Household Waste Deep Dive: The Dirty Truth About Compost with Jeff Paine of Break It Down

Dec 1, 2021

Did you know that food is the largest single source of landfill waste in the U.S. and more food ends up in landfills than plastic or paper? Listen to learn about ways to help minimize your impact, while also improving the health of your house plants or garden! In this episode, Jeff Paine of Break It Down, the most comprehensive recycling and composting service in Austin, Texas chats all things composting with us.

Show Notes:
For more information on Break It Down – https://breakitdownaustin.com/

To see if your city has a composting program – https://greenblue.org/work/compostingaccess/

The Foodcycler we have in our kitchen – https://www.vitamix.com/us/en_us/shop/foodcycler-fc-50

And the Lomi, which we’re hoping to get soon – https://pela.earth/lomi#lomi-plans


Pretty ok transcript:

Jeff Paine

[00:00:00] Mason: So, this is actually our second time recording with Jeff. He had the dubious honor of being our very first attempt at a podcast. And while there were some real nuggets in there, we pretty much got drunk and rambled for about three hours. I think for the sake of our listeners, we figured we’d tighten it up and.

Graciously agreed to come on the show again. So this is part of our household waste, deep dive, and we’re getting down to the dirtiest, but I think most beautiful household waste stream food. Jeff is a co-owner of break it down the most comprehensive recycling and composting service here in our city, Austin, Texas, and we share a common education, chemical engineering.

Would you consider your work very scientific at this point

[00:00:47] Jeff: or not? Not really, but I’ve kind of lost track of what sciences anymore. So

[00:00:57] Jess: from my perspective, it seems scientific. There’s a lot of scientific knowledge, I suppose

[00:01:02] Jeff: with sure. I guess it’s all applied now. You know, I don’t want to sit down and run a calculator very often, but

[00:01:11] Mason: so what motivated you to start paying.

[00:01:14] Jeff: Well, I think curiosity as much as anything I was at UT in chemical engineering, that program was not moving forward very well for me at all. And I was interested in what was going on with agriculture a lot, uh, especially around the Austin area. And I was, uh, volunteering at a local farm. And then my wife was working for a yoga studio and they’d switched to a compostable cup and they were just throwing them all away.

And people said, well, at least it breaks down in the land. Uh, which is not really what you want at all. And so it made no sense be using these compostable cups. So we said, Hey, let’s figure out what their options are. And we looked around and there really was no option. So that would have been in 2008 and we kicked it around for about a year or so.

And then kind of said, well, let’s just do a pilot. Let’s just see what happens. So we started out with that yoga studio in progress calls. Picking up once a week, making a pile of basically coffee grounds and yoga cups in a friend’s backyard. And.

[00:02:17] Mason: And so those first ones were straight pile, composting, mixing with some brown matter and organic matter.

[00:02:24] Jeff: Yeah. Go out and just pick up leaves. You know, that people that put out in the big home Depot bags out on the curb, I just go gang come and take them over to my friends and make a big old pie. It was nothing especial or nothing amazing about the actual composting in the backyard per se. It’s just, just a pile, but it did its job.

And then we added on a third account that had a lot of vegetables that was like a good pairing for the other two. And then a couple of those accounts wanted recycling and I figured, well, I can haul recycling just as well as I can haul food waste. So there was just kind of no discernible stopping point.

You know, the experiment became a bigger experiment, became a bigger experiment to where. I just kind of made the leap and left school and went full time. What’s the

[00:03:07] Mason: kind of breakdown for each type of customers. And what types of customers do you have?

[00:03:11] Jeff: Well, it’s a little messy right now as to whether who and what to call a customer, given that some of them are still shuttered from a COVID.

But I think right now we have about 700 total customers in the greater Austin area. And I would bet. Maybe four to 500 of them are restaurants. And then there’s a smattering of schools, hotels, hospitals, a bunch of offices. And those are the ones that are still primarily. Many of them are closed. It could be anyone with a food permit.

Ultimately if you’re generating food waste and it’s in your waste stream, we could be a useful service for diverting that. Cool. Very cool. So

[00:03:52] Jess: mostly restaurants, that’s the majority

[00:03:54] Jeff: of the customer base. Yeah, ranging from small ones to, to medium, to large across the whole gamut .

[00:04:02] Mason: And we learned on the last podcast that it was phase two of some Texas regulation, which now we’re going to forget the name of it that said first was diversion of recyclables.

And then phase two was diversion of organic matter for Texas businesses who do have a food permit. What’s the call adherence to that regulation at this point.

[00:04:25] Jeff: Oh, how many people have adhered to the ordinance? Well, gosh, that’s a great question. So there’s about 4,500 foot permitted businesses in Austin.

And the last time I got a list of businesses that were not compliant. Ooh, you’re stretching my memory a little bit here today. I want to say there might be about 30% haven’t complied give or take now of the ones that have, there is a range of what they’re doing to comply as well, though. So composting is often the simplest and easiest option for a business.

Right. But for those that don’t want to, there are other options as well. And um, why would someone not with.

[00:05:12] Mason: I don’t understand that part. I heard that

[00:05:14] Jeff: before. I think it would typically be cost is what I would expect. They would just want to not have to pay anything. And what

[00:05:21] Jess: are the alternatives then that they

[00:05:23] Jeff: would do?

Well, the city made a bunch of available and I have no real way of doing who’s taken the city up on some of these other options, but some of them are, in my opinion, a little far-fetched like. Changing your menus to, to reduce waste. So if there’s maybe something that you’re throwing a lot out of, and then you rewrite your menu to, I don’t know, potato skins and make a dish from the potato skins you were throwing away or something like that, kind of random.

The one I’ve run into the most, although still really just a handful would be food. Recovery. I think food recovery in general is a fantastic option, but. Uh, some places, whether you can say they’re taking advantage of it or not is up to your perspective, but, uh, some have kind of a token food recovery program and that’s enough to satisfy the ordinance.

[00:06:12] Jess: And is that giving the leftover food to the less fortunate or what exactly?

[00:06:16] Jeff: Yeah. To food pantries typically. So not normally going to go direct to people that are, uh, in need of food, but different food pantries or non-profits that can then redistribute that, but literally. Satisfy the ordinance by donating 10 pounds a month.

Oh, wow. While you are literally shipping, maybe one to 2000 pounds a week to the landfills food waste,

[00:06:42] Jess: 10 pounds seems minimal for a restaurant. Yeah.

[00:06:45] Jeff: Yeah. Pretty easy to do. Yeah. You know, it, maybe there’s some cynicism there or maybe it’s just how it is. Yeah. If you want to take the other positive perspective on it, you could say, you know, the ones that really don’t want to compost, let’s give them an option.

To not have to really compost for now. And,

[00:07:03] Mason: but then we get back to what is really don’t want to like, what’s the motivation behind it and that’s just cost, right? Yeah. That’s the cost.

[00:07:10] Jeff: But what happens if you compost, when you don’t really want to is you end up doing a really poor job and you have a lot of contamination.

And then that gets thrown away. So I think our service more than most actually handles contamination really well. Um, but it’s certainly a non-trivial issue. And if there’s a whole bunch of junk going in there, it’s not to anyone’s benefit. Right?

[00:07:35] Jess: So some people only know the term organic as the more expensive food in the grocery store to purchase.

Can you explain what organic matter is and how it’s different from other things that we throw.

[00:07:46] Jeff: Sure. You know, and that’s, that’s a fun word because I’ve run into it myself. Just trying to talk to people about what can go in the bin or not. Some inadvertent confusion around oh, only organic food. Oh, okay.


[00:07:59] Jess: Mason told me that for a little while on our food cycler and it confused me cause I was like, wait, so I can’t put this in it. I can’t put that in it.

[00:08:08] Jeff: Yeah, no, uh, no hot pot pies,

but organic in this sense is really just anything, uh, with carbon molecules, anything that from an organic chemistry perspective, We’ll break down. So not the organic quality certified could be anything else.

[00:08:31] Mason: Like anything that used to be alive was one kind of shortcut. Is that, are there other

[00:08:37] Jeff: carbon?

Well, I think that’s probably still true, but we’re definitely pushing that envelope with like all of the different compostable service where, uh, so there’s, you know, the PLA bags and cups and ramekins. Uh, PLA polylactic acid and that’s maybe a technical term for the corn cups, but they’re so highly processed at this point that you’re certainly not going to recognize it as, as having been alive.

Uh, similarly with like the starch, uh, utensils compostable bags themselves these days. I don’t know what is in them there. When the, when we first started our company 10, 15 years ago, I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone because they ripped too easily. And now they’re so durable that they’re actually harder to break down, but they work super well.

So it makes you wonder what sort of plastic. Plastic plastic, the size. I can never say this word. Plasticized, plasticized. Plasticized. Yeah, there we go. We all got plasticized.

[00:09:41] Mason: So organic. Can I recognize it anymore. It’s just anything that used to be alive, but it’s anything with carbon in it. And we learned that it’s the largest component of landfills is organic

[00:09:54] Jeff: matter.

I think so. And I always get a little confused about how that all works as far as the exact numbers, but I think it is the highest by weight, not volume. Oh, wait. Yeah, it’s just, and I think this comes back to just how dense it is. Yeah. So, um, you always have to be careful with all these statistics. Yeah.

Because there’s both and they go, they go back and forth and it

[00:10:23] Mason: seems like in a landfill volume would be more important than.

[00:10:27] Jeff: I don’t know because you’re also, I mean, they’ve got those big machines that are just trampling everything all day long. So even if somebody comes in and it’s pretty lightweight, it’s going to be smashed really solidly.

[00:10:41] Mason: And where did also the organic matter is what produces the methane that comes out of

[00:10:45] Jeff: them. Right. Right. And so that’s kind of the primary thing to keep out in the sense that landfills are designed. To kind of in tune everything and to keep everything dry and static for as long as possible, the food waste is kind of working against that process.

So it makes sense to keep it out. Um, and I think it’s a. To some degree, it’s a question of just finding a way to unlock as much value from the food waste as possible. And I think there’s still a lot more work that can be done in that area. That if we can create more value from the food waste than what we’re getting right now, That will help to incentivize keeping it out of the landfill in the first place.

Right. And what do you

[00:11:30] Jess: guys do with a lot of the food waste that you guys bring into your facilities?

[00:11:35] Jeff: So right now we’re doing a fairly standard windrow composting. Explain what that is. So that would be making a large, long pile. You can imagine a pile of food waste mixed with mulch that is maybe 15 feet tall.

15 feet wide and 150 feet long. Uh, and so we’re making multiple wind DROS like that, where they’re turned on a regular, maybe monthly basis, something like that to reintroduce oxygen to the pile, to keep everything moist so that the bacteria will just keep kind of chewing away at everything and breaking it all.

Uh, it’s a pretty standard way for composting, uh, businesses in the industry to handle the food waste. I think it’s, it’s kind of dirty. It’s messy. It’s, uh, it’s quite a bit of work. It takes an incredible amount of capital expenditure. If you want to make a good finished product and you end up selling that finished product for pretty low value relatively, I think it could use a.

A paradigm shift, frankly, still in search for what that is. Well, you’ve got a new method. Yes. So the, the newest method, and I can’t wait to show you the buckets at some point here, but we’ve been messing around with dehydration. Here’s a company in Austin here called hungry giant and they make industrial dehydrators.

And if you stick food waste in these things for. Sometimes only an eight hour cycle, uh, at maybe a hundred sixty five, a hundred seventy, it’ll pull out 75% of the weight as water. And the end product that you get is really quite stable and non odorous. Uh, I’ve tried taking that in product and just immediately adding water to it and letting it sit.

And trying to make it gross and nasty again. And I can’t, I can’t do it because you missed

[00:13:24] Mason: it. You missed the

[00:13:25] Jeff: gross in seven. Yes. Yeah. Well, I want to see, like, if I was going to stick this in my garden, is it just going to turn back into a bunch of rotting food waste, but whatever’s going on is definitely more than just dehydration.

There’s some degree of chemical conversion going on that results in it being more stable. So I’m really excited. We sent a bunch of samples off to a cell testing. I want to, I’m very curious to see what we get back from them. Yeah. That’s

[00:13:50] Mason: fascinating. So do y’all categorize the different components of organic matter?

Cause it used to be, if you had a backyard composter, he couldn’t put citrus in it. You couldn’t put meat in it really? Or is that it seems like everything now just gets. I mean industrial composter, I guess

[00:14:09] Jeff: everything is done. Right. And that’s, that can be some confusion. Sometimes people that know an awful lot about backyard composting sometimes will misunderstand what can be compost at an industrial scale, because it’s true.

You don’t want to throw meat or large quantities of citrus necessarily into a small pile on your back. It’s going to purify or become too acidic or the rinds aren’t going to break down or what have you at the industrial scale, there’s a lot more tolerance for that. Because again, you’re imagining these piles that are, you know, literally 500 cubic yards.

They’re like how many different buses putting together? It’s like a blue whale laying there. And so. You could pretty much put anything. Whole bone can go in. Now that’s where some of the machinery is still helpful to break and process all this down. But even at the sort of non-technical way we’ve been playing with it, right.

I’ve took a bunch of the finished product, home to my house and the other, a bunch of bones in it. And you could reach down, you could grab it and just crush it in your hand. It was very satisfying. So that bone has been really processed.

[00:15:17] Mason: I got a tour a long time ago from TDS. And they talked about with kind of a wink and a smile was like, we get all of the roadkill from the department of transportation.

And so he said, you get plenty of deer in there. And in two days that deer is gone. There’s no trace. It was ever there. So if you ever want to get rid of a body, throw it in a, oh my gosh,

[00:15:42] Jeff: industrial company.

[00:15:43] Jess: I always wondered what happened to, you know, we’re in Texas, right? So there’s a lot of roadkill on the road or, you know, people hit deer.

I always wondered what

[00:15:50] Jeff: happened. Yes. I go to the compost

[00:15:51] Mason: pile and then ended up in, um, Dillo dirt. Dirt. Yeah. You can buy it at garden stores. That’s the Austin municipal waste. Run through, I believe TDS. And so it’s a proved for home use compost

[00:16:08] Jeff: made from poop, a slight correction. It’s not TDS. That does it.

Actually the city’s facility over at Hornsby bend. Oh yeah. Although you might be able to correct me if that’s changed. Pretty old Hornsby. Ben did have a fire at their compost facility, something like five years ago. So I don’t know if that’s changed how they do things or not. Yeah. The city was handling everything internally to make that

[00:16:33] Mason: so very important.

If you have any bodies that you need to get rid of industrial compost pile is better than a pig farm.

[00:16:41] Jess: So we learned that the average us household wastes 32% of its food in that equates to about like $2,000 per year. Do you have any steps for anybody who wants to start at home composting?

[00:16:52] Jeff: Um, well, you know, the first thing I would say to someone who wants to start at home composting is there’s no wrong way to do it because I think a lot of people will start.

Oh, which is what’s better, you know? And there’s so many different options. There’s so many bins on the market. If aesthetics weren’t a consideration. Or if there were no considerations, you could literally just throw it in a pile and ignore it in your backyard, in your backyard. And it’ll just do whatever.

Now you might have rats and rodents and bugs and all kinds of problems if you’re just literally ignoring it. And so then of course, there’s all the questions that now come in. What are your primary concerns? How much is this static? Smatter? How much does having an quality finished end product matter? How much material are you even going to have to go into the spin in the first place?

And that could depend on your diet and how much you eat out versus Eden, et cetera. So there’s a fair number of different questions. You can ask yourself when trying to figure out what type of. But at the end of the day, there’s no wrong way to do it. Food is going to break down and you can’t stop it from breaking down.

And so it’s just a question of, do you have access to some carbon you can throw away. If you do, then you’ve got all kinds of different options for different sorts of bins. You can put it in or that you can make yourself, or what have you, if you have no carbon really available, you might want to

[00:18:19] Mason: like, why is it better to mix food with leaf cuttings or.

[00:18:24] Jeff: Well, I guess, you know, the simplest answer is to say that you need to have a S a degree of a recipe to make a finished compost that works, and that recipe requires some carbon and requires some nitrogen and requires various other. Micro nutrients. If you were just throwing food in, you’re going to have a lot more nitrogen available than carbon, and that nitrogen is going to need somewhere to go, and there’s not going to be enough carbon for it to bond with.

And so that’s where you’re going to end up getting, uh, Various odors from the nitrogen, or you’re just going to attract a whole bunch of bugs or rodents or otherwise, you know, life finds a way to use that nitrogen and it’s going to take advantage of that energy potential and grab it and, and do things you might not want it to do on your property.

So, conversely, if you just have a leaf pile that will break down into compost and ultimately fairly nice soil will result there, but it’s going to take an eternity because there’s not a whole lot. Energy in that mixed in with those leaves to kind of speed it up. And that’s what the nitrogen affectively does.

Gotcha. So having a nice mix kind of encourages the biology without over or under encouraging. Yeah.

[00:19:38] Mason: Gotcha. And so if someone doesn’t have a ton of leaves at one point just has a few and then other times it has more, uh, you’re basically saying that’s still. It’ll just, it just changes how it, how long it takes and whether how much it smells

[00:19:53] Jeff: for sure.

Yeah. And I think the other thing I would add for someone looking at composting would be to not go into it with this expectation that you’re going to be making tons of high quality finished compost. Right. Because I think you’ll, you’ll set yourself up for some discouragement there. I think backyard composting, unless you’re in.

A lot of extra material backyard composting is really more about waste reduction and diversion than it is about. Yeah, compost production in and of itself. Right. Which

[00:20:24] Mason: considering organic matters that the top waste stream into landfills, it seems like extremely important. And so I think everybody should try to figure something

[00:20:33] Jess: out, right.

Even if they don’t have a backyard garden or indoor plants to feed that soil too, is that the right word? Soil

[00:20:42] Jeff: amendment,

[00:20:43] Jess: even if you don’t have anywhere to. But the compost that you’re making, as long as you’re, you know, reducing the waste in your household, but

[00:20:51] Mason: you probably do. I mean, if you have a yard at all, then you have somewhere to put it, but I guess you have to hear now.

[00:20:56] Jeff: Yeah, the apartments would be the challenge for sure. And there are options around that where as far as taking it to a farmer’s market or figuring out some sort of way to do it, break it down, works with some multifamily situations where we have bins for the whole complex condo.

[00:21:13] Mason: We got to add a Coya we got to break it down

[00:21:16] Jeff: bin for still there.

Yeah. I mean, that’s been going for, yeah, that’s a solid, that’s got, that’s gotta be one of our older accounts at this point. Really. Very cool.

[00:21:25] Mason: Yeah. I think me and one other person used it

[00:21:29] Jeff: while I was there. You know, the last time I was there was probably a year ago and it was definitely still being used.

You know, it’s definitely had like the 10 or 15 gallons of material going in. That’s awesome.

[00:21:40] Mason: My best legacy so far in real

[00:21:43] Jeff: estate,

[00:21:45] Jess: in real estate or being the HOA precedent, which legacy?

[00:21:49] Mason: Yeah. What are the other probably HOA

[00:21:51] Jeff: president? You know, one of the things I would add about home composting multi-family aside, which has some of its own challenges.

Is that, um, and I hate to say this in some ways, because I know there’s just, it’s all these environmental issues can be so complicated and challenging, but it really think it is fairly low hanging fruit from the standpoint that you’re not moving any more waste out of your household. Like your amount, your total amount of waste is already like set and you’re emptying the trash every other day, every day.

Every third day, it might kind of depend, but you’re emptying the trash on a regular basis and moving it outside. And so switching to a system of composting, you’re still moving the same amount of material. So what you are changing a habit, and obviously there’s a barrier involved there, but there’s not actually any extra work.

And in fact, you could even argue that it’s less work because you’re not ending up with a super dirty trash. So if you do a really good job composting, and you don’t maybe have some nasty stuff going into your trash, can that, like, I don’t know, chicken rappers or stuff like that, that will smell. You could go upwards of a week sometimes without change taking your trash out, just cause it’s just, you know, clean, dry plastic, basically.

That’s a really cool perspective. Yeah.

[00:23:09] Jess: Cleaner.

[00:23:11] Mason: Same work, less smell.

[00:23:13] Jeff: He just tempted, just caring a little bit, get out of your house every day on a more regular basis. Yeah, but you’re not doing any more actual work. So it’s encouraging to think of it that way. As much as it is still daunting to consider the idea of quote, what would it take to get everyone composting in the world?

I have

[00:23:32] Mason: a bit of a strange question where I’m actually on septic here. And so we have to be really careful not to. Do you bake and grease down our drains. And so what I do is I just take it out in the backyard kind of towards the back corner. And I literally just pour the bacon grease out on the ground.

What eats that? How does it disappear? Because it disappears. Is it vermin that comes around and licks it

[00:23:56] Jess: up? I mean, don’t, we have coyotes out here as well.

[00:23:59] Jeff: I don’t think

[00:24:00] Mason: so. We got a couple of foxes

[00:24:01] Jeff: down the street. I don’t know. I mean, there’s certainly that grease is good to stump the guest. It’s going to break down.

At our house, I consume lard. We use bacon grease to cook everything. So we just don’t

[00:24:16] Mason: use it enough because I read that after cooked the bacon at medium heat or higher after a couple of days, that oil is pretty rancid. Hmm.

[00:24:27] Jeff: I haven’t, I don’t know. I haven’t run into that. And I’ve had it sit for a little while to where I’d wonder how

[00:24:33] Mason: that’s the longest, you’ve let the bacon grease it and then eat it.

Cause I’m gonna use that as my new bar. Without throwing up.

[00:24:41] Jeff: I mean, I would say probably weeks, sometimes, usually. Right now, we actually don’t have much spare. Maybe he’s just not making. So we’re just using it as we produce it. And it’s fairly, uh, stable every once in a while. We’ll go through, I don’t know, it must be a major baking, eating Serge, and we’ll end up with like two mugs full of bacon grease.

And one of them sits there for a little while before we catch up. So clean,

[00:25:06] Mason: eating deep dive coming up soon after the waist deep dive. And I’m going to start a campaign trying to. Bacon as a vegetable alternative facts, I’ll let people try to disprove it and then I’ll delete their emails.

[00:25:21] Jeff: They can be a

[00:25:22] Jess: vegetable.

We’ll see what all of the vegetarians and vegans have to say about that.

[00:25:27] Jeff: You could also store the lard in your fridge. If that’s true, then I forget about to

[00:25:32] Mason: do that’s the problem. I forget about it. Yeah. Put it in the fridge, which we do occasionally, but that’s good to know because I think. I’m probably a bit too squeamish about older food and eating it.

But I also think I have a more sensitive stomach than the rest of the household. And I’ll feel it I’ll get some cramps

[00:25:52] Jeff: when other people don’t. Well, I am on the other end of that spectrum. So to be fair, it’s a little more of an iron gut

[00:25:59] Mason: iron stomach. And to confirm that. You’re a

[00:26:02] Jeff: Renaissance master. No, but having fun with that at this point, our level, I just tested and got my black belt, uh,

[00:26:13] Mason: next to the

[00:26:13] Jeff: master.

It was pretty fun. It’s incredible. Yeah. I

[00:26:17] Mason: guess for you, master means something.

[00:26:20] Jeff: Yeah, master would be like the, the eighth degree black belt master at the dojo. Gotcha. They describe black belt as a good beginning. Really? That’s intense.

[00:26:31] Mason: We wouldn’t want to disrespect or just credit any of the eighth degree, black belts out there.

You’re all wonderful people. And you’re welcome over at the apocalypse.

[00:26:41] Jess: So I have a question about if people compost at home, but there’s also services. Because you guys aren’t residential, break it down, doesn’t go to residences, right? They go to businesses and apartment complexes and such. Does Austin have one?

I know our street. We’re not able to get one. So can people opt in to whatever their waste management services in Austin or even, you know, beyond Austin

[00:27:03] Jeff: generally? Well, I think your street is special and I don’t know the exact details, but, uh, in general, anyone within the city of Austin qualifies for. The compost and carts.

And so everyone with the regular service is going to get a weekly pickup of the green cart and isn’t that

[00:27:22] Mason: it gets complicated with apartments as well.

[00:27:24] Jeff: Um, so apartment complexes and I always forget if it’s four or fewer or four or more, but the break-off is right about there. Where if it’s. Let’s call it four or fewer units.

You qualify for the city service and yes, you will have a green cart for your multifamily fits five or more, or maybe four more than you are on a private hauling. You are not a part of the city service and it would come down to who the, um, the contractor is. Typically those are trash and recycling services.

Break it down, uh, compliments that with composting service for those units. Gotcha.

[00:28:00] Mason: So if you’re in an apartment, And there is not a compost service currently being provided. Get your apartment to call, break it

[00:28:09] Jeff: down. Yes, absolutely beautiful to go back.

[00:28:12] Jess: So people can either compost at home with their backyard, just put it in their backyard there’s kits that they can have there’s food, cyclers and other machinery they can put on their counters and.

Beyond that they could just go through their trash recycling services and then they have a bin and all they have to do is put the pile of food or pile of scraps in that bin. And somebody will pick it up. So those are the options because I have just started this eco journey. So I know that my prior home, I didn’t even consider going to those services to get a compost bin.

And I feel like there’s a lot of people. I haven’t considered

[00:28:45] Jeff: that. Well, the green carts in essence, aren’t even an option they’ve been delivered to every house, whether people wanted them or not. And so what you’ll actually see in the city of Austin is that most people aren’t using. But they all have them onsite.

So for instance, in my, uh, neighborhood, you might see one in five to one in 10 carts that are the green cards being put out on trash day. Uh, it’s it’s pretty low. And most of it is, uh, yard trimming type material that’s going in there.

[00:29:19] Jess: And so it’s not opt in. They deliver that, correct?

[00:29:21] Jeff: Yeah. It’s it’s quote.

And what they’ve done is just slowly increased. Everyone’s trash bill to pay for it. So

[00:29:30] Mason: you’re already paying for it. You may as well put the compost in that.

[00:29:34] Jeff: They’ve tried to incentivize this also by encouraging people to switching to a smaller trashcan, they can pay less. So I think the smallest trash cart in the city of Austin, that might be a 32 gallon.

It could be a 24. I don’t remember, but it’s fairly small. So if you see someone with a hundred gallon trashcan, they’re paying more as it should be than someone with say a 30 gallon trash can. So they’ve tried to incentivize. Diversion by staggering that, and if you are filling up your blue recycle cart in the city of Austin, you can also get a second one for free.

If you were so inclined again, they’re trying to incentivize diversion from the landfill

[00:30:15] Mason: outside of Austin. How many municipalities across. If you have any clue offer composting.

[00:30:22] Jeff: Oh, I don’t know that off the top of my head, but it’s, it’s small. I mean, you could probably name 90% on, on two feet, two hands, you know, you’ve got the bay area.

You’ve got Minneapolis, New York probably in your probably Seattle. Although to be fair, probably there are probably a fair number of smaller municipalities. The sailing, the west coast and east coast that have city services. Although I’m also aware of some private businesses on the east coast that do residential and are, have been fairly successful at it.

And that suggests to me that a lot of those cities are not offering it, break it down, used to offer a residential household composting. We did it as mostly a way to learn because we knew the city was going to take it over and kick us out of that market. Ultimately. Uh, so we just thought we’d do it for a little while because people are asking.

We can make a little bit of money, but more importantly, we can kind of learn what it’s like to work with residents on a, on a residential basis. That’s why we did that there, you know, there are no other. Municipalities in Texas that are doing curbside composting that I’m aware of, not Pflugerville or round rock or any of the outlying towns here or anywhere else in the state for that matter.

But you can

[00:31:35] Mason: always get a kid. You can always throw it in the backyard. And the one that we currently have is called food cycler, which is a dehydrated. And, but all it does is dehydrate it just on new and called Lomi that’s coming out that actually creates usable compost with some 20 hour cycle with no additives.

It just grinds and heats and measures the moisture and oxygen. And so just airflow and, and grinding, it creates actual compost. And it seems like that’s pretty good feat for a countertop system

[00:32:09] Jeff: also has a good aesthetic.

[00:32:11] Jess: Yeah, it’s pretty, it’s pretty. And I like that. Cause I hate how much. Easily gets on counter space, but that that’s pretty enough to keep it there.

We should give that to people for Christmas

[00:32:21] Jeff: presents too. Yeah, that would be cool to see. I don’t think I’ve seen that one. So you have to show me.

[00:32:26] Mason: Yeah, they haven’t even started shipping yet. So Austin collects all this compost. Where does that compost

[00:32:31] Jeff: go? So all the curbside yard trimmings and. The food waste.

It goes out to organic spite. Gosh, which is a compost facility out east of town. It’s got the contract for the whole city. Yeah. They have the contract for the whole city. The city does the pickup and hauling, and then they take it out there and pay a tipping fee. It’s mostly yard trimmings. I don’t, it’d be interesting to know what percent it is.

You could be critical. The city service by saying, we have spent an incredible amount of money on carts and we’re spending an incredible amount of money running garbage trucks down every street in Austin. To only pick up one in 10. If you look at the cost to pick up each house, and as far as how they factored this in with raising rates, et cetera, is somewhere around like $5 a household, which is pretty bad.

If it’s only one in 10 carts now you’re really actually talking. It’s like 50 bucks to go pick up that cart. This is a monthly basis, not a per pickup basis. $50 a month for a residential house is astronomical. So there’s room to be critical of the city from that standpoint, that this is a very expensive inefficient program right now.

And then there’s room to be positive about it in that. Well, You need to start somewhere. How else are you supposed to encourage adoption of this? Right. I think that the city also does to be fair, suffer a little bit in participation, simply because for the longest time it’s spent a lot of effort encouraging people to do backyard composting.


[00:33:58] Mason: so the rebate program ended, it just ended September 2021

[00:34:02] Jeff: I always thought that was interesting that they were giving out rebates to encourage people to not use the service they’re spending money to provide to the same household. Yeah,

[00:34:14] Mason: it must be. It must be wide ended

[00:34:17] Jeff: to be fair again, though, if you get right down to a backyard, composting makes more sense.

We’re not running a diesel truck down small streets all day long. It’s a pretty simple. Very true. And

[00:34:27] Jess: with that rebate, you just take a picture of your backyard scraps, send it in. Like, how do you prove

[00:34:32] Mason: that? I think it’s a receipt for the compost

[00:34:35] Jeff: or you bought, yeah, you got it. Um, DIY system, you have to buy.

Gotcha. And

[00:34:41] Jess: not like I was looking to get out of it or anything, but I

[00:34:45] Mason: mean, we liked those loamy system actually creating because of our dehydrator. When you throw it out and back, sometimes I go back there. It’s growing mold and there’s ants like Carrie and pieces off. So it’s not really integrating into,

[00:34:59] Jeff: into the lawn.

Well, the answer we’re going to integrate it into your

[00:35:02] Mason: lawn. Yeah. But they’re leaf cutter ants and I don’t need to encourage them to do anything because they destroy all of my favorite plants,

[00:35:10] Jess: especially the rosebush out in the front.

[00:35:14] Jeff: Yeah. I think it’s so interesting that we haven’t seen each other for.

A couple months or more since our last outtake and we come back and you all are talking about dehydration for your kitchen scraps, and I’m talking about dehydration for 10 tons a day. The food waste that my company is home. I think that’s

[00:35:33] Mason: fascinating that you came in and talking about this thing that I, the whole time I’ve been like, is this really good?

Or I don’t know. Oh, and

[00:35:39] Jeff: I’m super piqued by it. And I didn’t notice it for the longest time. And then I’m hungry, giant reached out and we started talking and we still didn’t. Weren’t thinking about break it down for it. And then somewhere in there something clicked and. Um, I’m very peaked by it and I’m trying not to get too excited too quickly by the potential ramifications of how awesome it could be.

[00:36:04] Mason: Very, very cool. And so I, it sounds like this has overtaken because over the years we’ve talked on several times. About black soldier fly, composting, being the answer to our organic waste problems has it. It

[00:36:21] Jeff: has for now. Wow. Can you explain

[00:36:24] Jess: that?

[00:36:25] Jeff: Tell us a little bit about that. Yeah. Black soldier flies are an amazing species of fly that the adult fly might live for a few weeks.

It has a mouth, but it really just drinks a little bit while. Mates and lays eggs. Uh, it’s not a vector for disease. It’s not interested in food. It doesn’t bite or sting. Uh, it’s very benign. Uh, it looks like a large black Los BL most. And if you ever see one, it’s usually just sitting somewhere perched innocuous out of the way.

What a life? Yeah. The larva is a voracious eater and eats for the entire life cycle. It starts with. Uh, nearly microscopic and it grows to be the size of maybe one pinky digit of your finger. It does this over the course of maybe two weeks, something like that is very fast and it loves eating food waste and it will, out-compete all your other standard types of flies.

So the idea with black soldier fly composting is that you don’t introduce any carbon. You just have nitrogen. Food waste is going into this bin where you essentially have a self running colony of black soldier flies that are mating laying eggs around the edge of the bin. The larva grow up, they crawl off and you can harvest those and feed them to chickens.

You could grind them down into a grub meal, so to speak, and you could feed that to other. Livestock fish primarily would be a big one, but you could also do it for pigs or cattle or weightlifters or weightlifters. I have eaten a black soldier fly. You can dehydrate the whole darn thing down and just put it in like a bag, like popcorn.

[00:38:08] Mason: Yeah. All these guys popping way. They should just be eating some grubs and true.

[00:38:13] Jess: And so how do you keep your hands on these? Like, can you purchase them? How do you acquire

[00:38:18] Jeff: these for your, I think you could. Um, but you know, they’re native to. Pretty much the subtropical all the way to the tropical region of the earth across every continent.

So they’re native to Texas. They aren’t active right now because it is November, but they’ll come back out in March or April and then they’ll be busy and active all the way until September. Do you know, they’re meeting?

Not yet still working on that.

[00:38:49] Mason: Haven’t attracted.

Well, that is the perfect note to end on. Do you have anything else that you would like to listeners know or just, do you have any last.

[00:39:04] Jess: No, I don’t think I have any last

[00:39:05] Jeff: questions. I think we ended on a good note. You know, black soldier flies are fascinating, but dehydration is interesting. And if you, if you’re thinking about composting, just give it a try.

And I think, I think a lot of people will be surprised at how, how little effort it takes. Yeah.

[00:39:21] Mason: Take the plastic labels off, remove contaminants from it, but then just throw it in your backyard. Right?

[00:39:27] Jess: All of the plastic stickers off of the vegetables. Yep.

[00:39:30] Jeff: Yep. I’m sorry.

[00:39:34] Mason: I ended up with a whole lot of plastic labels around my trees.

So my company before last Greenland. We wanted to start doing our own compost. And so we did it in my backyard and we’d learned just how much, you know, matter goes in to create an, a finished product. I thought we were going to sell some finished product compost and one, you know, it took weeks and weeks of throwing, pretty large quantities of food on this pile just to create a few gallons of composts.

And then those few gallons had a twisty ties from the greens and. About 5,000, a little plastic labels in ’em and we put them all around the trees and everything decompose, and we just ended up with a bunch of plastic labels around every tree

[00:40:18] Jess: decoration.