Food Scraps Collection

Curbside Collection for Residential Customers

Arlington County's award-winning residential food scrap collection bolsters sustainability by diverting biodegradable waste from incineration to composting.

food scraps system

What counts as food scraps? What doesn't?

Arlington's year-round curbside yard waste collection began in 2016. Five years later, the County expanded green cart pickup contents to include food scraps, which range from the remnants of fruits and vegetables to that of dairy and meats, bones included. Even greasy pizza boxes and paper napkins qualify. Collected along with yard trimmings placed in the green cart, either in compostable bags or even loose. (Food scraps drop-off available at the Trades Center.)


Frequently Asked Questions

How does organics recycling work?

  1. Collect food scraps using your kitchen caddy or any bucket in your kitchen. Line your collection containers with a paper or other compostable bag to help keep it clean. Compostable bags are available at local retailers. Plastic bags are not accepted.
  2. Empty your bagged organics into your green cart.
  3. Set out your green organics cart on the curb on your trash collection day.

When did the program begin?

The food scraps collection program started with regular Monday trash routes on Sept. 6, 2021.

What is the benefit of this service?

Food scraps collection provides the platform to increase awareness in each of our roles in reducing food waste and promoting healthy soils. Benefits include learning to make better use of leftovers, minimizing spoilage by storing refrigerated and perishable items properly, and most importantly, that each of us has a direct role in reducing food waste both inside and outside the home. The program also helps to divert food waste from being incinerated to being composted, helping to increase Arlington’s recycling rate.

What materials are accepted?

Food waste, or food scraps, include vegetables, fruits, peels and rinds, meats (including bones), bread, poultry, etc. – basically anything that we consume, plus things like greasy pizza boxes, soiled napkins, natural corks and even hair and fingernail clippings. "If it grows, it goes." If you are wondering about a specific item, check the Solid Waste Bureau's "Where Does It Go? database.

What about odors and rodents?

Residents will be asked to manage their food scraps in the green cart as they do contents of the black cart, which means ensuring that lids are closed and bagging materials if necessary. To minimize odors, remember to line your container with a paper or other type biodegradable bag to absorb liquid from food waste. Empty your container frequently and rinse it out occasionally.

Why can’t I just put food scraps down the garbage disposal?

Recycling organic waste into compost is more cost-effective and environmentally friendly than using a garbage disposal. Arlington’s Water Pollution Control plant requires energy and resources to process out solids, including food waste. Food waste can also overload septic systems and cause problems.

How exactly do residents participate in the service?

Place collected food scraps into your green organics carts along with your yard waste materials. The scraps can be placed into the carts loose or in paper or other compostable-type bags. The provided caddy takes bags that hold a minimum of 2.5 gallons (we recommend using 3-gallon bags) and 14” x 16”.

What does the caddy look like?

Arlington County has distributed a 2-gallon kitchen caddy and 10 biodegradable bags to all residents with weekly curbside collection service. The dimensions are  11.5” x 8.5” x 9.25”. The caddy comes with a lid to help prevent odors. See image.

caddy dimensions

What types of bags should I use in my kitchen caddy?

The kitchen caddies that were distributed to residents have a capacity of 2-gallons.  We recommend using either 3-gallon compostable plastic bags or paper bags to line the caddy.  Compostable plastic bags should be certified as compostable by either the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) or the Compost Manufacturing Alliance (CMA).

What if I have more material than will fit in the cart?

Residents will be able to set out any food waste in personal containers. Personal containers should be no smaller than 20 gallons and no larger than 32 gallons. They must have secure fitting lids and can be made of metal or sturdy plastic. Make sure to also clearly label the container as food scraps. Filled personal containers must not exceed the weight limit of 50 lbs. Food scraps in plastic bags will not be collected. Biodegradable bags are okay. Crews will not collect food scraps from caddies placed at the curb.

Where is collected food waste material delivered to and what does it become?

The materials are delivered to Freestate Farms, a permitted advanced composting facility in Prince William County. Arlington's collected curbside organics are turned into compost after a few months and the finished product is often available (near the mulch) at the Trades Center in Shirlington, free for pick-up by residents while supplies last.

Where can I compost food waste besides the curbside program?

Arlingtonians are able to deliver food waste to the Earth Recycling Yard at the Arlington County Trades Center from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Some farmers markets in Arlington may offer food scraps drop-off.



The implementation of a food scraps collection program provides the platform to increase awareness for reducing food waste and promoting healthy soils. Other benefits include making better use of leftovers, minimizing spoilage by storing refrigerated and perishable items properly and highlighting everyone's role in reducing food waste both inside and outside the home.

According to the EPA, some of the many benefits of reducing wasted food include:

  • Reduces methane emissions from landfills and lowers your carbon footprint.
  • Conserves energy and resources, preventing pollution involved in the growing, manufacturing, transporting, and selling food (not to mention hauling the food waste and then landfilling it).
  • Supports the community by providing donated untouched food that would have otherwise gone to waste to those who might not have a steady food supply.

Food Recovery Hierarchy

The hierarchy below identifies food management practices from most preferred to least preferred. Through food scraps collection, Arlington can fully implement the Food Recovery Hierarchy. Collection efforts focus on three areas: consumer education, waste reduction and diversion, and sustainable material management (composting).

Arlington’s Zero Waste Goal

food recovery hierarchy

This effort is in support of the County’s zero waste goal of diverting up to 90% of our waste from incineration by 2038. Before September 2021, food scraps made up over 20% of the residential waste stream according to Arlington's internal quarterly waste audits. With the food scrap collection program, residents are increasing the County’s recycling rate, reducing the amount of trash incinerated, creating soil amendments and, depending on individual actions, saving money, reducing food waste and reducing GHG emissions. This program is also consistent and supported by the County’s overall Solid Waste Management Plan, submitted and approved by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.