Composting: Scrappy business grows in Portland, beyond

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • 0

PORTLAND — It is raw, pungent and nurturing.

And the future of solid waste collection in greater Portland is also award-winning.

Last month, two composting companies were recognized by Portland Buy Local. We Compost It! was named the group’s Environmental Hero, and Garbage to Garden won an Out of Sight, Not Out of Mind award.

Both companies, no more than 5 years old, collect food scraps from homes, schools and restaurants, and return a dark, rich and granular mixture that helps gardens thrive.

“It is just exciting to see the momentum behind composting. You can really feel it and see it growing in the last five years,” We Compost It! founder Brett Richardson said Nov. 18.

In February, Garbage to Garden will be one of 24 businesses competing for $50,000 in funding as part of the Food + City Challenge Prize in Austin, Texas. The global competition pits companies providing “top ideas in global food system innovations.” The 24 finalists were selected from 115 global entries.

“This competition is broader than what I am used to. This is more about educating a broader audience about the waste side of the food system,” Garbage to Garden founder Tyler Frank said Nov. 13.

Richardson founded We Compost It! in 2011, after winning a business plan competition at the University of Southern Maine two years before.

He said he did not want to begin collecting scraps until the company could manage its own composting process. Composting began at the Portland recycling center off Riverside Drive, and is now at a 10-acre facility in Auburn, operated in partnership with two other companies.

Frank took a more rapid route after finding that he and his roommates on Munjoy Hill had nowhere to compost. He began soliciting customers at a First Friday Art Walk in August 2012.

“At first I was bringing (the compost) to my mom’s backyard in North Yarmouth. She had a good-size compost pile I quickly multiplied,” he said. “She was like, ‘Tyler, no more, you can’t do this.’”

Within several months, he arranged to have the scraps composted at Benson Farm in Gorham. The finished compost is then delivered to Garbage to Garden at 57 Industrial Way, and delivered on demand to customers.

We Compost It! has a distribution site at 910 Riverside St., and Richardson said they deliver a yard of finished compost to each school the company serves.

Compostable materials can make up as much as 40 percent of household waste, and more than half the waste tossed out by restaurants, Richardson estimated.

The companies work in common areas in and around Portland, extending as far north as Brunswick. We Compost It! serves as far south as Kennebunk. The companies have essentially split the services for local school districts from Brunswick to Old Orchard Beach.

Collection methods differ, too. During weekly residential runs, Garbage to Garden replaces collection pails with fresh ones, cleaned with soap made from biofuels at Maine Standard Biofuels. The soap is partly composed of cooking oils also collected by Garbage to Garden.

We Compost It! asks customers to line buckets with newspaper, which is also collected. After collecting materials, the company sprays the buckets with a disinfectant.

The end result also reduces solid waste headed to landfills or the ecomaine waste management service, and can reduce costs in towns using the pay-per-bag model of garbage collection.

“There is only so much organic material on the planet, and it is a cycle,” Frank said. “Everything that is living is drawing on that. At least we can say every scrap we collect goes to growing something.”

Frank and Richardson took and maintain different routes to develop their businesses, but said logistics remains the key to service.

“This is basically a trucking business,” Frank said.

Both see growth potential in the area and beyond.

“In southern Maine, there are perfect conditions for what we offer,” Richardson said. “People are into it; they prefer local food, and disposal costs for wastes are high.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Ludlow Street resident Eli Small, left, greets Jack Chebuske and Tyler Frank of Garbage to Garden on Nov. 13 in Portland. Composting has cut his trash bag use in half, Small said, adding “now my trash doesn’t smell.”

Some of the scraps collected by a Garbage to Garden collection run in Portland on Nov. 13. The material is converted to compost at Benson Farm in Gorham.

We Compost It! founder Brett Richardson shovels finished compst for students at Saccarappa School in Westbrook on Nov. 19. The company delivers a yard of compost to each school where it collects scraps.Compost delivered by We Compost It! to Saccaarappa School in Westbrook Nov. 19 is the product of heat treatment that breaks down vegetable, meat and bone scraps.

We Compost It! collects scraps from Kennebunk to Brunswick, and converts it to compost at a 10-acre facility in Auburn.

Local composting companies collect vegetable and meat scraps from residential and commercial cutomers. This bucket was collected on Ludlow Street in Portland on Nov. 13 by Garbage to Garden.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.