Outsourcing Your Compost: Soil Without The Stink
Thursday is trash/recycling day at my house. That means whatever is cleaned up in the kitchen after dinner goes right into the garbage and then out to the trash bin at the curb.
Scraps of food from plates, pieces of fat from the meat, the hard part from the head of lettuce, the coffee filter filled with grounds, the “icky looking” piece of carrot the kids didn’t want, etc. It all goes into the trash.
It’s not like I was throwing away a lot of food scraps. But I’ve got to admit, as I rolled out the trash and recycling bins, I started wondering what else I could do with that food waste. My family already recycles. So do a lot of people in North Carolina. In fact, a new report shows nearly 500,000 tons of household recyclables were diverted from North Carolina landfills last fiscal year. That’s about 300 pounds per capita.
But my family, and the state, could still do more.
When it comes to food waste, composting is an option. But let’s face it; composting is more complicated than recycling. For home composting to be effective and turn food waste into soil, it needs to be turned and treated. There’s also the smell issue as the food waste decomposes. In addition, some food wastes, such as bones, just won’t break down in small compost piles in the backyard.
Apparently, people around the country have the same questions and companies are cropping up to provide answers—and solutions. From Atlanta to Brooklyn entrepreneurs are pioneering services that make it simpler for people to compost. Fortunately for me, there’s a company based near my home in Raleigh, NC.
It’s called CompostNow and it is one of the first full-service, weekly doorstep compost services in the country.
Here’s how it works: For $25/month, CompostNow picks up its customers' compost once a week and drops off two clean compost bins . For every 100 pounds of compost picked up a customer earns 50 pounds of soil. Customers can track how much soil has been earned on the company’s website. If a customer doesn’t need the soil it can be donated to a local community garden.
“We’re here to intercept food scraps from going to the landfill where it truly becomes waste, and redirect it to create the rich soil people have a hard time finding,” co-founder Dominique Bischof told me.
The company estimates it has intercepted almost 50,000 pounds of compostable material since it launched about one year ago. That’s led to the creation of 25,000 pounds of Black Gold—or premium, nutrient-rich compost soil for its customers.
CompostNow has about 200 customers throughout North Carolina’s Triangle communities. And it is adding new customers every week. Bischof says the biggest challenge is explaining why composting is important.
“Many people figure food scraps will decompose in a landfill so why bother to compost,” explained Bischof. “But landfill trash is so tightly compressed, food scraps won’t decompose properly. Without much air and water, food waste turns to methane gas, which is a major problem with green house emissions and global warming. ”
In fact, methane gas has five times the green house effect of carbon dioxide gas. Bischof adds that even if it the food scraps did decompose, all that nutrient rich soil is trapped in a landfill where it is lost forever.
As for what can be composted, Natalie Ross, a soil scientist with North Carolina State University has a good rule to follow:
That means food scraps, fruit and vegetable skins, coffee grounds, paper towels, and tissues are all eligible to be dumped into the bins left by CompostNow drivers. An avid composter, Ross can personally vouch for the way compost soil makes her backyard garden grow. She also allays concerns about using soil made from household garbage:
“Compost soil is moist and crumbly, it doesn’t smell and doesn’t contain any recognizable material, which is something people worry about,” says Ross.