Frequently Asked Compost Questions

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Q: What is compost?

A:  Compost is decayed organic material that is used as a soil amendment to improve plant growth.  Compost-ing is the natural process of recycling organic material (e.g., food waste) into compost.  The organic materials collected at UI are taken to the City of Iowa City's Compost Facility, where the composting process actually takes place.  After twelve months of composting at their facility, the end result is finished compost.

Q: My bin smells, what should I do?

A: The food scraps in your compost bin should not smell any worse than if they were placed in a trash can. That being said, if a bin is not emptied often enough it will begin to smell.  To get rid of odors, empty your bin and wipe out  the inside of the bin to remove any food residue that has accumulated.  If needed, wash the bin with soap and water (DO NOT rinse food down the drain.  Wipe out food residue before washing.)

Q: My bin has fruit flies or other pests, what should I do?

A: Fruit flies (and other pests) are attracted to rotting food, whether it's in the trash or the compost bin.  The key is to empty the bin frequently.  If fruit flies have already found your bin, empty the bin and clean it thoroughly.  You may need to discontinue use of the bin temporarily until the fruit flies have dissipated.  To trap the flies, pour apple cider vinegar into a small bowl or cup, then mix in a few drops of dish soap.  The flies will land in the vinegar and then drown when they come into contact with the soap.  Resume compost collection once the flies have disappeared.  Then, be sure to empty your bin more often to prevent future pest problems.

Also, consider storing your compost bin in a refrigerator to slow decomposition and minimize pests.  Or, try placing the compost bucket near a fan to keep the flies from the bucket.

Q: Why doesn't my building have compost collection?

A: Compost collection is an optional service that buildings can choose to utilize.  Some buildings choose not to participate for various reasons, including added cost to operations, lack of space at the dock for a collection container, concerns about compost becoming too contaminated, concerns about odors and pests, no one has requested compost collection, etc.  If you live or work in a building that does not have compost collection and you would like to explore implementing a compost program, contact recycle@uiowa.edu.

Q: My compost is getting contaminated by others, what should I do?

A: The good news is that you are monitoring your compost well enough to know that you have a contamination problem.  Be sure to remove any contamination you see before taking it to a drop-off site or having it picked up.  Now that you know you have a problem, you'll need to do some outreach and education.  Identify the contaminants.  Is it always the same contaminants?  If so, you might be able to place a note on the compost bin letting people know that specific item is NOT compostable.  If you're seeing lots of different kinds of contamination, you'll need to do more broad education.  Maybe you can email a copy of the "What To Compost" flyer to everyone potentially using the compost bin(s).  More than likely, whoever is contaminating the compost is not doing it on purpose and they just need to know what's acceptable and what's not.

Q:  I'm going to compost at my upcoming event, do I need volunteers at compost bins?

A: YES!  Any event that is collecting compostables should have someone staffing each compost bin at all times.  This is the only way to ensure that the bins do not get contaminated.  Learn more about composting at events.