According to Project Drawdown, a global assessment of the most effective methods to combat global warming, improper disposal of food waste and improper disposal are almost equally damaging. PHOTO COURTESY Yes Compost

Clean Plate Club

Composting in Big Sky

People concerned about global warming and the environment would never throw away aluminum cans, but they will casually toss watermelon rinds and left-over food into the trash and send it to the landfill. But according to Project Drawdown, a global assessment of the most effective methods to combat global warming, improper disposal of food waste and improper disposal are almost equally damaging.

“A lot of people assume that it's okay to have compostable materials buried,” said Karl Johnson the owner of Bozeman-based Yes Compost, “But when they decompose without oxygen, by being buried, they create substances that are toxic to our waterways and have to be managed by the landfill which is expensive. They also off gas methane, which is the main carbon off gas of anaerobic decomposition.” said Johnson. “There's a major environmental effect by having that stuff go to the landfill. So, we want to keep it all out, get it through our composting process to avoid that pollution.”

Johnson started Yes Compost in April of 2018 after moving to Bozeman and learning that there was no composting facility in the area. He was also made aware of the difficulties of home composting in cold climates and the issues with bears. “For about the last decade, I've been interested in composting, just because it's such a fascinating process, where you pile a bunch of organic material up, and then it gets really hot and breaks down and turns into soil,” said Johnson, “Then I met a gentleman in the fall of 2017 and he educated me about the vermicomposting side of it, where we use worms to break things down, and that was the last piece for me that really piqued my interest, and made me decide to try and do this as a business.”

Yes Compost offers both residential and commercial services to all of Gallatin Valley including Big Sky. “We do our residential service with a five-gallon bucket that we pick up every two weeks, that's $15 a month, then you can add another bucket for an additional $5 per month. Then we empty them out, clean them out with a pressure washer with hot water so they're nice and clean. Then we just do a bucket swap so every time you get service, you get a nice clean bucket back to start filling up again. With the commercial accounts, we cater it to whatever the volume is that that business creates in a week, or if there's more than what they create in a week we just do multiple collections per week to accommodate their volume,” said Johnson. “The pricing is pretty standard, but then we also have a little bit of wiggle room if people are really off the beaten path, or there's some logistical challenges to getting the material then it might add a little cost.” Yes Compost also offers a drop off subscription for $10 dollars a month with drop off locations available in Big Sky and Bozeman.

If you use the Yes Compost services not only do you get rid of food waste, but you also receive a portion of the soil your compost helped to make. “We do a gallon of worm castings or 15 gallons of compost every spring, to anybody that can use it and wants it, and that's a good amount for amending an average sized garden to keep it nice and fertile year round,” said Johnson, “The worm castings are also really useful if you have a bunch of houseplants if you don't have a vegetable garden or anything, but if you've got things growing indoors, the castings are really potent, as a nutrient source.” While compostable materials are being collected every other week the actual composting process takes much longer. “We pre compost all the material for about two months and then at that point, we screen out a portion of it as much as we need in order to keep the worms fed and so that material heads over to our warehouse, where we keep all the worms. Then anything that's left over just continues to compost for about another two to three months,” said Johnson. Yes Compost has grown so much that they aren’t able to vermicompost all of the food they collect. They have been collecting 15,000 pounds of waste a week and as of right now only about 10% of the compost is fed to the worms and the other 90% finishes composting regularly. “With our worm bins, we'll feed them about two to three times a week, and that process to go from a pre composted material to a finished worm castings product is also about two months of the worms eating through everything, and it is just working through our system to where it's a nice finished product,” said Johnson. The full process takes around five months which allows a proper amount of time to produce soil full of nutrients and good bacteria. “Over that amount of time, not only are things breaking down really completely, but we're growing a really good microbial population so that our end products are loaded with beneficial bacteria and fungi and are biologically diverse, and therefore more effective in a soil system,” said Johnson.

Yes Compost is looking to expand in order to meet their company goals, “Right now we're a bit limited with our facility location, but we have really big plans for our next phase of the business, to not only really expand the volumes that we're currently collecting, but also improve the technology of our composting system and the Vermicomposting system, and do a lot of stuff with the waste heat that's generated in the composting process, to capture that energy and use it at our facility.” said Johnson, “We're looking for a new location where we can set up and be certain that we will have at least for the next decade or two, before we can really invest in the infrastructure that we need to get to that next level.”

The long-term goal for Yes Compost is a 100% diversion of food waste from landfills and they are willing to work with anyone who shares a motivation to keep waste out of landfills. “I look forward to when we have our next facility so that we can really hit the ground running, and start to make some investments in our infrastructure, as well as expand our collection routes and start to divert much more compostable waste from the landfill,” said Johnson.

“The reason we exist is to help people compost that want to do it, but can't and or want to do it, but think it's gross,” Johnson said. “The bifold benefit of composting is that you avoid all that toxic pollution that's generated by burying it, and instead we end up with a valuable resource to sequester carbon and put it back into our soil where it belongs and can foster the next generation of plant growth.”

Next Week: Sustainable building in Big Sky

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