Have you found yourself wondering why your community doesn’t have a compost service? If so, there is no better person to start it than you! Here are some tips and tricks to start your own community compost program in order to keep food out of the landfill.
Steps for starting a compost service in your community
- Find a place to accommodate your food waste
- Decide if you are going to operate as a business or a hobby, if you choose business, decide if it will be non-profit or for profit
- Make a business plan that fits with your community
- Name your service & register your business
- Set up a website
- Buy supplies
- Spread the word!
Step 1: How will you process food waste?
This is the most important step. You can’t feasible start a compost program without a place to process your food scraps.
If you have the space and ambition, you can easily compost in your own backyard. If you want to start this as a hobby or community service, you might be able to partner with a community garden. You can even partner with a farmer, a landscaper, or a commercial scale composter.
The best way to do this is to make as many connections as possible. Network with like minded people who might know where you can compost. If you don’t want to process the compost yourself, search for commercial scale compost services in your area and see if they are willing to partner with you. If you go this route, you can compost all food and compostable bio plastics.
If you are able to process compostable bio plastics, then you may be able to make more money by selling compostable products to local restaurants.
How we did it: Naples Compost started slow. We called every commercial compost business in the area and were turned down by each one. We finally found one willing to work with us, but they were shut down the same month we opened. We ended up having to process all food waste through backyard tumblers, vermiculture, and bokashi compost. A year into our business a commercial compost business reached out to us!
Step 2: Decide if your compost program is a business or a hobby. For profit or non-profit?
Do your research and figure out if you want to run your compost program as a hobby through community service, or if you want to start a business. If you start a business, will it be for profit or non-profit?
Will you collect food waste as a hobby or as a service to the community? If so, you can sign up MakeSoil.com.
You can also learn more about community composting here.
If you decide to operate a business, will you do it as a for profit business or a non-profit? This is the time to explore the pros and cons of each. Non-profits can apply for grants, but have limitations due to the governance of a board of directors. You have more control with a for profit business, but don’t get as many opportunities for grants.
How we did it: We decided to operate as a for profit business. This is the model that works best for our situation.
Step 3: Make a community compost plan that fits with your community
You must have your fingertip on the pulse of your community. Not all community compost services are the same because not all communities are the same. Compost services should catered to the needs and desires of the community.
If your community if already deeply involved in community gardens, then a community led compost site would probably work better than a curbside pickup program.
If you aren’t certain what the community wants, ask them! Make a survey and send it out to community leaders who are involved in conservation.
What worked for us: Naples Compost operates a curbside pickup program because most of our residents are interested in that type of program.
Step 4: Name your service & register your business
Pick a name that resonates with the community. It should be a name that is easy to remember and shows up well in online searches.
Once you have a registered business, go to the bank and set up a bank account.
What worked for us: Naples Compost was a no-brainer for us because we want to make sure people knew that our community of Naples has a compost service.
Step 5: Set up a website
A website is very important. Contact a web designer to help you, or set it up yourself on WordPress.
If you are operating as a business, you will want to find a way to accept payments through your website.
What worked for us: We hired a web designer to make a website for us on WordPress. We maintain our own site and use Stripe integrated into our website to process payments and send out invoices.
Step 6: Buy supplies for compost customers
Most compost services provide 5 gallon buckets for customers. These buckets are left on the doorsteps for collection once a week. The bins are then picked up and exchanged with a new clean bin.
Some businesses provide countertop bins. Some provide compostable bags. It’s up to you to decide how much you will provide and how much you will sell separately, if at all.
Some business models also set up compost bin exchange locations at lower prices than curbside pickup.
Either way, you will have to buy a few things to get started once you have a customer base. Buying in bulk is a more economical way to purchase supplies, but also risky for a new business.
What worked for us: We provide our customers with a 1.3 gallon countertop compost bin, a 5 gallon bucket, and 1 Biobag each week. We built the price of all of that into our subscription price of $40 a month.
Step 7: Spread the word about your community compost program
Set up accounts on social media, introduce yourself to the owners of eco-friendly businesses, get involved in the community. The more you make yourself visible, the more likely you are to get customers.
What worked for us: Simple SEO work on our website and a social media presence have helped us grow. The owner, Hannah Rinaldi, is involved with conservation efforts in the area.
Step 8: Compost!
Now it is time to do what you love, compost!
Get your hands dirty and watch food waste turn into soil.