Mobile Navigation

Working in Portland

"Garbage to Garden" Salvages a Sustainable Business Opportunity From Our Old Leftovers

This summer, Sable Sanborn and Tyler Frank started Garbage to Garden, Portland, Maine's first-ever curbside composting service. For a small monthly fee, Sanborn and Tyler will collect your household food scraps and yard waste in a bucket that they provide, and leave behind a clean bucket for you to use the next week.

Both Sanborn and Tyler had grown up in suburban communities north of Portland, in households where composting food scraps from family meals was a matter of course. But in Portland, they noticed, many apartment-dwellers didn't have the space to compost at home. And because Portland employs a progressive "pay-per-bag" scheme to pay for garbage services, Portlanders have a clear financial incentive to reduce the amount of waste we throw away.

The city already boasts a high rate of recycling (about 40% of our refuse gets recycled). Local governments had begun talking about introducing municipal compost programs to divert even more waste away from expensive landfills — but Sanborn and Tyler beat them to it.

"We didn't coordinate with the waste management agencies to start out," admitted Sanborn in a phone interview earlier today. "But now we're working with Portland and with ecomaine [the regional waste management agency, owned by several municipalities in greater Portland] about removing organics from the wastestream."

Since launching their business at the beginning in August, Garbage to Garden has attracted over 400 subscribers, and they're already looking at expansion opportunities in surrounding municipalities. "For now we're working on getting a higher density of subscribers, and getting more people in our area of service," says Sanborn.

The weekly compost collections get trucked to Benson Farm, an established composting facility and dairy farm in the nearby town of Gorham. As part of the bargain, subscribers are also entitled to request curbside deliveries of finished Benson Farm compost for their gardens.

Sanborn and Tyler estimate that they've already diverted 10 tons of compost from the landfill in the few months they've been operating so far. In the long-term, Sanborn reports that they have ambitions of purchasing an anaerobic digester that can utilize the biogas byproducts of the composting process to produce renewable electricity.

"That's a goal we're working on," says Sanborn. "With an anaerobic digester, You can produce 675 kilowatt-hours of renewable electricity from one ton of compost. We're looking into getting investors, and starting a waste energy company."

If that's a vision you can get behind, and you live in Portland or South Portland, sign up online for Garbage to Garden's services.

And if you're on a budget, you can get earn one month's worth of credit by participating in the volunteer cleanup day that Garbage to Garden is sponsoring in downtown Portland early next month: just show up at Monument Square at 10 am on November 4th.

Image: Pitching curbside composting at the Monument Square Farmer's Market. Photo from the Garbage to Garden Facebook page.

Share This Post

Comment / Reply