New compost pickup service opens in Knoxville

Kat WorkingAn Article by Bailey Fritz at The UT Daily Beacon – Read Full Article Here >

As more discussion arises around climate change, many people are looking to reduce their personal impacts on the environment; this just got a little easier for Knoxvillans thanks to Green Heron, the new and only compost pickup service in Knoxville.

Green Heron launched full-scale services on Sept. 12 after testing services since April.

Although the business model may be unfamiliar to some, Green Heron is essentially a transportation service. They pick up compostable items from homes, apartments and businesses and then transport the waste to local farms and other partners. Afterwards, the partners process the waste into compost that they add to soils as fertilizer. 

Instead of a regular pickup schedule like a garbage service, customers can schedule their pickups in advance online. Customers can sign up by registering their location, ordering the starter bundle — which includes a bin, liner, composting guide and first pickup — and then scheduling their first pickup. After that, they can order and schedule more as they need.

Kat McDearis, owner and founder of Green Heron, said the idea for the business came to her fairly easily.

“About 2 years ago, I started trying to compost in my apartment. It was smelly, and there just wasn’t enough space to handle all of our food waste, so I looked up compost pickup services in Knoxville and couldn’t find anything,” McDearis said.

Before launching the idea, she discussed the project with two PhD students at the University of Tennessee, one in environmental chemistry and the other in soil microbiology, as well as other experts.

“I also consulted with individuals at Urban Green Lab in Nashville, who helped me understand the importance of diverting as much waste as possible away from landfills,” McDearis said. “One item that never needs to go into a landfill: organic waste or compostables.”

McDearis’s girlfriend, Regan Wagner, graduate research assistant in bio-systems engineering and soil sciences at UT, noted how composting can help with reducing personal environmental impacts.

“Often problems such as global warming and climate change can seem overwhelming, and I think that presenting people with easy options to mitigate their negative impacts and make a real local impact shows them how their actions can affect change,” Wagner said.

Although McDearis is the only full-time employee at the moment, she is looking to hire more employees in the coming weeks to kick-start the business and keep their mission moving.

“Our mission is to provide an environmentally conscious service for the local community and contribute to East Tennessee’s agricultural heritage by giving the organic materials to our partners, mostly local farms. Instead of selling the compost to farms and customers, our partners can process the compostables into nutrient-rich compost that can be used as an all-natural fertilizer,” McDearis explained.

Wagner also commented on her and McDearis’s positions within the company.

“Kat is the creative and organized one, and I’m the scientist. She has the passion to create this service for Knoxville, and I advise her on the specific processes involved in making a nutrient-rich fertilizer from food waste, as well as environmental impacts, such as how to lower her company’s carbon footprint,” Wagner said.

Additionally, McDearis and Wagner chose the name Green Heron for a sentimental purpose.

“We wanted to use some sort of ‘green’ reference in the name and also wanted to pay tribute to [Wagner’s] grandma, an avid birdwatcher and talented watercolor painter. One of her favorite subjects are waterfowl, specifically green herons. Needless to say, she’s a big fan of the name!” McDearis said.

In the future, Green Heron looks to expand their service options, like same day pickups, and become even more eco-friendly by purchasing electric cars to reduce carbon footprint in order to align with the mission of the company.

“Green Heron stands for personal engagement in environmental sustainability. Often, people throw out their trash and never think about it again,” Wagner explained. “Green Heron is trying to address the issue of quickly-filling landfills while also providing a valuable service directly to East Tennessee and showing people that their impact matters.”

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