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Restructuring the Food Cycle

Author: Dan Blake
October, 2012 Issue

At the end of spring semester in 2009, I went to Magelby’s Fresh, a local restaurant near Brigham Young University, to celebrate the completion of finals with a couple of friends. We decided to get the all-you-can-eat French toast special and, after eating a full plate, I boldly went back for a second…then quickly realized I was stuffed. I ended up throwing away almost the entire second serving. I looked around, noticed how many people were doing the same thing and couldn’t believe how much food was going to waste.
 
This was the light bulb moment.
 
Since I’d just completed a business management class, I began to think of ways to take advantage of this waste and repurpose it. I imagined a business that didn’t have to pay for its raw materials and how profitable it would be, not only as a business but also for the environment. With this, I started researching food waste in America.
 
The impact of food waste
Every year in America, more than 30 million tons of food is thrown away. This accounts for roughly 17 percent of all waste and is enough food to completely fill the Rose Bowl stadium once every three days.
 
That’s not all. In addition to clogging our landfills, rotting food produces methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 21 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. According to a report from the University of Arizona, if Americans cut their food waste in half, it would reduce the country’s overall environmental impact by 25 percent.
 
In the midst of this research, another opportunity presented itself in the form of gardening. I’d spent quite a lot of time out in the garden as a kid and knew that the standard procedure was to use chemical-based soils to enhance garden appearance, but I wasn’t entirely sure why. As it turns out, chemical fertilizers are packed with more nutrients than organic, manure-based composts, whose nutrients have often already been absorbed by the animal they came from. This disparity means the chemical-based options yield larger plants at a quicker rate.
 
However, most chemical-based fertilizers are derived from petrochemicals and are very soluble. They give the plants a quick fix of nutrients immediately, but are often washed away, leaving nothing to increase the long-lasting nutrient sources in the soil. In essence, this creates an addiction to chemical fertilizers and deprives the plants of the balanced nutrition necessary for healthy, sustained plant growth.
 
Some friends and I made a connection between the wasted food and the nutrient-deprived plants and asked the question: Could the uneaten food waste be used to make gardens and the environment healthier?
 
Along with two other classmates, I began dumpster diving at restaurants and grocery stores, scavenging for food waste. Through trial and error, we discovered that some foods (such as fruits and vegetables) produced healthy compost, while others didn’t (such as Chinese food, which killed our test plants overnight).
 
With help from professors, we developed a technique to transform discarded produce into nutrient-rich compost. Plants grown in our compost grew to be as large as—or larger than—plants grown in soils using chemical fertilizers and manure-based composts. We’d found our solution—a garden product with balanced nutrients, just as high as chemical-based soils, without the negative environmental impacts from food waste that otherwise would have clogged our landfills and produced harmful greenhouse gases.
 
Getting started
With that, EcoScraps was born. The company is an organic lawn and garden products manufacturer that processes recycled food waste into nutrient-rich products that help plants grow healthier in the most environmentally friendly way possible.
 
What’s our recipe for success? A business model that provides people with sustainable products that produce results equal-to or better-than our nonsustainable counterparts—at around the same price.
 
In two years, what started as a college project turned into one of “the Top 25 Most Promising Social Ventures in America” according to BusinessWeek , and our team has been dubbed the “Trash Tycoons” by the Discovery Channel’s Curiosity Project. We’ve developed valuable relationships with national companies like Waste Management, Republic Services, and Quest Recycling to broaden our recycling efforts. Our reach has expanded to include sales in hundreds of outlets across the western United States, most recently adding California to the list. We’ve recently been able ramp up production to repurpose 100 tons of organic waste daily.
 
So what’s next?
We look forward to opening and partnering with more facilities so that produce waste can be turned into sustainable and hearty compost. We envision expanding our product line and increasing the number of retailers across the country that carry the EcoScraps brand. As we continue to grow, the company and consumer’s efforts can make a greater impact on the environment. EcoScraps can now be found in big box home improvement stores throughout Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties.
 
At EcoScraps, we believe you don’t have to choose between making money and doing good. By changing the way we use organic waste, we’re able to make a huge impact, not only on our lawns and gardens, but also on the environment. This product makes going green just a little easier without requiring consumers to make sacrifices. By doing this, we strive to provide an example for the next generation of socially and environmentally conscious businesses.
 
 
Dan Blake is CEO of Provo based EcoScraps ( www.ecoscraps.com). Contact him at (801) 805-2651 or dan@ecoscraps.net.

 

 

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