Adventures of a Summer Intern: What’s in the Compost Cart?

recycling staff doing organics audit

Molly and Jenna, waiting for the compost trucks to come in.

Having grown up in Olympia, WA and currently attending college in Bellingham, WA, I thought I knew all there is to know about solid waste. I mean, I recycle and Western even banned the distribution of plastic disposable water bottles on campus, so I’m an expert, right?


After my first day on the job as the new Solid Waste Summer Intern I walked into my house and collapsed on the couch in exhaustion with how much I had to learn about recycling, compost and garbage in the City of Kirkland. Now, with one week under my belt and the ominous stacks of binders and Comprehensive Plans partially read, I’m feeling less overwhelmed and genuinely excited about what I have to learn.

This week, enthusiastically sporting my new hard hat and reflective vest, I was able to participate in the second of a series of Organics Audits the Solid Waste team is working on. We arrived at the Waste Management Transfer Station in Woodinville by 7AM to catch the trucks bringing in food and yard waste from surrounding areas like Kirkland, Redmond and Lynnwood before it gets trucked to Cedar Grove in Everett. Our purpose was to examine the compostable materials to see how much and what types of contaminates people are putting in their yard waste.

After coming to terms with the fact that these super cool compost hauling trucks were not in fact Transformers, I realized that the material was a lot less contaminated than I would have imagined. That being said, we continued to find 3 main culprits in pile after pile of organics waste.

Top Three Compost Cart Contaminants Spotted

Pile of mainly yard waste with a plastic garbage bag in it.1. Plastic Bags

As easy as it is to use plastic grocery bags as liners, they do not break down in the compost process. If you want to bag your compost, instead use biodegradable bags like BioBags!

2. Paper plates and cups

These guys are tricky because they’re covered in food, so they seem compostable. However, only approved, uncoated paper products such as Chinet can be thrown in your gray bin. Coffee cups like you get at Starbucks (for the days you forget your reusable cup) can be rinsed out and recycled, but are not compostable.

Yard waste with a couple plant tags in it (which are not compostable!)3. Plant Tags and Plastic Pots

To protect the tags from being destroyed by the rain, most plant tags are coated in plastic. These, along with plastic plant pots are not compostable. Plant tags should be thrown in the garbage and plastic pots can be recycled or returned to most nurseries for reuse.