A growing interest in reducing food waste leads to new business, nonprofit projects
By Holly Riddle
Carter Rowley’s passion for composting and reducing food waste that’s shipped off to landfills was strong enough to build a business around it. A year ago, Rowley partnered with Bill Domenico to launch Saranac Lake-based Blue Line Compost, a composting business approaching its one-year anniversary this May.
“Our current system is clearly unsustainable. There’s no way to argue against that. I would say that it’s completely illogical,” he said, referring to landfills. “We’re taking nutrients that we put an enormous amount of energy into producing and then just burying them in a hole. They’re decomposing in a way that’s producing an enormous amount of methane gas. By doing approximately the same amount of work, [Blue Line Compost is] taking those same nutrients, we’re recycling them and we’re going to use them again — and we’re producing almost zero methane while doing it.”
An effort that’s on top of their current day jobs, Blue Line Compost is taking off for Rowley and Domenico. The business serves both commercial businesses and homes, outfitting clients with food waste buckets that Blue Line Compost picks up on a regular basis. The food waste is then turned into compost, which Blue Line will begin selling to the public for the first time this summer.
An easy solution
Domenico admits they’re breaking into a less-than-popular industry, but, for him, that’s part of the fun. “This is new. [Composting] is not something that’s mainstream in American culture as of right now, at this moment. It’s fun to be ahead of the curve on something,” he says. For him and Rowley, the key to making composting mainstream in the Adirondacks — and gaining new clients — is convenience.
“Our goal for all our customers at every level is to make this as easy as possible and to make it convenient, so it becomes a normal part of everyday life,” says Rowley. “You don’t need to know anything. We provide you with a list of what you can and can’t compost and all you have to do is put [the bucket] out on the curb on our pick-up days. We pick it up and leave a clean bucket.”
Blue Line Compost even offers a bucket swap service, through which clients can purchase Blue Line Compost’s services at local spots around the region, such as hardware stores, take a bucket from the swap location home with them and then simply return the bucket to the location and swap it out for a new one as needed, no waiting for pick-up days required.
Spreading the compost fever
Before Blue Line Compost formed last year, another Adirondacks organization with a focus on composting was hard at work. Compost for Good, a project that exists under nonprofit AdkAction, aims to make composting on a community scale easier and more affordable. Through a series of grants, Compost for Good co-founder John Culpepper has designed and built a series of in-vessel composers intended for use on a community scale, which can now be seen actively working around the Adirondacks, at sites such as schools and The Wild Center in Tupper Lake.
“For the composter design John created, part of the intention was that it would be affordable and relatively easy to build with materials that were readily available,” says co-founder Katie Culpepper. “A large part of that initial design was to create something replicable and adaptable to other communities.” Now, the design plans and operating manuals are available to anyone interested. These are not your average backyard composters, though; four feet in diameter and 20-feet long, they’re designed to hold organic waste from communities and institutions of up to 300 people. All told, Compost for Good’s composters have so far composted more than 230,000 pounds of food waste and prevented more than 30,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions.
And while Compost for Good focuses on a small community niche rather than the businesses and residences that Blue Line Compost targets, both Culpeppers (a father/daughter duo) share a similar passion for food waste as that professed by Rowley and Domenico.
“I am absolutely passionate about the idea of reimagining what society calls ‘waste,’ whether it’s food scraps or stuff that comes out of animal processing facilities or human waste or you name it,” says John. “It’s incredible what we’re doing with what we call waste and it’s incredible we even call it that and it’s incredible what it’s doing to the planet as a result of our thinking of organic materials as waste… It’s safe to say that Katie’s passion and mine are, at the community level, helping communities create a circular economy around what we call waste.”
Katie concurs, saying, “I think there’s something empowering within communities realizing that waste is a valuable resource and, when kept within the community, can do really valuable things in that community. Especially after a year like we’ve had, I think there’s a lot of effort in rethinking how we create resilient communities and resilient food systems. Composting is a hugely important piece in making [food systems] a cycle versus linear. And since everyone in a community eats and everyone creates food waste, it’s a way to get everyone in a community involved.”
Compost Awareness Week
Compost for Good is taking part in an annual effort
to raise awareness about composting
But for all the growing interest in composting in the region, John notes the Adirondacks and New York State in general has a long way to go, comparing the state’s efforts to Vermont’s.
“Vermont, many years ago, put into effect state laws that prevent people from landfilling food waste. They’ve been getting progressively tougher. This past summer, Vermont no longer puts any food waste in a garbage can, at the residential level. Consequently, there’s a lot of interest in composting in the state of Vermont,” he explains. “Here in New York, depending on where you go, there’s less education because there’s been less legislature. Next January, a new state law goes into effect preventing large-scale producers of food waste from landfilling food waste. New York is the fifth or sixth state in the nation to enact, at a state-wide level, composting laws. As those laws go into effect, there will be more interest and education. We’re in a really sweet spot in New York State at the moment, at least for Compost for Good, because there’s just not a lot of education, so we’re providing that.”
Similarly, Blue Line Compost is also in the business of providing education. Domenico notes, “Week in and week out, as we talk to people, we’re still engaging with people who haven’t invested thought as to why the individual, a community or the state would even contemplate [composting]. I think it’s just time for people to invest thought into this and figure out why we should or shouldn’t do it.”
Rowley adds, “My goal is to normalize the behavior of composting. There’s a small group of people that adopted this very quickly and very eagerly, but there’s still a huge percentage of the population that looks at us like we’re crazy. I don’t know how quickly it’ll happen, but [I want to] convince a larger part of the population that this is a worthwhile endeavor…”