Mysterious labeling: The “compost only” bin


Before boarding a flight at the San Francisco airport, I stopped at a Peet’s Coffee near the gate. I ordered an iced coffee, which was quite good, and polished it off quickly. The nearest trash bins were at the coffee shop itself, so I walked over to dispose of the empty plastic cup.

I expected to either see a series of unmarked trash receptacles, or one for recycling and one for garbage. Instead, there was one bin marked “compost only”, and the other bins had no labels at all. Perhaps the term “compost” has some local significance in California. But to me, it just makes me think of the compost piles that people used to have in New York when I was growing up. What went into those piles? From what I recall, things like banana peels and other biodegradable garbage were the favorites, but I could easily be mistaken about that.

Ideally, the coffee shop would label the trash bins with phrases that everyone understands, like “Recycling” and “Trash”. But if they insist on sticking with unfamiliar terms such as “compost”, they should add a brief explanation of what the name means. Either way, it’s also a smart idea to provide examples of what goes into each bin, either in text or picture form. For instance, if a bin says “Recycling – Plastic cups, containers and paper goods” or “Compost – Unwanted food and other biodegradable substances”, customers should have no problem putting trash in the right place.