Mary Bunker Ryther of West Falmouth was raised to think green.
Her parents, scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, also owned Bunker Tree Farm in West Falmouth, which grows cut-your-own Christmas trees, which they bought in 1948.
“I was raised that way,” Ms. Ryther said. “We always had a compost pan in the kitchen; there was an inborn sense of thriftiness.”
Now, Ms. Ryther’s interest is turning into a full-fledged business, Compost with Me, which hauls away organic food waste from businesses and residences to make compost, which then can be delivered back to customers for gardening.
Last Friday morning, September 12, Ms. Ryther and Brett Herrick, also of West Falmouth, drove down to Woods Hole in the company pickup truck to make their weekly collections at the Woods Hole Inn, Quicks Hole and the Quicks Hole Tavern, all owned by Beth Colt. They pick up their full green cans stenciled with Compost with Me and leave empty containers for the coming week.
Even though it is good for the planet, however, recycling is not always cost effective. Ms. Colt already has a contract with a trash hauler so her agreement with Ms. Ryther increases her trash hauling expenses.
“That is a hurdle that I have had,” Ms. Ryther said.
For Ms. Colt, however, recycling is part of the company’s identity so it is worth it. She had wanted to recycle the food waste since she opened in 2008 but did not have the space to do it. She was inspired by a two-day training she attended at Alice Waters Chez Panisse restaurant in California, where they diverted their organic waste for compost that was then used in the restaurant’s garden. So when Ms. Ryther called, she and her staff jumped at the opportunity.
“My staff finds it something to be proud of as a company that goes that extra mile,” Ms. Colt said.
Picking up at the parking lot behind the tavern, Ms. Ryther commented that Woods Hole seemed quiet compared to the busy summer months. She said she collected 41 barrels in the month of August between the two Quicks Hole restaurants. A full 30-gallon barrel weighs about 100 pounds. Her permit allows her to collect 15 tons a week.
Weight will begin to matter more as the state continues to focus on diverting organic food waste from the state’s landfills when the state organic food ban goes into effect October 1. This could mean more business for Ms. Ryther as well in the long run.
“There is a moratorium on the number of incinerators we can add,” said Ed Colletta, spokesman for the Massachusetts Department for Environmental Protection. “It’s up to us to recycle and reuse material. It’s a major goal of the Mass DEP to reduce the waste stream.”
Organizations producing a ton or more of food a week will have to send it to an alternative recycling center. There are about seven or eight digesters in the state where waste can be diverted, and more will be built. Right now the state has about 100 landfills that are filling up. About 25 percent of waste is organic food waste.
A ton of food is a lot. Most local business in Falmouth will not qualify but levels may be lowered as the ban moves forward.
“We can only assume as we continue community wide to reduce carbon footprint that they would look at expanding this program,” Scott Taylor, director of nutritional services for Cape Cod Healthcare, which at this point will not be affected by the ban.
Compost with Me will always offer a local and sustainable solution.
“Experts say that compost ought to not travel more than 20 miles to be sustainable,” Ms. Ryther said.
In business for about a year and a half, Ms. Ryther has about 20 residential clients and additional commercial clients such as the WHOI Buttery and Woods Hole Child Center.
She collects everything: bones, shells, meat, fish, bread and vegetables and fruits. On the farm she mixes the food waste with brown yard waste, such as leaf litter, while monitoring water and the temperature. Microbes help break the mixture down, releasing heat. Temperatures in the center of the pile can get as high as 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Worms and other bugs also help out until the compost is ready, resembling finely ground coffee, Ms. Ryther said.
She sends the compost to the UMass Extension Center for Agriculture Soil and Plant Tissue Testing Laboratory, which evaluates its quality for use in gardening based on testing developed by the US Composting Council, of which Ms. Ryther’s business is a member. A healthy compost has 40 to 80 percent moisture and nitrogen level of .75 to 2.5 percent. The compost acts as a soil amendment, adding nutrients to help plants grow.
Compost with Me takes sustainability to even another level by doing some residential collections by bike.
“I thought it made sense if the goal is to reduce, reuse, and divert,” Ms. Ryther said. “It seems you would want to be as energy efficient as possible.”
After doing the pick-up in Woods Hole they stopped at the bike path parking area near Locust Street where the bike and trailer, which Ms. Ryther engineered by cutting apart and reconfiguring a child’s trailer she got off Craigslist, waited. They loaded it up with small swinging buckets.
That day Mr. Herrick did the collections on bike at some residences around Main Street and then rode the bike north up the bike path.
Mr. Herrick enjoys being outside and doing pick-ups by bike, although the trailer that holds 50 to 60 pounds can get heavy.
“It can be challenging going up hill,” Mr. Herrick said, as he pedaled toward his first pick-up.