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Banana peels, carrot tops, unfinished dinners — food scraps that often end up tossed in the trash. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans sent approximately 41 million tons of food scraps and yard waste to the landfill — all of which could have been composted instead. These organic materials add to the ever-growing landfills where they create methane, a greenhouse gas, when decomposing in an oxygen-deprived trash heap. That’s a lot of waste doing a lot of harm.
This biodegradable waste can be diverted from the landfill through composting, the process of breaking down waste into nutrient-rich material that can be used as fertilizer for plants. Though people have been composting in their backyards for years, most Americans don’t — whether from a lack of knowledge, motivation, or ability. For Bloomington residents, the process just got immensely easier.
Green Camino started offering their curbside resource recovery service in November 2017. Founded by Kathy Gutowsky and Randi Cox, the benefit corporation (a for-profit business that also strives to create a general public benefit) was created to educate people on the importance of composting and make it easier to do. “We’re the only curbside composting company in Bloomington,” says Gutowsky. “In a community that prioritizes the environment, we thought a service like this would be appreciated and utilized.”
With more than 100 customers already signed up for their services, Gutowsky and Cox were right: City residents are enthusiastic about Green Camino and their convenient compost pick-up and drop-off services. The process is simple: Collect food waste in a 5-gallon bucket and put it by the curb on Sundays; or fill a 1-gallon pail and drop it off any hour, any day, at the “compost cabinet” located behind the Deep Roots Garden Center at Bloomingfoods East. The waste is taken to Fable Farms and Green Earth where it is and turned into useable compost. Could it really be that easy? Yes, as these Green Camino clients can attest.
Mary Jo Weaver
Composting is not new to Mary Jo Weaver. Growing up, her family composted food and yard waste simply because it was useful in their garden. She has been composting at her east-side home for many years, particularly because of the many flower and garden trimmings she produces each growing season. Weaver is a retired professor who lives alone, so she has the time to devote to composting but not the energy. “As I’ve gotten older, it’s a little more difficult to handle on my own,” Weaver admits. “When I heard about Green Camino, it sounded like a much easier way for me to continue composting.”
She signed up for the program and has found the most difficult part about it is making sure the bucket is full each week. “I don’t produce a lot of food waste, but I manage to fill my 5-gallon bucket with flower and plant trimmings,” Weaver says. If the large bucket were too much, Green Camino offers a 1-gallon pail that can be emptied at a secure location as often as needed, with customers paying as they go. For now, Weaver prefers the large bucket. “My garden and flowerbeds help me keep the bucket full, and it feels virtuous to do this simple thing that helps the environment,” she says.
With two kids, Noah Stoffman and his wife, Jennifer Richler, have a busy household and plenty of food waste that comes with young eaters. “We noticed that we were throwing away a lot of food, partly because of the unpredictable eating habits of kids and also because of certain foods staying in the fridge too long,” says Stoffman. Knowing the benefits, they tried composting in their backyard a few years ago but had to give it up. “It was difficult to maintain properly. Our lives are hectic and it was one more thing to monitor,” he says.
They have friends in Toronto, which has a city-wide curbside composting program, and were familiar with how it works. When they heard about Green Camino, Stoffman says they “loved the idea of a service that would pick up the scraps and compost them” for the family. “It’s a great service, and so easy. We fill the bucket all week, they pick it up and leave a clean one,” he says. As Green Camino’s first customers, this family of four has composted almost 500 pounds of food and organic waste. “That’s 500 pounds of waste that didn’t end up in a landfill,” Stoffman says.
Apartment living has its benefits and drawbacks, and lack of yard space is definitely one of the disadvantages. This lack of personal outdoor space was the main reason Chelsea Benfer and her husband, Colin Downey, could not commit to composting. The other reason was time. “I work full time and Colin is a Ph.D. student. We both have busy schedules,” Benfer explains. When she heard about the services from Green Camino, she was immediately interested. “We are vegetarians, which creates a lot of food waste with cores, seeds, skins, and so forth,” she says. “We were creating a lot of food waste which ended up in the trash.”
After signing up for the service, Benfer was pleased with how convenient and user-friendly it was. In fact, she and Downey were so pleased with the service, they decided to utilize Green Camino for their wedding. “I informed our caterer of our plan, and as they cleared the plates the food when into a bucket instead of a trash can,” says Benfer. A follow-up call with the caterer confirmed that the process had been easy for the staff and taken no additional time. Adds Benfer, “We had over 160 people at our wedding and only created two bags of trash!”
Sally Letsinger, Indiana Water Resources Association
Composting at events is not common because most venues are not set up to recover food waste. But when Sally Letsinger was helping coordinate the 2018 Indiana Water Resources Association conference at the Monroe Convention Center, she wanted to incorporate composting to emphasize that sustainability (the theme of the conference) could extend to many sectors of life. “Composting in such a public way demonstrates the fact that everyday actions, such as eating, require accountability,” says Letsinger. “I wanted to make it visible and participatory, even if only to have our 120 conference attendees think about the cumulative impact of our gathering for just a few seconds.”
The venue staff were supportive of this effort and made sure food waste bins were located in convenient locations. For this event, Green Camino’s services extended beyond just waste removal. They helped Letsinger determine the number of bins needed and which compostable plates, napkins, and cutlery they could use, and they created custom signage to direct attendees on which items to put in which bins. They coordinated a pick-up schedule that ensured the food waste wasn’t left lingering at the venue too long. “After all that work, I was shocked at how affordable the service was,” says Letsinger.
Attendees were pleased with the efforts, including the younger conference-goers who weren’t familiar with composting. “Our attendees thought the inclusion of composting was an innovative idea,” Letsinger says. They were inspired enough to take on the task of collecting food waste during their off-site field day in Gosport. “We were outside the Green Camino service area, so volunteers from our organization made the trip back and forth with the bins,” she says. The bins were then added to the rest of the conference food waste and picked up by Green Camino. “They have provided our community with sustainable options to divert as much as we can from permanent waste storage facilities,” says Letsinger.
Susie Johnson, Envisage Technologies
Most businesses likely don’t give much thought to food waste, but they should. After all, employees eat in their offices, bring snacks to meetings, and brew coffee all day long. This is exactly what Envisage Technologies, a progressive and innovative software solutions company in Bloomington, discovered when they considered their waste habits. They were already switching to compostable plates and cutlery and decided to add a food composting program.
Susie Johnson, Customer and Technical Support Manager at Envisage Technologies, worked with Green Camino to implement the composting program, and it’s been successful from the start. “The only challenge was keeping up with the demand,” says Johnson. “The participation was far greater than we had guessed, and in the first week we had to increase our container size.” Indeed, Green Camino calculates that Envisage Technologies diverted about 775 pounds of compostable waste from the landfill in the first eight weeks of using the service.
For Johnson and the team at Envisage Technologies, implementing the program was simple because Green Camino provides the collection bins, signage, and training for employees, in addition to scheduled waste pick-up. Says Johnson, “They do it all: We have their containers in each of our kitchens and on Friday afternoons they come in and swap them out.” She encourages other businesses to consider composting with Green Camino. “I have found them to be very professional and very easy to work with,” she says. “If a company is considering adding this to their initiatives, they should do it.”