Compost Crusader makes it easy for businesses to reduce carbon footprint

Compost Crusader is trying to help businesses send less and less food waste to landfills.

The company, founded in 2014, looks to collect “organics” from businesses’ customers, such as food scraps or other compostable products. It then pays for that material to be recycled into the nutrient-rich soil at DNR-certified compost sites.

“From an environmental standpoint, being able to keep food waste out of landfills is really important,” said founder Melissa Tashjian. “There are things we can be diverting from the landfills and valuing them as a resource versus a waste.”

It started when Tashjian was part of a non-profit group that turned five-gallon buckets of fruit and vegetable trimmings into compost. That, she said, led to almost 1 million pounds of waste diverted from landfills last year.

But Tashjian wasn’t pleased with the results, as too little of the food waste was actually diverted.

In 2015, Compost Crusader’s first full year of operation, the company reported a modest profit and diverted 856,729 pounds of materials from 51 different customers.

Most businesses dispose of food by throwing it the trash, though many say they would compost if it’s as easy as recycling and costs as much as regular trash removal. That could help reduce the roughly 25 percent of food waste that makes up landfills, eventually producing the harmful greenhouse gas methane, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Compost Crusader, a semi-finalist in the Governor’s Business Plan Contest, provides commercial-grade outdoor containers to their clients, similar to ones used for trash service. The company sells compostable bags that are used to line the already-existing receptacles inside the businesses so organics can be easily taken to the outside container.

It largely services smaller businesses overlooked by Compost Crusader competitors, who are more focused on large-scale customers. And its competitors, Tashjian said, largely don’t offer compost options.

“I hope to be able to help all businesses in Milwaukee compost any type of food waste or organic materials they have,” she said.

Tashjian hopes to raise $25,000 to $50,000 from investors, using the money to expand her operations and invest in new equipment. Right now, Compost Crusader stores its trucks outside and its equipment in Tashjian’s garage.

Tashjian also wants to use the money to put the company logo on the trucks, ideally with a mural contribution from the children at the schools with which she works.

Compost Crusader is focusing on businesses that produce food waste, particularly restaurants, in Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha, and Waukesha counties for the first five years, Tashjian said.

— By Audrey Perelshtein,

Perelshtein is a student at UW–Madison in the Department of Life Sciences Communication.