Hilary Boudet Corvallis July 27, 2015

To increase residential composting among Corvallis residents, Dr. Hilary Boudets Applied Research Methods class at Oregon State University conducted research in partnership with the Corvallis Sustainability Coalitions Waste Prevention Action Team. Our three main areas of focus were as follows: (1) how Corvallis residents dispose of their food scraps, (2) what the barriers and motivations are to composting food scraps, and (3) what the best practices are for encouraging residential composting of food scraps in Corvallis.

After an in-depth review of research on composting, we surveyed a random sample of 60 residents who live within neighborhoods covered by the Corvallis Sustainability Coalitions Recycling Block Captain Program to better understand current composting behaviors, as well as motivations and barriers to composting. We also organized three focus groups to discuss questions related to the motivations behind and potential barriers to food scrap diversion. Finally, to elucidate best practices for encouraging residential composting of food scraps, we conducted five case studies of composting programs in other cities: Portland, OR; Alameda , CA; Boulder, CO; Huron, OH; and Hutchinson, MN. For each case, we collected information through an interview with a city employee and document analysis of outreach materials to obtain qualitative data about program development, measures for success, and mechanisms to increase composting.

Regarding current composting habits, 49% of the Corvallis residents who were surveyed throw scraps away in the regular trash; 44% compost food scraps in the yard waste bin; and 15% use a home composing system. Our survey results suggest homeowners were more likely to compost food scraps than renters and that 30% of non-composters have tried composting in the past. A primary barrier to composting listed by both survey and focus group participants was lack of knowledge, specifically in the following areas: (1) awareness that food scraps can be placed in the yard waste bin; (2) understanding the importance of composting; and (3) understanding how to compost and what can be composted. Other barriers include the notion that composting is time-consuming, the lack of an established household system to collect food scraps, and a low priority for composting. In addition, most non-composters had concerns about pests or unwanted odors. We found that those who composted were often motivated to do so because it is beneficial for the environment and because it is a common practice amongst friends, which indicates the importance of social and community norms.

We recommend the following to increase food scrap composting in Corvallis: (1) provide stickers for yard waste bins; (2) provide kitchen bins; (3) organize composting demonstrations at community events; (4) expand beyond a residential focus by also encouraging composting at government facilities, private companies, schools, and non-profit organizations; and (5) pilot programs at a smaller scale before planning a wider implementation. We believe these recommendations will mitigate the challenges that citizens face when considering composting and thus increase participation.

Hilary Boudet
Assistant Professor
Oregon State University
United States