Being A Composter & Co-Op Member

Q: I want to join! How do I compost with Lancaster Composting Co-Ops?

It is easy! Sign up for a one-hour new member orientation, which is offered several times each month. You can choose to register at the site with the most convenient time for you, regardless of where you ultimately plan to drop off your compost. You will then receive a link to the member agreement in your email. 

Q: What am I agreeing to in the member agreement?

We’re glad that you asked. It is important that folks understand that we must all be good stewards of the bin. You can read the entire agreement: Lancaster Composting Co-Op Member Agreement.

Q: How do I access the bin at my site?

Each bin is secured with a combination lock. Upon attending orientation and signing the member agreement, you will receive an email with the code. Due to the design of our bin system, we ask the composters to only use the left side bin where the fresh scraps go. 

Q: Do I need to do anything to my scraps before composting?

Great question! As a non-commercial composting system, we do need to follow some guidelines to keep our compost bins happy and healthy. We recognize that it is a little extra work in comparison to just throwing it away in the trash, but we promise it is worth it! Here are some general rules. 

  1. Cut, tear, break all your scraps into small pieces. For example, watermelon rinds should be broken into one-inch pieces before composting. Pits, such as from avocados, should also be disposed of in another way. 
  2. Aside from egg shells, do not include any animal or oily materials, including meat, fish, dairy, and cooking oil. 
  3. Cover your “greens” (nitrogen-rich, wet materials like food scraps) with “browns” (dry materials like leaves, non-glossy paper, cardboard) to reduce odor.

Q: Do you have more detail on what I can and cannot compost?

We sure do! See the list below. We also have this information posted on the bin as a friendly reminder.

Q: How do I store and carry my compost?

It is up to you. You can be fancy or simple. We like to keep our compost in the freezer. Other keep a bucket on their counter and drop it off more frequently.

Q: What happens to the compost when it is ready?

It depends on your site co members decide to do with the compost once the compost is ready, from giving a share to each members or donating it to local community gardens. On average, it takes about 6 months to create “good” compost, which can be used as a soil amendment. 

Q: Beyond making a contribution to the compost bin, do I have to do something else as a participant?

For the benefit of being able to compost your scraps, we ask that members commit about one hour of monthly maintenance, which includes adding to the bin, turning the bin, sifting scraps, other bin maintenance etc. We also hope you will use it as an opening to interact with community members and foster new conversations.

Q. What should I bring to a work day?
Members can bring their own gardening gloves, but some will also be available. If you can bring additional tools like pitchforks or shovels or hand trowels, this would be welcome. Please, of course, wear sturdy shoes and bring a positive attitude! You are welcome to also bring your compost for drop-off. Speak to your compost captain for more details about each event.



Bin Design & Structure

Q: Tell me about the bins … How are they made? How do you make sure the bins don’t attract critters?

Each bin is 200 square feet in total and made of heavy-duty plywood with a metal lid. Each bin is compromised of three locked compartments with removal front panels to allow the compost to be turned in and moved across different stages of processing. The bins are 100% smell-proof and rodent-proof.

We adopted this model, which was the result extensive experimentation, testing, and prototyping by the Joshua Singer and the Washington DC Department of Parks and Recreation. The DC Community Compost Cooperative Network currently has over 50 bins. Learn more about their work here and sign up for the excellent DC Urban Gardeners newsletter

Q: How accessible is the bin?

The bin lids are made from a very sturdy wood and metal, but can be very heavy. If you do not feel comfortable opening the bin on your own, we recommend bringing a partner/friend, or reach out, we can help to connect you to a fellow member. We are working to make modifications to the design to continue to make the bin more accessible to people of all abilities. 

Q: How much can each bin accommodate?
The bins we estimate can accommodate the waste from 70 individual households.




Broader Organization

Q: What is the long-term vision for Lancaster Compost Co-Ops?

Our goal is to make composting accessible to everyone in Lancaster. We would love to have compost bins in appropriate locations in all corners of the city.

Q: What is the “status” of your organization?

We are completely volunteer-run, community-led. The initial phase of this project is generously funded by a seed grant from Center for Sustained Engagement with Lancaster, a partnership between Franklin & Marshall College and diverse constituencies in Lancaster County. 

Q: When did Lancaster Composting Co-Ops launch?

We launched in April 2021 during Earth Week. 

Q: How many members do you currently have?

As of July 2021, we have over 50 official members. 

Q: How many sites do you currently have, and do you have any plans for launching more bins?

We currently have three active bins – Musser Park, New Holland Avenue at the Lancaster Recycling Drop-Off Center, and Behind Culliton Park in the Southwest part of the city. Yes, we really want to launch more sites! As we look for future sites, composting bins would be located in spaces designated community gardens, city parks, or private sites willing to ‘host’ a bin, per mutual agreements. Attention to ensure access to composting among the city’s existing and neighborhoods and diversity of residents will be a top priority for compost site considerations.

Q: What is the role of the composting captain?

Compost captains are essential to the success of this project. Site-based compost “Captains” are the responsible, locally-empowered citizens for managing the composting site, investing 3 to 8 hours each month. Each captain is there to help manage compost bin quality control, member trainings, and organizing monthly days for members to volunteer towards healthy bin maintenance. Each captain received trainings on composting best-practices, common challenges, and so on, supported by the municipal coordinator. However, each site is run independently and Compost Captains, along with cooperative members, may also decide to establish their own rules for each composting site.

Q: I’m interested in setting up my own site and/or being a composting captain. What do I do?

Let’s chat! Please reach out to us directly at [email protected]

Q: I want to be involved in other ways. Are there opportunities?

Oh my gosh, yes! As a volunteer organization aiming to make composting accessible to all, we are always looking for help. Or ways to extend this project to more people in the city. Some areas of interest include event planning, technical/engineering, community building and partnership, and research. For example, one member who is Public Relations professional has generously donated her time to build a press kit. In addition, a Franklin & Marshall student is helping to do research about composting.

Q: Are you on social media?

Definitely! Check out our Instagram to learn about our latest happenings and the occasional composting tip. We also have a private Facebook group for members as well as friends of this project to interact and build connections.



General Composting Information

Q: How does composting work? 

Penn State Extension Services defines compost as “organic matter that has decomposed into a form that plants can use. Compost can be used in potting mixes or mixed in with garden soil. It has many benefits for your plants and recycles materials that may otherwise be thrown into landfills.”  

We also love this handy visual to familiarize yourself with the process (Source: PBS Nature):

Q: What are the benefits of composting?

So many to count! The benefits of composting that communities extend far beyond just creating soil, including reducing climate change, cleaning waterways, creating jobs, and fostering stronger community. As you can see, we love an infographic, and this one from the Institute For Local Self Reliance is a great start.


Q: I want to make sure my kids know about composting. Any good resources?

Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth by Mary McKenna Siddals is a favorite among our group.