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How Chicago crowdfunded a thriving compost program

Learn how Chicago crowdfunded a drop-off compost program that got residents composting quickly.

Published: 5/14/2023

How Chicago crowdfunded a thriving compost program (and your city can too)

Have you ever felt frustrated by the slow pace of change, especially when it comes to environmental initiatives? We all know composting is good for the planet, but getting a city-wide program off the ground can be a bureaucratic nightmare. Here in Chicago, we faced that exact challenge.

In 2016, it was clear Chicagoans craved a curbside compost program. Yet, the city struggled with concerns about contamination and the high cost of infrastructure. I knew there had to be a better way. That's how the idea for a crowdfunded composting app was born.

Bins on demand: How it works

Block Bins’ mission is to make composting accessible and ubiquitous. We do this with a unique waste collection strategy that’s built by the community. Our web app lets you request curbside compost bins, and share unused space with neighbors for lower prices and more efficient service. Put another way, we provide a map of Block Bin drop-off points that residents can subscribe to, and you can place a new Block Bin at your house if you don’t see one nearby. Our program works best when you have shared alleyways and permanently placed bins.

Here's the beauty of it:

  • Reduced contamination: Since participation is voluntary, people invested in keeping the program clean and efficient.
  • Shared costs, shared benefits: Households don't need individual bins, minimizing clutter and lowering costs for everyone.
  • No risk: The program uses an "all-or-nothing" funding model. Residents only pay when there are enough participants to make it work.

Bypassing Bureaucracy

Traditional city-wide rollouts often face these hurdles:

  • Contamination Fears: Existing recycling programs can be plagued by incorrect sorting. A pay-in program incentivizes responsible participation.
  • Taxpayer Burden: Extensive infrastructure for a full rollout can be expensive. We sidestep that by adding bins gradually as demand grows.
  • Hidden Costs: Many people assume composting facilities pay for scraps. In reality, it's the other way around. Our shared bin model increases efficiency, lowering costs for users.

The results speak for themselves

We started small, with just 100 requests. Today, over 900 drop-off points serve thousands of Chicagoans, diverting tons of food waste from landfills every single day.

Does your city need Block Bins?

This model isn't just for Chicago. We're looking for communities ready to take composting into their own hands. If you're passionate about environmental action and tired of waiting for change, we want to hear from you! Let's work together to build a food-scrap recycling program in your community.

Ready to learn more? Request a bin on our map today, and don't hesitate to share this message with anyone who wants to make a difference!