Business Turns Table Scraps into Garden Gold
Bootstrap Compost recently relocated from Jamaica Plain to Charlestown.
This time of year, many people are focused on what to put on their tables—with dinner parties, family meals and other holiday gatherings. But a company that recently moved to Charlestown is helping people to think about what comes off the table, where it goes and what it could be doing for them.
Founded in January 2011, Bootstrap Compost provides a service to residents and small businesses in Jamaica Plain, Cambridge, Charlestown and around the city. Individuals’ food scraps are collected, turned into compost and returned to them in the form of nutrient-rich topsoil for rooftop or backyard gardens, house plants and other uses.
The business began as a one-man show, with founder Andy Brooks collecting compostable materials with a handcart in his Jamaica Plain neighborhood. It has since grown to serve more than 350 residential and small commercial clients around the city and now features a small fleet of bicycles, walkers, trucks and even the occasional skateboard used for pick-up.
About two-and-a-half months ago, the business relocated to a more centralized office space at 50 Terminal St., in the Charlestown Commerce Center.
Bootstrap co-founder and vice president Igor Kharitonenkov recently met up with Patch to dish the dirt, so to speak, on the business, its humble roots and its mission to change the world, one bucket at a time.
What exactly do you do? We take your food scraps to local farms, compost them there and help create topsoil for free use in the community. We basically help people reduce their waste footprint. We also empower local agriculture by taking this locally sourced waste and creating a compost which has a nutrient-rich, fossil fuel-free kind of substance that provides a topsoil base.
What kind of things are people able to compost? We accept anything except for meat, dairy or obviously any kind of plastics or rubber products. All vegetable peels, fruit peels, grains, spaghetti, coffeee. Coffee’s actually pretty good for composting; it’s rich in nitrogen.
How does it work for subscribers? You can sign up for weekly pick-ups at $8 a week or bi-weekly pickups at $9 every two weeks. We come by, we drop off that bucket, and for a small fee you fill the bucket with your food scraps. Then we come by either on a bicycle or in a vehicle, we take your food scraps, we give you a new clean bin with a biodegradable bag, and the next week you spend filling it again. We take the food scraps to a local farm where it gets composted and turned into topsoil that is either returned to the subscriber [about five pounds every 16 weeks] or it stays with the farmer or it’s donated. We also work with small businesses—offices, small cafes, restaurants—and customize the service to meet the needs of that office.
Wouldn’t the food scraps just naturally break down once buried in a landfill? It doesn’t break down in landfill because there’s not enough oxygen going into the compost. It’s not getting turned the right way. Composting is somewhat of a process; you have to turn it, you have to monitor. You can’t just set it there and leave it. Landfills don’t provide the kind of ecosystem that would support composting. The reality is that food scraps that are diverted from landfills, if composted correctly, actually help reduce methane gas output that would be otherwise created from landfills.
What is the environmental impact of composting vs. landfill? In the United States, we produce enough food scraps every day to fill Gillette Stadium to the brim. That’s a lot of food scraps, and only 3 percent of that is actually composted. At the same time, our conventional farming system is using 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to grow 1 calorie of food energy. That’s including transportation, pesticides, fertilizers. You’re talking about a system that’s really not sustainable.
Another kind of shocking and scary thing is that we’re losing more topsoil than we’re creating. The way conventional agriculture grows our food is that we rely on these fossil fuel-based fertilizers to grow the crops. Basically it’s like pumping drugs into the ground to grow food. So organic farmers and local farmers, folks that aren’t involved in these large conventional operations, what they really need is access to good soil, and compost is that resource.