A startup in Washington D.C. is helping the District dispose of its trash and encouraging more sustainable farming practices. Compost Cab was started in March 2010 by Jeremy Brosowsky as a way to provide nutrient-rich compost to urban city farms. Every year Americans generate 250 million tons of garbage, of which one-third can be composted instead of sitting in landfills that generate methane and other greenhouse gases.
After meeting with urban farmers who go on compost runs to pick up food scraps from different homes and businesses mile away from each other, Brosowsky realized a compost business could make this process more efficient and help turn more city residents into composters. Now, for $32 a month, Compost Cab gives customers a collection basket with a sturdy compostable bag, to minimize smells and keep away pests. Customers can fill their bins with kitchen scraps that abide by the company’s rule, if it grows, it goes.
Compost Cab picks up the compost every week and drops the food waste off at a number of urban farms, which can now improve their soil and grow more food. Compost cab has been particularly successful at reaching a market that desperately wanted to compost but found it was too much hassle to get started. Doug Rand, a policy advisor at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy wanted to compost but didn’t want to collect and store trash and drive it to a dropoff each week. Now Rand and about 350 other residential customers have been recruited as customers by Compost Cab.
“I don’t think of it as the garbage business, I’m in the magic business. As I tell my kids, ‘I turn garbage into food.’ As composting become more mainstream, my job is to make sure that some significant piece of the stream gets captured for urban farms,” Brosowsky says.
Business is so successful in Washington that Compost Cab delivers about two tons of food waste to local farms every week. Brosowsky hopes to expand the business to six more cities in 2013, including Baltimore, Brooklyn and Chicago. Ultimately Brosowsky sees residential compost pickup as a short-term business, hoping that in the long run cities will pick up their own organic waste the same way they would pickup regular garbage or recycling. In San Francisco city trucks collect about 600 tons of compost every day, and Washington’s Sustainable DC task force is discussing how to make the city the “greenest” in the nation.
Although there are still challenges to the business model, customers have been overwhelmingly supportive of Compost Cab. Out of a 50 person trial run in University Park, Maryland, only one customer was dissatisfied with service. Similarly one of the few complaints about Compost Cab has been a demand for larger bins to compost even more. However urban farms can only handle so much food waste, and there are very few commercial composting facilities near the District. However Brosowsky is confident that Compost Cab will catch on in other cities, at least until city governments begin to compost themselves.
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