The composting company, Tilthy Rich, began by fabricating a bicycle trailer out of a old futon. Chris Russo was hankering for a way to increase the amount of food scraps that get composted. Chris also wanted to keep the compost as local as possible and to collect it by bike. If you’re going to do a good thing, why not do a great thing?
Not having a lot of start-up capital, he got a futon off Craigslist and with the help of some friends, rebuilt the futon into a trailer for his bike. With a little bit of listserv advertising, Chris began providing door-to-door collection of food scraps for some twenty subscribers.
Chris, and soon several other partners, composted the food scraps in the backyard of a reuse coop called Recyclique, before they expanded and moved to the ECO-HUB facility in a more industrial part of town. Twice a year they returned a dividend of compost to their subscribers. Sounds like a good plan, huh?
Composting is strongly regulated in North Carolina; especially if you are selling or providing compost made from post-consumer food scraps. You must maintain a valid permit from the state which requires frequent testing to determine if the compost piles are reaching a high enough temperature to kill pathogens (according to North Carolina, 131 degrees Fahrenheit for a period of fifteen days or longer), among other requirements. If, like Tilthy Rich, you aren’t a large enough operation to pay for the permit and testing, you are illegal.
Aware of the law, the people at Tilthy Rich thought the best way to bring about change was to invite city officials out to their composting facility to demonstrate how desirable their service was. Unfortunately, city officials were not convinced. Tilthy Rich was forbidden from distributing their high-quality compost to consumers.
Currently, Tilthy Rich collects food scraps from their now more than fifty subscribers (including two restaurants) by bike, brings them to a centralized bin in Durham and pays a certified commercial composter, Brooks Contractor, to compost them. In addition to maintaining their business, Tilthy Rich also practices a healthy amount of advocacy, still lobbying city and state officials to recognize that North Carolina composting regulations are discouraging innovation.
What stuck with me most about talking to Chris was what he had learned about trying to effect change. Too often in the world of waste, we make it an all-or-nothing game: if we can’t keep my food scraps local, have them collected by bike, and get some of the compost back, it isn’t worth trying. I know I’m guilty of this sort of thinking. As Chris explained, the reality is that sometimes you have to take baby steps, and sometimes perfection is an inhibitor.