Start a Home Composting Revolution with Worms & Facebook Like Sao Paulo

Kat Heinrich

30 May 2017

In a city of 12 million people, where landfills are nearing their capacity, Sao Paulo needs to find recycling solutions for its waste.  In June 2014, the city introduced the ‘Composta Sao Paulo’ program to assist families to set up and do home composting. Their challenge was to see if participants would use home composting as a way to divert organic waste from landfill.

It worked.

What started as a trial rolled out to 2,000 families, flourished into a self-sustaining and evolving group of home composters supported by an active online community (via Facebook).  Not only did participants successfully compost their own waste at home, but many also helped their neighbours to set up and manage a home composting system.

Sao Paulo’s Home Composting Units

Photograph by Lorem Ipsum via Unsplash

The results from the pilot are impressive1:

  • A total of 250 tonnes of organic waste was recovered in the first six months (or an average of 5 kilograms per household per week).
  • 89% of participants significantly decreased the amount of waste for collection.
  • Nearly all participants (98%) considered home composting a good solution for organic waste and most (86%) considered it easy to practice. Only 47 households (2.3%) gave up the activity.
  • Close to a third (29%) helped others who did not receive a compost bin, to make, install or manage one.
  • The program had a contagious effect and attracted over 2,500 new people to try to assemble or buy their own composting system.
  • The costs of the program were covered through the savings achieved in reducing the collection, transport and disposal of the organic waste in landfills.

These results were only possible because the city was able to successfully engage its residents in the program.  So how did they achieve this?   We’ve reviewed the details of the ‘Composta Sao Paulo’ program, and found 3 lessons for how cities can successfully engage residents in food recycling programs.

People value things more if they perceive them to be scarce.

Robert Cialdini on the Six Principles of Persuasion

1) Generate Interest by Limiting Participation

The Composta Sao Paulo program was launched with a public announcement that participation would be limited to 2,000 selected families across the city.  These families would receive a domestic compost bin, and participate in workshops of composting and planting.  Residents were invited to register their interest to participate in the program by completing a questionnaire on the program website before the 27 July 2014.  Limiting participation created great interest in the program with over 10,000 registrations received on the website in just 40 days.  The process of being accepted into the program is also suspected to have built greater commitment among families that were selected to participate.

Delivery of compost training workshops to residents.

Photograph by Lorem Ipsum via Unsplash

1) Equip Participants with Tools and Resources

Participants were provided with a full kit of tools and resources needed to successfully undertake a home composting. This included:

  • A starter kit including an explanatory manual, two digestora boxes (composting unit), 1 box of liquid compost, 1 cover, 1 faucet, approximately 300 Californian red worms, substrate for digestion box, saw dust, stickers, a printed manual and 1 garden rake.
  • Face-to-face training workshops to teach families how to undertake home composting, and provide advice and techniques for planting in small spaces to use the produced compost.
  • Technical support to provide further support to participants, which was delivered via Facebook (see below), telephone and email.

3) Create an Online Community Around The Program

Central to the program’s longer-term success is a Facebook group (comunidad de “composteros), which allows participants to share best practice, troubleshoot and connect with other home composters.  This community is open to anyone interested in home composting (not just the initial 2,000 families in the program).

With nearly 8,000 members and growing, this group continues to help spread the word about home composting, and provide families with information and support on how to establish a home composting system.  The online community has allowed the program to be self-sustaining, providing a best-practice example of how technology can be leveraged in food waste initiatives. In this case, members of the community provide each other with support to establish and run home composting systems.

Moving Beyond Food Waste

Sao Paulo’s experience shows us the power of online communities in helping to increase both the reach and longevity of public programs to recycle food waste.  It has been estimated that if all the organic waste of the city to be composted, Sao Paulo could save around 465 million per year.  The city is currently reviewing its strategy to give continuity and expansion to composting programs that already exist in the city.

If you would like to follow the story of Sao Paulo and other cities around the World, then join our mailing list to receive these case studies to your inbox.


Reference List

1. Sao Paulo’s commitment  to household composting. Zero Waste Europe. Accessed May 2, 2017.
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