Composting company works to keep scraps from landfills, build nutrient-rich soil
CAMDEN – Rockport native Davis Saltonstall, in partnership with Tessa Rosenberry, of New York, is starting a business not yet seen in the region. In theory, it’s a simple niche concept based on the under-utilization of an every day product — food waste. If their pilot project takes off, however, the benefits would branch out in several directions.
Through ScrapDogs Community Compost, Saltonstall, Rosenberry, and their dog, Rhubarb, will retrieve the food waste from subscriber restaurants and individual households. With an estimated 43 percent of landfill and incinerator bulk in general coming from bio-waste, according to Saltonstall, the composting venture could, in time, drastically reduce daily additions to those facilities.
ScrapDogs plans to build a list of subscribers between Belfast and Rockland, and then move inland, away from the coast. An entity in Thomaston is one of the first to sign on. The goal is to collect food scraps weekly from at least 150 homeowners between Rockland and Belfast between June 29 and Sept. 30.
After driving to each subscriber locale as many times as necessary to empty the five-gallon buckets provided, the couple will then assume the labor of composting the waste, aerating it daily until it becomes a nutrient-rich soil. That soil, in turn, goes back to the subscribers.
“It’s a win-win,” Rosenberry said, on a sunny June Sunday, as she and Saltonstall broke ground on their E-shaped compost stall in Camden.
ScrapDogs Community Compost will launch its pilot operations on June 29 and hold an educational seminar on their work. They will cover the basic principles of their compost pickup program and how community members can become involved. The event will be held at Flatbread Company (399 Commercial Street) in Rockport from 5 to 9 p.m.
Several restaurants already send their food waste to pig farms during part of the year, according to Saltonstall. Sometimes, however, pigs aren’t available to consume the waste, or the restaurants are too large-scale for the farmers’ needs. As a result, the waste heads back to the landfill.
“We’re trying to help by turning food scraps into useful compost,” Saltonstall said. “When I was growing up, I had a compost bin. Everybody has a compost bin. But a lot of times, it just sits out back. It’s good to divert from the landfill, but if you are actually trying to use your food waste in your garden, you have to be a little more attentive.”
Composts are meant to be turned daily depending on the system. Aeration is key, and, on a large scale, the production can be a full-time job.
“That’s where we would come in,” he said.
All food waste will be accepted in the Scrapdog compost, and it won’t smell, he said. Food waste, regardless of produce or animal origin, does not leave an odor when properly aerated at the 30 to 1 carbon dioxide to nitrogen ratio; i.e, turning it daily with wood chips, saw dust, ash, lawn clippings and soil.
“We’ll be here with shovels,” he said. “If we notice it’s getting a little bit too moist, we turn it, or we’ll manage the moisture if it’s a little bit too damp out.”
The property where ScrapDogs is setting up belongs to the nonprofit Garden Institute on Mechanic Street in Camden. Before that, exotic plants grew within the commercial greenhouses of what once was Merry Garden.
As a way to assist in maintaining the property and regenerating activity there, the current Institute owners welcomed the new venture, Rosenberry said.
Saltonstall and Rosenberry met at New York University as environmental studies majors. They are the directors of Return Recycling, a nonprofit devoted to building zero-waste infrastructure and analytics for educational institutions. Saltonstall is a 2012 graduate of Camden Hills.
Until recently, the couple resided in Brooklyn, N.Y., working with New York University on zero-waste practices. After helping the university coordinate with composting companies for the pickup of the institution’s bio-waste, Saltonstall and Rosenberry realized they could create the same type of company on their own.
“It’s our first time starting a business, so we wanted to do it where we had a bit of a network of support,” Saltonstall said. “Coming home is a good way to do it.”
Sarah Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org