You’ve probably seen Blue Line Compost’s green buckets around the area, particularly at the bucket swap sites located at Coakley’s Hardware in Saranac Lake or Green Goddess in Lake Placid. You probably know that Blue Line is collecting food waste to compost and keep out of the landfill. What might surprise you is that Blue Line Compost, an Adirondack based business, was collecting on average 3,785 pounds of food waste per week at the end of 2021. Some of that is residential food waste, but the majority is from restaurants, schools and other commercial businesses.
This is certainly good news considering that some 3.9 million tons of wasted food ends up in New York landfills, where it slowly decays and is a major contributor to methane gas production. Just the idea of food going to “waste” is also disappointing when we consider that 12.8 percent of New Yorkers are food insecure. (Source: New York City Food Policy Center.)
Regardless of the source, large scale composting of commercial and residential food wastes requires space and a consistent process. Blue Line turns and brews the waste first in bins (which is the “active” phase) and then moves them to nearby wind rows (the “passive phase.”) The bins generally hold 12-20 cubic yards of food waste, and due to the biological activity inside the piles build up temperatures as high as 140-160 degrees, cultivating heat loving thermophilic bacteria that break down the waste. In the process, harmful bacteria such as salmonella, as well as the odors normally associated with composting, are killed.
Not everyone who would like to eliminate food waste from their garbage has the space or means to compost. Blue Line provides for self-serve green bucket swaps at Coakleys and Green Goddess, or a biweekly pick up at a customer’s home. Even for folks who live on a larger property, composting takes thought and effort. Bears, rats, crows, raccoons, skunks, and opossums are common problems, and also limit what might be thrown into the compost. As a customer myself of Blue Line’s curbside service, I find the green buckets are much easier for me than having a dedicated compost space.
One of Blue Line’s first commercial customers was Old Mountain Coffee Company in Keene Valley. According to Gabrielle Popp, co-owner with her husband Steven, it was an employee who told her about the new compost company. Not long after, Old Mountain began sending their food waste to Blue Line, and also serving as a hub for residential green bucket swaps. “It’s rewarding to know that for those in our community who don’t have the opportunity to compost themselves, we can offer this alternative.” Businesses use larger, 7 gallon buckets that hold about 32 pounds of food waste. An average restaurant might generate 10 buckets per week, with some as many as 20-30 buckets per week. These seven gallon buckets are swapped out weekly from subscribing businesses. So that they can expand the amount of food waste out of the land fill, Blue Line tries to price its service competitively with conventional waste hauling.
But food waste collection is not the end of the story for Blue Line. The compost they produce is a salable product, and they are testing various mixes of compost with soil to go on to help germinate new food production. Due to its success, Blue Line has outgrown its current space, and is currently searching for a new home base.
Collaboration is how Blue Line Compost started. Carter Rowley and Bill Domenico, co-founders of Blue Line, crossed paths at North Country Schools in Lake Placid. Initially they were both working separately to try and expand composting in the area, Bill in the Village of Saranac Lake, where officials were supportive with the idea of a compost cooperative, but zoning was an obstacle. Carter, who grew up in an avid composting family in Connecticut, had already incorporated compost from commercial food waste into his Adirondack landscaping business. One day Bill and Carter met up at Noris Cafe and a plan for a large-scale composting operation was hatched. In designing the business plan for Blue Line, they received advice from others who had already set up community composting businesses, as well as guidance from the DEC, and in spite of the covid pandemic business uncertainty, they launched Blue Line Compost LLC in the spring of 2020.
It’s a source of pride for Carter and Bill that they are part of a sustainability loop, helping local food production by providing seed germination mix for green houses such as North Point Community Farm, who in turn, sells produce to Small Town Cultures. STC then gives their food waste to Blue Line Compost, creating a loop. As Bill describes it, “Farm to fork, to compost and then back to the farm again.” This concept is exciting, and according to Bill, he has been pleasantly surprised by the number of people who want to see this happen. Carter and Bill are actively seeking new commercial and residential customers, as well as working with other sustainability minded organizations.
For more information about Blue Line Compost LLC: https://bluelinecompost.com/
For more information about the composting process: https://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.html?number=B1189&title=Food%20Waste%20Composting:%20Institutional%20and%20Industrial%20Application
Photo at top: Carter Rowley and Bill Domenico of Blue Line Compost. All photos by Linda Friedman Ramirez