Gainesville Compost turns food scraps into black gold


Steven Kanner, Gainesville Compost's chief systems engineer and inventor, gathers more restaurant scraps for composting in Gainesville on Friday.

Ashley Crane/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 4:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 6:32 p.m.

Chris Cano and Steven Kanner cycle through Gainesville regularly, collecting garbage that they turn into gold.

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Steven Kanner, Gainesville Compost's chief systems engineer and inventor, gathers more restaurant scraps for composting in Gainesville on Friday.

Ashley Crane/The Gainesville Sun

Black gold, that is.

It's a term some gardeners use when referring to compost, and it's created by mixing the right amount of brown material, such as dried leaves, with green material, such as plant-based food scraps.

The result is nutrient-rich, dark, fluffy dirt that their business, Gainesville Compost, sells as "Soil Food."

During the recent Alachua County Local Food Week, Gainesville Compost offered a free trial of its food-scrap collection service to local restaurants. Fourteen restaurants signed up, joining the company's 13 existing customers.

Of the 14 businesses in the trial, three decided to keep using the service: Bella Donna's, SweetBerries and Satchel's.

Kanner calculated that during the event, from Feb. 9 to 16, Gainesville Compost's trial diverted 1,572 pounds of waste from the landfill.

Kanner and Cano dropped off bins at the participating businesses along with a simple two-column instruction sheet listing what can be composted under "yes" and what to throw away under "no."

In general, the company collects the trimmings from fruits and vegetables before they're cooked, as well as eggshells and spent coffee grounds.

"It was really easy," said Juan Alcala, the 21-year-old assistant manager at Pascal's Coffeehouse, one of the businesses that participated in the trial.

They just dumped the coffee grounds into the bin that Gainesville Compost provided, instead of into the garbage can right next to it, he said.

While not all the coffee grounds got put in the correct container, the employees still filled a 5-gallon bucket in one week.

Since it was only one bucket, he said he didn't think it made that much of a difference. "Then again, if everyone did that little thing, that could really add up to something huge," he said.

Cano, 25, started Gainesville Compost in 2011, with a simple mission: To turn waste into food.

Cano said being responsible about waste is one incentive for people to use his service, since it gives businesses an easy opportunity to reduce the amount of waste that goes into the landfill. That reduction not only allows businesses to gain "green street cred," as he calls it, but it could also lead to a reduction in waste-removal costs (if the business is able to divert enough compostable material that it can use a smaller trash container for actual trash).

The company used to offer the collection service for free but started charging last summer.

The service costs $15.75 per month for collection of a five-gallon bucket per week, $22.50 per month for two five-gallon buckets per week, and for businesses with a lot of compostable material, weekly collection of a 32-gallon container for $27 per month.

"We promote restaurants heavily and emphasize who's participating in our service," Cano said. "At $15 to $27 (per month), if that drives just one additional customer to the restaurant, it will cover the cost of the service."

Cano partnered with Kanner, an environmental science student, in October. Kanner, 21, also owns Kanner Karts, which builds the bike trailers the two use to collect the scraps and deliver the compost.

Kanner said the composting produces a high-quality soil amendment that the company sells at the Union Street Farmers Market and via bike delivery for $32 per 5-gallon bucket, enough for around 50 plants.

The company has a network of partners around town — including Tempo Bistro, Church of Holy Colors and Porters Community Farm — that allows Gainesville Compost to use part of its property and get compost in return.

The pair take pains to be sure they comply with the necessary regulations on their activities.

"We do small-scale composting, so we don't fall under industrial-scale regulations," Cano said. "Nevertheless, we follow EPA composting guidelines, which includes reaching certain temperatures (130 degrees for three days) to ensure that potential pathogens are killed."

Composting is truly a win-win, said Wendy Wilber, a horticulture extension agent with the Alachua County Extension Office.

Wilber said that growing up, her parents had his and hers compost piles because they couldn't agree on which method to use.

Items such as kitchen waste and yard waste that would otherwise go to a landfill are being turned into a soil amendment that helps the soil hold water and nutrients, she explained, adding that it is especially important in the dry, sandy soils of Florida.

Gainesville Compost started using new software to more accurately measure the amount of waste that is being turned into useful material. Cano will soon display weekly and grand totals of each restaurant's contribution on the company's website for the public to see.

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