• GH

The Green Way: A New Curbside Composting Service in B-town

Updated: Dec 8, 2018

Green Camino curbside composting service (greencaminocompost.com)

It’s a splendid Sunday morning of newly-arrived hummingbirds and blossoming trees, and two keen, green-jacketed women are wending their way through the residential streets of Bloomington on their weekly mission: to fill their truck bed with buckets of other peoples’ garbage.

They’ve invited me to ride along with them this morning. We pull over in a leafy downtown neighborhood, and as Kathy Gutowski jogs around the corner of Mayor Hamilton’s house to pick up his food scrap bucket, Randi Cox heads to the porch of a neighboring house to drop off a starter kit: 1- gallon countertop composting bucket, 5-gallon curbside bucket, instruction sheet, and lawn sign that reads I Compost: greencaminocompost.com.

Devoted to making compost happen, Kathy and Randi, who both have fulltime jobs during the week, lug heavy buckets of garbage around on a gorgeous Sunday morning. n clean, empty bucket has been left in the full one's place.

Kathy and Randi started Green Camino curbside composting service in November 2017 as a for-profit business known as a Benefit Corporation, a brand of conscientious capitalism that is legally required to put sustainability and care of the community and environment above profit. They now have forty subscribers (see their website to join).

The buckets themselves fit in to Green Camino’s objective of reuse and sustainability; all are former food containers that Randi collects from restaurants. As each full bucket is retrieved from a subscriber’s curb, it is hoisted on a luggage scale and the weight logged in to a spreadsheet on Randi’s phone. Compiling such data is required for the transparency and accountability of a Benefit Corporation, and also allows for reports to customers on both the business’ and individuals’ progress, such as milestone amounts of waste collected. It thrills Kathy and Randi to interact with their customers and make them part of the business in this way. Education is a primary goal of their work, and my ride-along is in anticipation of International Compost Awareness Week, May 6-12.

Conversation enroute reveals that Kathy and Randi are avid cyclists, and met years ago through the Bloomington cycling community. It was after volunteering at Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard that the two became passionate about compost. After a day of heavy compost-turning at the food pantry, they would go home exhausted but fundamentally happy. Both women have worked extensively with non-profits and community sustainability organizations, and Randi is president of the Citizen’s Advisory Committee for the Monroe County Solid Waste Management District, so it seemed natural to follow the clarion call of community composting.

Many curbside composting subscribers live in apartments, where they're unable to compost effectively.

Randi drops off another starter kit for a new customer who is dissatisfied with the progress of her own backyard compost, and the two discuss the best way to eventually transfer it all to Green Camino. Another pick-up is at the home of a teacher who invited Kathy to speak about sustainable start-ups at the Project School. Halfway through the route, we stop at Randi’s house to consolidate the waste into fewer buckets. A passerby who noticed her yard sign chats with Randi about subscribing to the service.

Consolidating buckets to make room for more pick-ups.

Katie Fledderman is planting an Arbor Day tulip tree as we pull up to collect her bucket. Katie is the Benefit Corporation’s director, holding the business accountable for accurate reports; she led the preliminary industry study and set up a composting pilot program. She is also a bucket-hauler. The reason Kathy and Randi are collecting waste on a gorgeous Sunday? They both have fulltime jobs during the week. Saturday mornings are also devoted to gathering compostables from a new drop-off program at Deep Roots Garden Center. Kathy and Randi don’t usually work together on weekends, but alternate, with either Katie or IU student Maggie Gates assisting.

At Fable Farms: Ryan Conway empties buckets into a wagon, which he will take to the large-scale composting site. Free-range chickens scratch through leaf mulch in the greenhouse. Crated quail, moved periodically along the rows, add their droppings to the beds. Randi, Andrea and Kathy scrub emptied compost buckets.

After the last pick-up, Kathy points the truck toward Fable Farms just east of Bloomington, where Andrea Avena and Ryan T. Conway (who are also president and secretary of the Center for Sustainable Living) make the compost happen. Here the buckets—ranging in weight from 3 to 30 pounds each today, are emptied into a utility wagon and are then taken to the far side of the greenhouse, where they are scrubbed, sterilized and readied for next weekend. Andrea and Ryan have recently obtained their permit for large- scale composting; on this day Green Camino will contribute 409 pounds of organic waste to their operation.

Randi shreds a compostable biobag into future compost.

Kathy and Randi once fancied that an El Camino would make a groovy corporate car, but they’ve far outgrown the capacity of such a vehicle, and a winter of collecting buckets convinced them that a rugged pick-up is essential; perhaps they’ll purchase a used green one someday, they muse, even an electric model. The name Camino still fits the purpose of their Beneficial Corporation; it is Spanish for “way.” Kathy and Randi are indeed following the Green Way, and are working enthusiastically to bring all of Bloomington along with them. In the short time they’ve been picking up and dropping off buckets of what they fondly call-- not garbage, but “compostable goodness,” they’ve already diverted 3.8 tons of organic waste from the landfill.