of a pilot program in November and is now ready to begin accepting food scraps from a limited number of interested participants.

“Everybody wants to start being environmentally active, and by diverting the food scraps, we’re showing people what their waste can do,” NeighborSpace Senior Steward Natalie Perkins said.

Chicago is trailing behind other cities in the country to offer municipal composting. San Francisco; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; Boulder, Colo.; and Austin, Texas, all offer composting services to residents and businesses, according to Green Matters – a news site focused on sustainable lifestyles.

Twenty percent of waste in Chicago comes from food being thrown into landfills, according to the Chicago Waste Generation and Characterization Update report.

“It’s good to divert things from landfills. If you put it into a landfill, it’s not really going to do anything, whereas here it can be working to help the garden and the environment. And it’s natural too,” Perkins said.

The Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation (DSS) partnered with NeighborSpace to create compost bins that are being managed by volunteers in the community gardens. The program is being evaluated by DePaul University’s Steans Center.

“We have developed a logic model as part of the evaluation process,” Steans Center Executive Director Howard Rosing said.

The model will measure how much food scraps from the community are received by each garden and assess the program’s success in enhancing soil quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Rosing emphasized the importance of expanding the program in the future and bringing together leaders who are already doing this work to advance the city’s investment in sustainable practices.

Most gardens are starting after Earth Day, which is April 22, according to Perkins.

Interested participants who live in the neighborhood where one of the six gardens are located can sign up to drop off food scraps.

The program is being implemented in six community gardens throughout the city:

  • Stockyard Garden – 5136-58 S. Carpenter St.
  • El Paseo Garden – 944 W. 21st St.
  • Merchant Park Community Garden – 4200 W. Addison St.
  • Hermitage Street Community Garden – 5647 S. Hermitage Ave.
  • Fulton Street Flower and Vegetable Garden – 4427 W. Fulton St.
  • Montrose Metra Community Gardens – 4386 N. Ravenswood Ave.


At every site, a compost system comprising three bins will be available for the on-site composting of garden trimmings, fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds and tea bags. Produce stickers, meat, bones, dairy products and cooking oils will not be accepted. The compost produced from this process will be used to enrich the soil in the community gardens.

“We hope this works so that we can go forward next year with more gardens that will be opening up. And the more gardens that we have, then we’ll be able to reach out to more people in each neighborhood,” Perkins said.

Reducing the amount of organic matter going into landfills if done at a citywide level could make a significant impact in the reduction of methane emissions, according to Rosing.

Damita Menezes is a graduate student in the video & broadcast specialization. Connect with her on her website