Seattle: Food and Yard Waste 101

The City of Seattle is committed to Zero Waste.  Part of the implementation for the expressed goals  include advanced curbside recycling and yard/food waste.  If you are anything like me, this means you sometimes get overwhelmed at the site of so many bins, forget what goes where, and take on deer-in-the-headlights stare while going through the giant flowchart in your head.

Or perhaps I just need to add compost-related anxiety to my long list of other anxieties. Or take more meds.  It is possible. Food? Boxes? Napkins? Food containers? Bones? Poly coated? Residential? Commercial? Help!

This year I became a Master Composter/Soil Builder with Seattle Tilth  as an effort to figure it out once and for all and get over my lazy composter ways.  This summer, while volunteering at an event with Seattle Tilth,  it was very clear that almost everyone is a bit confused about what to put in what bin. I am going to clear some of that up.

It starts out fairly easy with the basics, but then gets a bit murky as we enter into paper and service items. In Seattle, waste is divided into 3 waste streams: Trash, Recycle, and Food/Yard Waste.  The addition of food waste into the Yard Waste collection began in 2006 (food scraps only) and was further expanded to the current state in 2009.  Today, we will just concentrate on Food and Yard Waste (curbside only- we’ll save some home composting for another post).

Food and Yard Waste


  • Leaves, grass clippings, and branches (up to 4″ diameter and 4 ft in length)
  • sod (less than 60 pounds)
  • flowers and houseplants
  • any fruit
  • any vegetables
  • pasta, rice, grains, and breads/baked goods
  • eggshells, nutshells
  • tea bags and coffee grounds/filters
  • any shells or bones
  • any dairy
  • any meat product
  • But NOT any dead backyard poultry- animals under 15 pounds may go in the garbage. Personally, I bury our feathered friends that have died.

Advanced Sorting

  • food-soiled paper:
    city of seattle compost bag seal grow and resist yard/food waste

    Compostable bags approved for use in City of Seattle Food and Yard Waste container will bear this label

    • uncoated paper bags
    • paper towels
    • paper napkins
    • greasy pizza boxes
    • uncoated food-soiled paper
  • shredded paper
  • cardboard/paper egg cartons
  • approved compostable bags  (which are different from biodegradable bags.  An approved list is here and will bear a label)
  • This does NOT include food-related, but coated items such as ice cream or milk cartons, cereal boxes, or butter boxes. No, no, no!

Graduate-level Sorting

  • approved for residential compostable service items
    • Cedar Grove Products for residential composting are identifiable by brown markings.

      compost cup city of seattle compost

      See? The brown markings of Cedar Grove Composting mean it is ok for at home composting!

    • Brown or tan trays used to package meat, poultry or fish purchased at Metropolitan Market, Fred Meyer, Town and Country Markets (Ballard and Greenwood), PCC or QFC. White trays, regardless of labeling, are NOT acceptable.
    • This is not to be confused with items that are Cedar Grove approved and/or produced for commercial use that  are available for composting. City of Seattle has a packaging ban, so many items you encounter out are required to be compostable (or at least recyclable.)
  • The more confusing aspects of Food Waste/Compost seem to come down to residential versus commercial. Basically, commercial venues have more items that can be composted. Since the ban went into effect, many commercial locations have (often personalized to their particular waste items) noticable signs as visual indicators of where to put items. Residential Food/Yard Waste service products need to be easily identifiable by sight- hence the brown markings.

Make sense? Good! Let me know if you have specific questions I can answer for you!

Additional resources:

Web: The city has a fairly comprehensive site to help customers where you can put in anything from butter wrappers (no!) to paper berry baskets (yes!). Check it out here!

VideoSeattle Public Utilities: What Goes in the Food and Yard Waste Cart?

Phone: The Garden Hotline

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4 Responses to Seattle: Food and Yard Waste 101

  1. Patty says:

    What about parchment paper (food soiled) and wax paper?

    • It gets a bit murky here- but apparently true waxed paper goes in yard waste. I thought butter wrappers would then be in this category, but as it turns out they are likely poly-coated and must go in garbage. My understanding is that parchment paper goes in yard waste. I want to do a bit more investigating on the butter wrappers.

  2. Deanna says:

    What to do with the butter wrappers:

    I thought Beth of anti-plastic fame at one point said the butter wrappers had some sort of non-stick coating on them? In any case, studies have shown butter wrappers to contain high levels of PBDEs (aka flame retardants). Hopefully that will get you started…

    Deanna Duke
    The Non-Toxic Avenger: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

    • Thanks Deanna! Thanks for the link. If you are following along it says:
      “If the butter wrapper can tear easily (like paper), go ahead and throw it in the compost.
      If it doesn’t tear (or if it’s made from foil), please put it in “landfill waste”. If it looks like paper but doesn’t tear easily, it’s been plasticized and shouldn’t be composted.”

      There was discussion around this in the master composter class…and the instructors fell down on the side composting, but were also somewhat unsure. I am with you though…the butter wrappers and wax paper of today are no longer just ‘wax paper’ but full of other things.

      I’ll call the garden hotline and cedar grove when I get a chance and get there official answers!

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