The following is an article published in the Knoxville News Sentinel on Dec. 5, 2019. Written by business reporter, Brenna McDermott.
Her startup makes composting easy for Knox residents
Let’s get honest: Is there anything in your trash right now that you know doesn’t belong? Coffee grounds? Apple cores?
Some studies estimate almost 40% of household waste could be diverted from the landfill by using nature’s own recycling method: composting.
Green Heron Compost Services is making that easier for families, restaurants and businesses in Knoxville, Powell and Corryton. The pickup service takes the labor out of composting for folks who don’t have backyard space or simply don’t want to compost themselves but want to do something good for the environment.
Kat McDearis, founder of Green Heron Compost, displays the bucket she provides her customers, along with biodegradable bin liners. She collects compost from customers in Knoxville, Powell and Corryton.
Green Heron founder Kat McDearis learned to compost from her grandfather, who managed to grow a small garden in the midst of Atlanta.
As an apartment dweller, she wanted to compost but didn’t have the space.
“I’ve always been an environmentalist and always cared about different ways to improve soil and agriculture,” said McDearis, who previously worked for the National Science Foundation.
She launched her compost pickup service in September and gained about 25 customers in the first month. Her goal is 100 customers in the first year. So far she’s collected about 300 gallons of compostable materials and anticipates she’ll soon be collecting 100 gallons each week.
The Tennessee Environmental Council reports almost 5,000 pounds of food waste has been composted in Knox County and about 420,000 pounds in Tennessee.
What is composting?
Composting is the process of combining certain food and yard waste together, which then breaks down into a nutrient-rich organic substance – compost – that is then added to soil as a fertilizer.
Compost, McDearis said, can eliminate the need for synthetic fertilizers and adds critical nutrients back into the soil.
To use the Green Heron pickup service, customers must register their location and purchase a $6 starter kit, which includes a 5-gallon bin, biodegradable bin liner, composting guide and the cost of first pickup.
After that, customers can schedule individual pickups when needed and Green Heron will replace the bin liner. Most of Green Heron’s pickup days are on Mondays and Wednesdays. A single pickup starts at $12, or customers can buy up to 52 pickups at a time.
McDearis will soon offer products and consultations for customers who have the outdoor space and want to set up their own compost pile.
She is testing composting pickup for a few restaurants who are already eco-conscious and has collected compost materials from events like Brewer’s Jam and Scruffy City Vegan Fest.
What are the benefits of composting?
Green Heron founder Kat McDearis pulls a full compost bin liner from a bin. She collects compost from residences and businesses on an on-demand basis, replacing the liner each time.
McDearis transports the food and yard waste to local organic farms like Mountain Roots Farms in Sevierville and Beech Grove Farm in Seymour, which process the material into compost fertilizer with loads of nutrients and micro-nutrients.
“Overall when you compost and put it on a garden and then eat whatever comes out of that garden, you’re going to have more nutrient dense foods,” McDearis said.
By diverting food waste – and some studies estimate 20 pounds of food are wasted per person every month in the U.S. – it keeps the landfills less full.
That reduces the carbon footprint and the production of methane gas, which is 84 times more harmful than carbon dioxide, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. Instead, the compost is creating enriched and fertile soil, which leads to better plant yields.
“It’s closing the nutrient gap and closing the cycle of food recycling instead of just letting it sit in a landfill,” McDearis said.
So what can be composted? The simple rule of thumb is “if it grows, it goes,” McDearis said. That includes organic matter such as fruits and vegetables, tea bags and coffee grounds, egg shells, herbs, grains and legumes, nuts and seeds and yard waste.
Green Heron Compost picks up your residential compost and gives it to local farmers to use for fertilizer.
Compost can also include things like hair, fur, dryer lint, toilet paper rolls, paper napkins, shredded newspaper and wood chips.
“These items provide carbon, nitrogen, and moisture to your compost that helps facilitate the breakdown of organic matter,” according to the Green Heron website
Green Heron does not accept meat, cheese or dairy products, liquids, seafood, plastic materials or cooking oils in its compost.
The Tennessee Environmental Council provides a more detailed list of what does and does not belong in a compost pile.
“Instead of doing that in a landfill we’re going to take it away where it can be used, not just used and resold but used within our local economy to grow food,” McDearis said.
Thank you, Brenna McDermott and the Knoxville News Sentinel for taking the time and resources to cover our story. We sincerely appreciate your help promoting a greener future.