Composting in Lisbon – is it even possible?

What are you supposed to do with all your food waste scraps if you live in a flat in Lisbon?

Food scraps in a Zuperzozial bowl

One option – and the most common in the city – is just to fling everything in one bag and dump it at the recycling bins at the end of the street.

When I say everything, I mean everything. I’ve seen clothes piled in with citrus peel and glass bottles. My neighbours seem to think that just putting all your rubbish in the vicinity of recycling bins classes as recycling…

I contacted Zero Waste Lab to find out what my options were.

At the time of writing, you can either:

  1. Request a compost bin from Lisbon Council and then tip the contents of that into your garden. That’s obviously assuming you’re lucky enough to have a garden (quintal). In this city, that’s pretty rare.
  2. Download the Sharewaste app (you basically get in touch with someone who has a garden and arrange to take food scraps round to their compost heap)
Sharewaste app

3. Use the city’s new communal compost bins. You can find a list of them here. At the moment there are very few (only 5 for the whole city?!)

First of all, I tried Sharewaste. I’m app-obsessed and it seemed like a good concept. When you log in you can see dots on the map with all the people who are accepting food waste. They usually say what kind of scraps they’ll take/not take.

For instance, most of them only want vegetarian food waste minus any citrus peel. Apparently onion and garlic scraps aren’t so popular with composters either (something to do with them being acidic?)

Anyway, I got in touch with Susana, whose place was round the corner from a health food shop I go to, which sounded handy. Unfortunately, she already had way too many food scraps for her compost so wasn’t taking any more.

There aren’t many hosts listed on the app as it is. And there may be even less when you factor in people who haven’t updated their status.

I’d say it’s worth having a gander at the app to see if there’s anyone nearby, and it might take off in future if more people start using it.

But not one to be discouraged, I ploughed on enthusiastically with my research into communal compost bins. Yeah, I know. Some people have weird ways to get their kicks. But I was really excited about this. In a way my friends couldn’t really understand. Especially not when they’re used to having a compost bin picked up from their house.

The nearest one to me is in Areeiro at Rua Presidente Wilson, logradouro Oeste, perto da Pça. de Londres. So I obviously nicknamed him Wilson.

He keeps to himself, does old Wilson. He’s not on Rua Presidente Wilson at all. You have to go through a dark, dingy walkway to a car park. And dodge the labrador that’s bounding about, looking slightly spaced out, as though it’s been inhaling too much of the weed its teenage owners are smoking.

Go through this tunnel thing
It's not on Rua Presidente Wilson at all – it's off this street, through the green tunnel
Keep walking along the road past the car park
Until you see Wilson
Yeah, I dunno
But doesn't he look nice?

As yet, I’m not sure how to ask the town hall for more of these, but we really need them next to the recycling bins you get locally. I realise not many other people are going to drag their mum out to meet Wilson on a Sunday (on Mother’s Day – SORRY, mum). We need it to be as easy as possible to compost.

But equally, the more we use the composters, the more we show there’s demand. And supply and demand is the only way you can really bring about change at this kind of level.

Happy composting, people of Lisbon.


Update May 2019: I went to see Wilson on a Sunday and he was all locked up. I have no idea when they decide to close him and why they don't tell us. Looks like composting is still pretty impossible in Lisbon.

unrelated but also