Compost Colorado Hauls Food Scraps, Delivers Provisions
We learn which plastic is easily recycled, and which is a bear — and toil to avoid the grizzlies. Styrofoam? Never. Glass jars get cleaned before heading to the recycling bin, and the last time we tossed an empty can or bottle of beer into the trash was sometime during Obama’s first term.
But food — leftover enchiladas, the bagels that turned moldy, scrapings from tonight’s salad — just ends up in the garbage can.
It’s biodegradable. No problem, right?
Food rotting in landfills along with mountains of plastic and other waste can take hundreds of years to decompose. All along, it generates methane gas, which traps heat in the atmosphere at a rate 20 times more pronounced than carbon dioxide.
It’s a big problem.
We waste food in staggering abundance, heaving so much of it that food scraps stand as the No. 1 material in landfills. About 40 percent of what farmers grow, in fact, ends up in leviathan piles of waste around the world. In the United States, the average household tosses 20 pounds of food a month.
One solution is lo-fi in the extreme: composting. Instead of chucking those cold French fries into the garbage can, transform them into lively, earth-enriching compost.
The solution is straightforward. But it’s not always easy, especially in arid Colorado.
Let somebody else do the composting – and reap rewards
Enter Compost Colorado. This Denver company provides people who sign-up with compost bins, which they keep at home. Banana peels, chicken bones, coffee grounds, the pound of Cheetos that got dumped onto the carpet during a party — all of it heads to the bin.
Every week Compost Colorado arrives to pick up the bin. In exchange for the customer’s bin packed with food scraps, Compost Colorado drops off a clean bin filled with sustainable, mostly local items purchased through the service’s website, in categories like groceries, bath & body, cleaning and zero waste. Soaps refills. Pickles. Bamboo toothbrushes. Coffee. Shampoo.
In addition, sustainable companies seeking new fans take advantage of Compost Colorado. For Compost Colorado customers, that means free samples with bin deliveries.
Planet crisis the force behind Compost Colorado
Founder Vannevar Fussell started Compost Colorado in 2019 after moving to the state from North Carolina, where he grew up and went to college. He had worked briefly as a data analyst before ditching his job and tossing around for a fresh path forward.
“We are in this nexus where we are facing the biggest threat our planet has every faced,” he says. “I asked myself, `How do I carve out a career that will have a positive effect?”
When he moved to Colorado he was shocked by the Front Range’s “terrible” record on waste diversion.
“We are below the national average for composting and recycling,” he told me, while hauling 1,000 pounds of food waste from Denver to Boulder’s Western Disposal Services. “And things were even worse in 2020. Composting is the easiest and most effective way to deal with climate change. It’s not giving up meat or not driving a car. But it has this profound impact on building healthy soil and diverting greenhouse gases.”
For now, Compost Colorado does not perform the composting. Instead, A1 Organics in Keenesburg handles the waste. The company takes all of the organic material that municipal services in places like Boulder and Denver pick up from residences. It turns the garbage into valuable products, such as compost for gardens, and liquid fertilizer for golf courses and landscapers.
The bins of organic scraps Fussell was bringing to Western Disposal — Boulder’s waste management partner — eventually end up at A1 Organics. Compost Colorado pays Western Disposal for every delivery.
COVID propelled refill program, expanded residential service
The company offers both residential and commercial pick-ups. In Boulder and Denver, where the cities already haul away residential organic waste, commercial clients dominate. Everywhere else, most Compost Colorado customers have home rather than office addresses.
Some of those Denver and Boulder people who already have home compost pick-up still join, for a dramatically reduced fee: $12 a month rather than $28. They don’t participate in the compost program, but they do get free shipping for everything in the Compost Colorado store — their addresses just get added to the weekly bin pick-up and delivery routes.
From the beginning, most customers were residential, which has worked out well during COVID. After the pandemic’s arrival, Compost Colorado lost most of its commercial clients, like coffee shops and restaurants. At the time, they represented about 30 percent of revenue; now it’s down to 5 percent.
The pandemic compelled Compost Colorado to quickly roll-out access to cleaning supplies to residential partners. The company also introduced its popular refill program for things like detergents and hand soaps. Meanwhile, a company made hand sanitizer for Compost Colorado, which the company was able to supply to both residential and commercial clients at a reduced rate.
When COVID landed, Compost Colorado had 100 members. Today, it’s 700.
Future could involve “anaerobic digester” to compost, and provide electricity
For 2021, Fussell hopes the company can buy an anaerobic digester, an industrial tool that breaks down organic matter without oxygen. As the bacteria work, they produce things called “biogas,” mixtures of gases — mostly methane and carbon dioxide — that can be combusted with oxygen. The released energy can be used as a fuel. In addition, gas engines can convert the bioga’s energy into electricity and heat.
The ultimate goal for Compost Colorado: perform its own composting services, create its own compost products, and generate electricity from the biogas to power the company’s fleet of collection vehicles.
“We are all about completing the loop, the cycle,” says Fussell. “It’s an exciting time. There are so many interesting people in this field in Colorado who are getting galvanized to solve this problem together.”