228. Garbage to Garden | Curbside Composting | Pheobe Lyttle | Portland, Maine

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I’m so excited to talk about one of those forward thinking bold visionary entrepreneurs . Pheobe Lyttle is here to tell us about Garbage to Garden!

Garbage to Garden is the most successful market-based curbside composting company in the Northeast, servicing over 5,000 households, schools, restaurants, businesses and events throughout Maine and Massachusetts. The ethos of Garbage to Garden is rooted in the spirit of sustainability and supporting the local economy while making composting for the masses as approachable as possible.

Tell us a little about yourself and what your role is there!

I am the community outreach director here at Garbage to Garden

So, we are very involved with community, so I handle all the 

  • marketing
  • strategic partnerships
  • manage the volunteer program we have in place which enables 
  • access services regardless of ability to pay
  • composting
  • recycling for events for different people ~ up to 50k people!

I am from Massachussets originally, I went to school in Vermont

UVM 

to teach nutrition then came to Garbage to Garden

Does that mean you’re a Rockstar Millennial?

Cool, I’m compiling a book of Rockstar Millennials. I’ve interviewed like 65-75 millennials. 

The majority of our team is of that group

Tyler who founded Garbage to Garden the start up is also millennial!

Cool!

Tell me about your first gardening experience?

I probably have only had my own gardens for the past couple of years, but my mom and dad do have some gardens around the house, mostly perennial flower gardens

They have actually gotten into vegetable gardening now that their schedule’s have lightened up with me and my siblings out of house

more time

I started gardening

UVM

robust garden system in Burlington

Portland

incredibly long waiting list

250 person on the waiting list, but I was really please how quickly that list was whittled down and I actually got a plot about a year and half later.

Wow well there’s some interest in community gardening!

have my own aren

with about 9 raised

latin Green Mountain (Latin Universitas Viridis Montis (University of the Green Mountains).

How did you learn how to garden organically?

I don’t think i ever knew any other way

When my mom was gardening that was she did it

IDK what her philosophy was behind that

Then at all of the community gardens in Vermont. 

They have workshops and they’re all lead by people in the Friday workshop

organic garden community

came naturally as my gardening education.

Do you have any secrets for that? Is that convenient? I think gardening has to be convenient. Is that convenient?

sure!

both Portland and Burlington are about the same size cities

  • 50-60k people
  • definitely a city but smaller then what most people consider a city.
  • They both have a robust system of gardens

A lot of neighborhoods would

  • create a garden
  • that is convenient
  • walkable or bikable
  • apartments living at a time

I wouldn’t have been successful if it weren’t convenient because it’s really hard to get out there

water and weed when you have to water 2xs a day

check up

The neighborhood will probably

  • create a garden
  • that is convenient
  • walkable or bikable

apartments living at a time

I would’t have success if it weren’t convenient.

really hard to get out there

water and weed

check up on things a couple of times a day.

What are some tips that you would let people know, like know about the commitment ahead of time?

totally both cities

there are meetings at the beginning of season

In Burlington I think there were required meetings.

They did a lot of educating

  • people knew about how to be a responsible neighbor to the pot next to you
  • neglectful over the course of the summer
  • build community

it helps if you make friends with the person next to you so if can’t make it down to your plot

There were days where they bring everyone together

picnics in the evenings when it’s a little cooler.

That’s a good idea to have picnics/potlucks for people to enjoy when maybe it’s not so hot

Focused in the NE area so a small quarter of the country. 

It’s just a small garden

Tell us about Garbage to Garden

Garbage to Garden ~ It’s a curbside composting service

services to

  • households
  • schools
  • businesses
  • organizations of all kinds
  • recycling composting events
  • miscellaneous services and products

started in 2012 Tyler moved to Portland from Maine

Portland is such a small city that it gets pretty spread out and becomes semi rural pretty quickly about 20 miles growing up but his mom always composted and he was used to being able to have that outlet for his food scraps

In a conversation with a couple of roommates. They said, “We can’t have a compost bin outside”

It doesn’t feel right to throw them in the trash bin but why can’t we put them out with our regular garbage on the curbside.

That spiraled and led to the others

Tyler had some experiences

we’d pay

wasn’t afraid

not the type of person to worry, just dives right in and then backstops to figure everything out

  • spray painted a sign took to First Friday Art Walk. 
  • Bought a bunch of buckets he found at  Walmart
  • within a month
  • 300 households in the portland area

customer management

program grew over the next few years!

Like I said, my listeners are very entrepreneurial, and visionaries just like Tyler and I love how he started with:

  • a sign he spray painted
  • grabbed a couple of buckets
  • got out there right away
  • got some feedback
  • 17 people that first night!
  • Said that’s a score!

So many people think oh  I have a business I have to have 100s of customers. Then he gets 300 customers! That’s huge! Ive been doing this for 3 years and I’m still waiting to break 300 emails on my list?!

Events

I want to hear about the events you go to because nothing bugs me more when you go to an event, especially an environmental event and people are throwing water bottles in the garbage! That just infuriates me and seems so ….

How does that work because where do you make your money?

For events is one of those things growing very quickly!

charging for events services now. It grew as we realized there was a need! At first we were collecting 

food scraps

collecting compostables:

paper plates and napkins.

So we were setting up and no recycles next to us

We were doing it to get our name out into the community.

As a promotional tactic

We were just trying to finding ways to connect

never had a promotional budget

get our brand out there

but quickly we realized there was  a missing piece to the puzzle

  • no recycling
  • no one monitoring
  • make sure people are putting it in the right bins

once you started handling all all 3 waste streams. 

Not something we wanted to do on volunteer manpower.

lot of staff

multiple trucks

going back after a couple years

hope you see the value

most stopped us in our tracks and were 100% willing to work with us

people working so hard to handle all the heavy lifting

volunteers

staff big events can offer people

all of the waste

event planner have a million things to deal with

Setting Up Recyclables

setting up recyclables is not the highest priority on their list but if we can do that and then go back and say we had a 90% conversion rate all the better for their marketing materials as well.

That’s a good point, something else to add, especially all you rockstar millennials out there want their recycling and garbage taken care of when your at an event

I was just listening to JLD talking about going to an event he goes to that Chris Ducker puts on and that he has kind of ruined it for anyone else because he does such an amazing job he just sets the bar so high! So if you can have someone take one more thing off your checklist is huge!

Can I ask you a question. I finally got up my guts to ask my County Commissioner what can we do to get recycling at our local Green boxes, Mike and I produce 3 times as much recycling as we do garbage every month, mostly I’m sorry to say is dog and cat food cans, the Commissioner laughed at me and said China is not even taking plastic anymore.

I don’t know all of the details, but I know a big issue over the last few months

China was accepting

changing the dynamics in recycling programs everywhere

In Maine the tipping fee for recycling was less for trash

made recycling

per ton amount a city pays for to dispose of that product

set a rate

any amount

varies from state to state

tipping less for recycling there’s an immediate incentive for folks to get that out of their trash 

save them money

cheaper for a business to have a recycling dumpster then a trash

now about even with that market disrupted 

there’s a little less financial incentive

cost for food scraps is still extremely really really low

trash tipping fee

huge amount progress to be made where to dispose of what would otherwise be processed or taken to a landfill or taken to an incinerator

burn trash

what he’s saying is true is there is probably less of an argument to be made towards increasing that

I think that the recycling market changes so frequently goes up and down I don’t think it makes sense to deter recycling! I still setting up a really valuable 

I was just talking in this interview I did this morning, I emptied 2 garbage bags I was gonna put in my car but then my car was full, they’re still sitting on my kitchen floor, they’re not making a mess, they’re not pretty to look at but they’re mostly paper, their light. Because all my compost thing, the cans go in the recycling thing.

I wish I could say the same about our classroom garbage because the kids are eating the breakfast to go, the kids are eating in the classroom not the cafeteria. The milk in the garbage and the individual packaging.

instilling values

individually package

  • more processed food you eat
  • take out containers that are styrofoam
  • plastic silverware
  • chip bags

anecdotally

bucket paper towels

coffee grounds

  • once a month
  • don’t need to go very far
  • its not filling up

illustrates to people how much you can if you have the ability to compost in place

onsite you can really reduce the amount you take to the landfill

See that’s what I have been saying for years does it really have to cost more? It’s just a matter of SORTING!! Instead of having to have 15 dumpsters that are just garbage and 5 could be recycling. Instead of the one day they drive 65 miles to Troy to the landfill, they could drive the 65 miles to Kalispell! They can teach the bears to stay out of the garbage.

I feel like we have proved that it!

in the beginning early adopters

We have awareness

composting

no prior education

food waste as an issue

their neighbor has it

All you have to do is provide people with some

good conversations

  • visuals
  • lists
  • whatever it takes

focus on keeping the plastics and metals out of the bin

 farm that we bring all of the

virtually no contamination

Sometimes it does take a while especially with

  • schools
  • businesses
  • staff turnover
  • people catch on really quickly

leave school

It’s not that hard and especially we spend a fortune on soil and 

Most college campuses there’s places to throw your plastic can. Other pl

I feel so much better you guys are out there doing this. I know the baby boomer generation would like to see these things. You guys are putting it out there and putting it together I think you are the ones getting it done!

I have listeners all around the world, big audiences in CA, FL, Texas, one of the most downloaded episodes is Alissa LaChance with a business here.

That might be apprehensive

not every stake holder might be on board with it.

They ask “is it going to smell?”

your not producing waste

sitting there for however long

It’s really just a simple change of routine

Let’s talk about that! One of the things you are doing is you give people a clean container for the mess that comes sometimes, we just

which

ick factor

system

so the way this service works

households sign up and they receive 1-2 

6 gallon bukets 

depending on their needs

  • no liners
  • on service day
  • swap them out with a  clean bucket

really big perk!

If you live in a city and you don’t have a hose

  • tiny sink
  • bathtub
  • people might want to rinse it out
  • clean bin

gets people to buy into something if they had that

ick factor

In addition to the clean bin, it also means they are eligible to receive a bag of compost

many people request

many more do not.

There are so many people

reach out interest

exclusively the soil

they can get a bag and dispose of their food scraps

some people are just looking for a sustainable way to get rid of their food scraps

There are all sorts of reasons

some people take advantage

take advantage

52

Other people the biggest soil delivery months

  • May June
  • July
  • Sept
  • October

The soap

we work with Maine Standard Biofuels

residents can collect their cooking oil

  • jar
  • anything
  • put out with their bucket
  • field operators are trained 
  • are honed in on that
  • bring it back here

biofuel company comes and empties out and they make soap with it

clean residential buckets

so we give it back smell free

I love that you can save oil too!

Let’s take a minute to thank our sponsors and affiliate links

 

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Now Let’s Get to the Root of Things!

Garbage to Garden Cultivating Community partnership

 Is there anything you want to say that we didn’t say?

Well I want to say something about our volunteering program so we don’t have to turn anyone away

varying people

50-100

huge percentage of our participants for those people it’s important to those people they are composting.

  • dedicated to volunteering
  • option

So are you a non-profit?

We are not we are a social enterprise so we are a for profit business

We are mission based Social Enterprise

  • from the very beginning we wanted to provide composting for everyone that was a way to do it. 
  • It helps us stay connected to the community
  • It helps us provide a service to non-profits

They give us a list events each month

to recruit volunteers

 helps them fill volunteer needs

end of month

  • what days are still remain
  • garden work day
  • sorting at a medical supply center
  • garden work center

Where do you find you get the most volunteers from?

Garbage to Garden Volunteer opportunities

 Our volunteers are all participants Garbage to Garden subscribers

most popular opportunities are 

Cultivating Community logo

Cultivating Community which is the 

  • organization that deals with food access and justice
  • people love getting involved in garden projects
  • people are a lot of
  • also anti-hunger opportunities
  • Working with different organizations

either schools

general community members

Of course concerts

We do a lot of recycling for large concerts

People love that they have the opportunity to see favorite artists

come out in the woodworks

culinary festivals

What do they have to do? 

Garbage to Garden volunteer duties

typically

  • set up and breakdown
  • sorting
  • set up stations then we sort throughout the night

meant to be compost is 

  • none of that is in the  trash at the end of the night
  • never
  • 85% conversion rate

They can work in groups and look around and listen and make sure of the cleanliness of each station

See this is why you can’t tell me millennials rock! THIS Is awesome!

I had a volunteer orientation to do the other night and I had to buy a bag of coffee when I left and I kept pressing snooze and apologize to everyone, that I really can’t shut this off because if I do I will forget and I will be really grumpy in the morning.

I’m so glad to hear that, I do that too, I’ll walk around with the song still playing, if I hit snooze it’s nine minutes and it will be too late. I want an app, where we had 4 snow days I can just have my school alarms on it.

Do you compost at the school you work at?

We’re working on it. There was s woman from the farm to school program who came and asked me if I would join but we can’t find a time to meet so she ended up doing almost all the work. We’re getting closer, last year the custodians were on board and we were running the garden club last year.

What’s killing me is they already have the beds and the community garden is already there and they have these great raised beds, but they’re empty and if we were gonna plant something it would need dirt, first thing and where are we gonna get the dirt from and what it’s gonna cost?

I did have this brainstorm this year to put the compost in the giant greenhouse they have.

We work with about 40 k-12 schools in Maine

I was just gonna ask about some of the programs in our area, so I am always interested in what works for other people

What’s worked for you if you have 40 schools? Just educating the school board and administrators? Getting someone on board?

Usually there’s a few key groups to get on board

  • food services program
  • facility staff
  • actual decision maker on the school board if there is a district admin officers

is not gonna matter although having them on from the beginning

empowering the decisions about how it’s going to look

  • who’s responsible for it
  • working with any green teams
  • teachers interested who run the garden program who work with students

to generate interest and to get involved to help promote it to the rest of the school

We take our time with schools get them set up there’s usually about 6 months of work on the back end

School KICKOFF

kick it off with an all school assembly with all the teachers and students

what we do at  Garbage to Garden

  • what composting is
  • how it’s gonna work pictures with the new stations
  • staff and volunteers in the lunch room every day for two weeks making sure we’re drilling in what’s going in

what goes where

Usually within 2 weeks you see what’s coming in at the cafeteria. any items that are going to come

doing it again every sept

  • green teams helped with the presentation
  • green teams run the presentation
  • going around to different classrooms
  • educational snippets with fellow students

It’s really great to try to ramp up excitement

cleaning the bins for our commercial clients as well so that’s really key in getting by in

wary for admin or skeptical food service

we have a pressure washer on the truck, so for any schools etc we rinse out the bin on site, it was clean as it was on first day of service allows us to pull it out of cafeteria

“kicking the ick factor” what a great tweetable!

But that’s true! I still think they’re gonna find it cleaner and easier. That’s what I keep finding is the problem is yeah the community garden is only 5 minutes away but when you only have a little bit of time to deal with this it can be a complicated factor.

 

pretty familiar with other schools

who have set up on site composting

education and outreach who main focus is composting.

consultant

onsite composting

situation

figure out what type of system best is best for them

  • where it should be placed
  • working out kinks
  • what types of responsibilities

whenever there’s a school that is just a little too far we always refer to him

He’ll set up onsite compost school

listeners who are interested in the compost operation and getting it up to industrial scale

weeklong

come out where

his name is Mark King and he works for the Maine DEP  (Department of Environmental Protection) runs the Maine Compost School. Great resource for anyone wanting to set up a composting facility.

  • home
  • larger systems
  • others who want to establish compost  systems

instead of EPA we have a DEP

I want to say Richard Nixon created the EPA. Im gonna have to check that out.

He probably would want to. When I got to work, I was getting out of my car and he and his boss were here to check things out because food waste is a regulated material so they come here to make sure everything is up to standard.

So they were here to say they were super proud to have us in state of Maine and find out about a tour a national group though in August!

huge resource

DEP

  • EPA can be a huge resource
  • connecting you to
  • what type of infrastructure
  • compile all of that information

We’re running out of time so is there anything we missed?

We have been all over the map!

IDK what would be most valuable

I do hope if anyone is interested

We are going to be expanding

  • massive expansion plans
  • for the next year
  • perusing different
  • franchising opportunity
  • interested in what we are doing , we have done a lot of work!
  • make all of our systems
  • design software in house
  • fabricate our own trailers on site

stay tuned

Garbage to Garden

There are definitely other companies

I think there will be only more and more jobs

recycling diverting food scraps

It will only be a matter of years

we all have composting

  • recycling
  • curbside
  • makes sense

have this valuable resource

costing

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