How to Philly

How to get a rain barrel and deal with composting in Philadelphia

Your natural resource guide.

A rowhome steps with fall decorations
Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

Making use of rainwater, dead leaves, and food waste is clutch for gardening enthusiasts everywhere, including urban areas like Philly. Even if you’re not a gardener, making use of these natural resources is a good practice if you care about the environment.

There are a few free city programs for residents who want to engage — and a couple of private options if you want to widen your composting content even more.

If you want to take advantage, here’s an easy guide to getting started.

How can I get a rain barrel?

The Water Department’s Raincheck program, run in partnership with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, is the place to go if you’re looking to have a rain barrel installed.

The program offers installs on a variety of stormwater management tools at a reduced price — like metal planters fed directly by your downspout and rain garden systems — but rain barrels are the program’s free offering.

The department will attach a 55-gallon barrel to a property’s downspout after the resident completes an educational workshop, which have been conducted virtually since the pandemic began.

Raincheck, which the Water Department started in 2012, has undergone some budget cuts in the last few years, limiting the frequency of these workshops and the amount of residents who can participate in each one. They occur on a monthly basis, but are currently paused until January 2023.

You can register to be put on the waiting list here.

Once you complete the workshop, installation of the barrels is free.

You unfortunately do not get a discount, however, on the Water Department’s residential stormwater charge, which is assessed on anyone who lives in a rowhome, a twin, or a standalone single-family home.

Does the city do composting?

There is no citywide composting pickup program, unlike some municipalities and major cities in the U.S. But there is a place you can take materials if you arrange your own transportation.

The Dept. of Parks and Recreation operates the Fairmount Park Organic Recycling Center, located at 3850 Ford Road, where residents can drop off 30 lbs. of organic waste for free, with prices being incurred beyond that rate. (Note that the Recycling Center does not collect food waste.)

You can also go there to collect up to 30 lbs. of organic materials for free. The department distributes:

  • Screened leaf compost — leaves and herbivore manure
  • Mulch
  • Wood chips
  • Other organic materials

The center is open 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7:30-11:30 a.m. Saturday.

Want to pick up more than 30 lbs.? The department recently published a price sheet, which shows rates by tonnage, and ranges from $15 to $85 depending on the material. If you have more than 30 lbs. but less than a ton, you should be able to work out a lower price for the additional compost.

If you want to pay for compost pickup

If you’d rather not lug your compost to the park, there are a couple of private compost collection services that Philly residents can take advantage of — and both sell compost as well.

For both services, eligible waste is left outside your residence for pickup at regular intervals.

Bennett Compost

  • Weekly pickup plan: $18/month or $198/year
  • Weekly pickup + bucket exchange plan: $25/month or $275/year
  • Buy compost: $10 per bag

Bennett Compost is a compost collection service offered exclusively to Philadelphia residents. Depending on your plan, you can either supply your own bucket for collection or Bennett Compost will swap your bucket.

Bennett Compost also sells its compost in 5-gallon portions, for $10.

Members can get six 30-gallon bags of lawn and garden materials collected for free each year.

Circle Compost

  • Weekly pickup plan: $18/month or $198/year
  • Bi-weekly pickup plan: $12/month or $132/year
  • Buy compost: $9 per bag

Circle Compost is a woman-owned company offering collection services in South Philadelphia, and Fairmount, plus most of West Philadelphia and Fishtown, and parts of East Kensington. The business also sells 5-gallon bags of compost for $9 a pop. Ever-aware of the environment, Circle Compost prefers to use bicycle trailers for pickup.

Want some more? Explore other How to Philly stories.

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