A Growing Movement: 2022 Community Composter Census

Date: 22 Mar 2023 | posted in: Composting | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Community composting encompasses making and using compost within the same community where the material is generated and involving the community in some way.  When composting is locally based, community participation and education can flourish. ILSR has long championed community composting as a zero waste strategy that maximizes the benefits of composting for local communities. We facilitate a national Community Composter Coalition, track community composters on our Composting for Community map, and have produced myriad resources to help this sector advance (infographics, webinars, podcasts, guides, and more). 

ILSR’s March 2023 report, A Growing Movement: 2022 Community Composter Census, is the first census of community composters to track the nature and growth of this sector, identify its key challenges, and demonstrate its benefits.

Featuring more than 50 figures and graphics, A Growing Movement: 2022 Community Composter Census highlights the diversity of geographic and demographic representation, composting methods, composting feedstocks and output, employment, and community impact in the sector. The report is divided into five sections on (1) census participants, (2) composting operations, (3) growth, (4) community impact, and (5) challenges. Co-authors Clarissa Libertelli, Brenda Platt, and Megan Matthews hope this report will serve as a valuable resource in tracking the growth of the community composting movement.


Full report

Press release

BioCycle March 2023 articles: Part 1 and Part 2

Select figures available to download


Key Takeaways

  • Operations represent 33 states, plus D.C., Puerto Rico, and Canada, often serving areas with no previous infrastructure for composting food discards.
  • They provide collection and composting of food scraps to historically underserved communities in more than half of included US states. 
  • Community composters are diverse. They include farms, demonstration sites, community gardens, on-site composters (composting is done where the material is generated), schools, and home-based hubs. They are nonprofit and for-profit enterprises. Composting systems utilized vary considerably and the amounts of food scraps handled also vary. Operations were as small as home-based hubs using backyard bins and as large as facilities handling over 25 tons per week.
  • The sector is growing both in capacity and in number of operations. Over one-quarter of respondents increased their weekly tonnage of food scraps handled from 2021 to 2022. Operations more than doubled since 2016, with 90% having started since 2010.
  • 82% of respondents process compost within their service area, keeping the process local.
  • Staff are an average of 49% female and 18% non-binary/gender non-conforming, whereas the waste management and remediation industry as a whole was reported to be 83% male in 2020.
  • The 86 community composters that participated keep jobs and wages local by supporting 477 full- and part-time employees. 
  • Operations offering full benefits to their employees tend to be supported via government contracts.
  • Operations employ more workers on a per-ton basis than disposal facilities. As demand for capacity increases, community composting provides significant potential for future job creation through continued growth and investment. 
  • If just half of food scraps landfilled and incinerated were diverted to community composters, over 50,000 new jobs could be created from composting alone (not including collection).
  • Community composters will not be able to scale up unless their needs are addressed: financing and investment, access to land, adequately sized equipment, supportive policies, and local government contracts.

We developed a GIF that demonstrates the growth in community composting operations from 1988 to April 2022.

If you would like to use any figures from the report, please contact us at composting4community@ilsr.org (with the subject: Census Figures).

Select figures are also available to download for free to share key findings with your network!

To share figures under creative commons license, free of cost, we request you credit the Institute for Local Self-Reliance by including the following:

Source: C. Libertelli, B. Platt, M. Matthews, A Growing Movement: 2022 Community Composter Census, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, 2023 (ilsr.org/composting-2022-census/). Reprinted with permission.

Photo credit: Peels and Wheels Composting in New Haven, CT.

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Follow Clarissa Libertelli:
Clarissa Libertelli

Clarissa Libertelli coordinates the Community Composter Coalition for the Composting for Community initiative, as well as provides graphic design support across all initiatives.

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Follow Brenda Platt:
Brenda Platt

Brenda Platt directs ILSR's Composting for Community project.

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Follow Megan Matthews:
Megan Matthews

Megan Matthews was a research fellow with ILSR’s Composting for Community initiative assisting with research, data analysis, and administrative support. She is interested in using data and outreach to promote sustainability, food equity, and environmental justice through the lens of agroecology.