Editor’s Note – Can compost be turned into a valuable business?
Growing up in the corn and soy fields of rural Indiana, Andy Schwartz has seen first-hand what large-scale farming can do to soil quality. But it wasn’t until he managed farms of his own and made his own compost that Schwartz realized the role large-scale composting could play in keeping the quality of soil high and protecting the environment.
“When I made enough compost for myself and the food waste kept coming in I realized that I had to come up with a plan,” he says. “The plan was and is to keep valuable organic materials out of the landfill and use them to create a healthy growing medium for plants. Heirloom tomatoes and peppers from my garden are a much better outcome for food waste than producing methane gases and harmful leachates in a landfill.”
Determined to “feed the food that feeds you,” Schwartz studied successful composting projects around the country and launched Grow.Eat.Repeat, a compost pick-up company in Savannah, Georgia. With more than 300 restaurants, 100 hotels, and 50-plus schools in the city, Schwartz had no trouble identifying his primary market.
“The commercial side came first—food waste is an issue on numerous levels within our society, but restaurants, schools, cafeterias, and hotels are some pretty big producers. I figured that was a good starting point” he says.
With the help of these commercial partners, and a progressive community, Grow.Eat.Repeat diverts 15 to 20 tons of food waste from the landfill each month. Customers pay a monthly fee for the pick-up service, which also entitles them to a share of the finished product.
In addition to working with commercial customers, Grow.Eat.Repeat also collects and composts food waste from the city’s growing residential population.
“Residential is more focused on allowing people to do what they believe in—being ‘green,’” Schwartz says. “I’ve heard countless times from residents that they would compost and often times want to compost, but don’t have the space, the container, or know what can and cannot be composted. By making it easy for people to compost, I am providing a service that is not all that different from separating glass, plastic, and metals for recycling, and people are already used to that.”
Schwartz adds that the residential side of Grow.Eat.Repeat’s business is virtually untapped, with demand being stoked by people’s encounters with composting projects in other arenas of their lives.
“The need and want for a service like this is only becoming more visible as people recognize that their favorite restaurant is composting, or that their children’s school is composting,” he says.
Because Grow.Eat.Repeat’s services are in high demand, the company is beginning to see a profit. Although the profit is minimal right now–Schwartz still works 40 hours per week at Whole Foods–it’s increasing as the awareness of the business’ services spreads, and more clients sign up for services.
“My biggest challenge right now is putting enough time into this business as the demand for my services increase,” he says. “My wife has been very helpful in the process—helping keep track of clients, doing outreach, scheduling events, etc. I am planning to seek investors so that I can put more money into some of my systems to increase efficiencies and be able to go after and handle more clients and larger clients.”
In the future, Schwartz hopes Grow.Eat.Repeat will not only become his full-time job, but take the lead in managing the flow of organic waste in Savannah.
“I see myself and my wife working hard to prevent environmental hazards while creating an atmosphere of education and awareness around one of the most overlooked issues facing our nation,” he says. “I see us partnered with the city, collecting yard waste, food waste, and utilizing the connections of area schools to spread awareness far and wide. We will be making more and more soil amendment for local gardeners, farmers, and residents to grow food and we will be constantly seeking better ways to create better product tailored specifically to various soil needs.”