California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle)

Food Scraps Management

Frequently Asked Questions

Green highlighted words indicate definitions and links to the glossary section.

How can I prevent food waste?

By preventing food waste, we can make a positive impact on the environment. We suggest streamlining food preparation, weekly meal planning, using leftovers for lunch the next day, and sharing backyard fruit with neighbors.

Where do I take food scraps?

Contact your waste hauler and local city and county recycling coordinator about food scraps collection or composting programs in your area. Participating in an existing food scraps collection program is the simplest way to compost foods scraps. If there isn't an existing program, ask your local recycling coordinator if there are future plans for your city or county to implement a program, and let them know of your interest. For commercial projects, Locating Compost and Mulch Facilities search page finds compost and/or mulch facilities by county.

What food scraps should and should not be composted at home?

Food items that should be composted at home include:

  • Coffee grounds
  • Coffee and filters, tea and tea bags
  • Egg shells
  • Flour products like bread, noodles, crackers, etc.
  • Fruit
  • Grains (cooked or uncooked)
  • Spices
  • Vegetables

Food items that should not be composted at home include:

  • Dairy products
  • Fish
  • Grease
  • Meat
  • Cooking oil
  • Juice boxes with aluminum foil liners

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Where can I donate edible food?

Food banks typically accept foods that are packaged or can be stored for a period of time. Food recovery programs redistribute foods that are perishable, such as casseroles or other hot meals from caterers, restaurants, delicatessens, and cafeterias. Food recovery programs often serve donated meals the same day they are received.

Food that can't be donated, like spoiled fruit, vegetables, bakery items, kitchen prep scraps, and leftover plate scrapings, can be recycled into compost and used as a soil amendment.

Am I liable if someone gets sick from food I’ve donated?

The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act (PDF, 206 KB) can protect donors from liability and encourages the donation of suitable food and grocery products to nonprofit organizations for distribution to needy individuals.

Where can I compost food scraps?

Please see the Home Composting page with tips on composting residential food scraps and worm composting, which can be done indoors or outdoors. Food scraps need to be placed in a backyard bin and covered with green waste to avoid smell from decomposition and to keep vermin away.

For large volume generators, such as food processors, grocery stores, restaurants, and institutions, see the Locating Compost and Mulch Facilities search page. In addition, you can contact your local county recycling or waste reduction coordinator to learn if a food collection program is planned for your area.

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Should I compost food scraps on-site?

For commercial and institutional food scraps generators, composting food scraps on-site can reduce collection and disposal costs. Restaurants, grocery stores, schools, hospitals, prisons, and other facilities can also benefit from composting food scraps either on-site or at a compost facility.

If you plan to use equipment to break down food scraps by dewatering, pulping, chopping/macerating, liquefying, or dehydrating, contact your local enforcement agency to find out if you need local permits.

Below are several questions to consider when planning an onsite food scrap compost program:

  • What are the location and space requirements for collection bins and compost equipment? Food scrap collection bins should be placed in a convenient area for staff or customers to use. Due to the high moisture and subsequent weight of food scraps, containers should be a reasonable size for employees to lift and move. Although a well-managed compost system should not generate much odor, placing one where kitchen staff, diners, or neighbors may detect odors is not recommended.
  • Do you have staff resources to separate food scraps from trash and/or to operate equipment?
  • Do you have an end use for the finished compost? Composting food scraps results in about a 50 percent reduction of the original material. However, collecting food scraps daily can result in a large accumulation of material. Be certain that your facility has adequate space for storing compost that is curing and for finished compost. Talk to potential end-users prior to getting started so that you can make a product suitable for their purpose and ensure it is a material they are willing to accept.
  • Is there support and cooperation from neighboring businesses or residences?
  • Do you have or need approval from your local enforcement agency for your composting operation? Please see Do I need a permit to compost food scraps? below.
  • What is the volume and type of food scraps being composted? The volume of food scraps will determine the style of the compost system you use. If cardboard makes up a significant amount of your trash, consider recycling options first unless you need the cardboard as a carbon source or bulking material during the compost process. Remember that waxed corrugated cardboard is compostable. Although incidental meat scraps may not be problematic, send larger quantities of meat and grease to a renderer to avoid odor and vector problems. Also, if you plan to compost post-consumer scraps, effective signage for patrons and staff is necessary to help them place the appropriate materials in designated bins.

Before starting an on-site compost project, you should contact your local waste hauler and/or recycling coordinator to determine if there is an existing or planned food scrap collection program in your area.

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Why is food scraps composting different than other types of composting?

Food scraps can be heavier and become putrescible as it begins to decompose. To avoid odor or health and safety concerns, food scraps should be collected frequently and composted in a timely and efficient manner. This can be a particular challenge for commercial establishments that produce food scraps daily.

Educating staff responsible for collecting and composting food scraps is a key component to a successful program. It is essential that kitchen staff are trained to separate compostable materials for either an on-site compost program or for scraps sent to a compost facility. Since postconsumer food scraps have a greater potential to be mixed with contaminants (for example, plastics, beverage containers, straws, utensils, or other non-compostable items), some manufacturers have designed compostable products (for example, bags, plates, and utensils). These may be acceptable by some professional compost facilities. However, inquire with your local compost operator first to find out if they will accept these products.

Do I need a permit to compost food scraps?

It depends on the type and volume of food scraps you would like to compost. Prior to starting a compost operation, consult the current composting regulations and contact your local enforcement agency for guidance on any local permit requirements.

How can I set up a compost program for special events?

When planning a food scraps compost program (for events such as fairs, conferences, and workshops) keep the following questions in mind:

  • Is sufficient staff assigned to oversee the project?
  • How many meals will be served? Is it buffet style or served?
  • Will there be kitchen prep scraps or postconsumer scraps (plate scrapings) or both?
  • Will you have large amounts of meat or oils that need to be taken to a renderer?
  • Where will you get the appropriate containers to hold the food scraps and how will the kitchen staff handle this material?
  • What type of food scraps will the end processor or hauler accept?
  • Will reusable or compostable flatware and utensils be used?
  • Where will the collected food be donated or composted?
  • Who will transport this food?

Please see Composting at Special Events for more detailed information.

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Where can I find biodegradable kitchenware and collection bags?

Biodegradable products made from materials such as corn, wheat, and potato starch are commercially manufactured. Products could include compostable utensils, flatware, and food/yard waste collection bags. Prior to purchasing these products, we recommend that you contact your local compost facility to confirm if it will accept these types of products mixed in with food scraps.

The Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) provides a list of companies (Excel, 40 KB) that have claimed to manufacture or distribute products that are designed to degrade in the composting process. If you would like your company added to the list, please complete and submit a contact form. All companies listed on the CalRecycle listing are self-certified as meeting ASTM D-6400 or ASTM D-6868 compostable plastic specifications.

How will diverting my food scraps save money?

Less food scraps in the trash can save you money in several ways:

  • Avoided purchase costs through food waste prevention strategies.
  • Smaller garbage bills by less frequent trash collection for commercial generators.
  • Eliminate purchase of commercial soil restoration amendments for on-site landscaping through on-site composting.

Where can I safely dispose of waste meat, poultry, and fish material?

The Safely Disposing of Waste Meat, Poultry, and Fish Material Guidance and FAQs (PDF, 123 KB) document from CalRecycle and the California Department of Food and Agriculture provides guidance to generators, haulers, and solid waste facilities in safely managing waste meat, poultry, and fish materials in California.

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