Here Comes The Composting Man

Domingo Medina wants to bike up to your house and take away your old banana peels.

He’d also like to charge you $8 for the privilege.

Medina said the project recently got Connecticut state approval, as long as the compost is not sold. It must be used for New Haven Farms and, if there’s surplus, returned to subscribers.

To make a go, Medina said he needs at least a core of 60 families. The pilot would begin in the East Rock area, where he lives, and, if successful, move into other neighborhoods in the city, and beyond.

A proposal is pending for a $5,000 grant from the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven. If that is successful, and all goes well, the pedal-powered composter could be on the streets as soon as the end of summer, Medina said.

Medina previewed his pilot proposal this past week at the most recent edition of a monthly networking social hour called New Haven Green Drinks. The monthly event brings together environmentally minded people in government, business, academia, and not-for-profits. The roaming event took place Wednesday night at the Luck & Levity Brewshop on Court Street and showcased “Eco-preneurs” like Medina and Sherill Baldwin (pictured with Medina) and their business plans and dreams for their green enterprises.

Medina’s idea emerged from his work with New Haven Farms, where he serves as “compost team leader.”

Every year New Haven Farms spends $20 per cubic yard for compost that it uses at its seven sites sites across New Haven.

“Why do we spend $5,000 or $6,000 a year” for this purpose? Medina asked rhetorically.

New Haven Farms surveys confirm that people who do not do their own composting—such as apartment dwellers—like the idea of offering up their daily garbage for composting, he said.

While New Haven has focused on upgrading its curbside bottle and paper recyclings—and getting greener and richer in the process—to date the city has no composting pick-up service.

Medina’s answer: Follow the model of other cities, in particular the Pedal People in Northampton, Massachusetts, to create a pedal-powered compost curbside collection service.

Click here for details of his pilot proposal, which envisions a core of 100 families, each paying eight dollars a week for the service.

How It Will Work

First you register online for $20, which will buy you this 2.4 gallon bucket.  (If you have a similar closed bucket you can use your own.) When you finish subscribing to the program, you get your $20 back, he said.

You fill it with your kitchen stuff like vegetable scraps. Medina will list online, in a brochure, and on the buckets what may and may not go into the bucket. Compmosting breaks down organic material into rich soil. Composters avoid dairy or meat, which take longer to decompose and which attract animals.

He’ll weigh the bucket to determine and to control the volume at the curbside. Then he’ll dump your garbage into one of six big rubber bins he’ll haul behind on his bike-pulled trailer. He’ll leave you your little bucket to wash yourself. Some larger programs like one in Boston take the dirty bucket and replace it with a clean bucket, in the style of old milk-truck deliveries. That would be wasteful for his New Haven pilot, in Medina’s view.

Nobody quite knows how much the average family in New Haven will put into the 2.4 gallon bucket. That’s part of the pilot: to weight, to find out the pattern.

After the pick-up rounds, the garbage will end up the New Haven Farms site near Phoenix Press on James Street (pictured) where it will be recycled over a 14 to 20-day period, said Medina.

The grant will allow him to add three more composting bins to the three the site now has.“One hundred households will fill one [composting] bin per week,” Medina said. In total, 28.8 tons of food waste would be processed during the pilot year, he estimated.

When it’s ripened and all eaten up and processed naturally by the bacteria and the fungi, it should produce high-quality compost like like this (pictured), which New Haven Farms recently purchased from a farm in Fairfield, Medina said.

“That won’t go to Bridgeport for incineration, and the city doesn’t have to deal with” it, he added.

Medina said that the city’s health department has told him no permit is required for the business to proceed “as long as you don’t create a nuisance.”

The haul of the first year should provide 30 to 60 percent of the composting needs of New Haven Farms, he said, and create at least two jobs at $15 or so per hour, and decrease New Haven’s carbon footprint.

That’s in part because according to New Haven Farms website, nationally nearly 40 percent of all domestic and restaurant food is not consumed and is thrown away without reuse.

The other projects showcased at Green Drinks included a Project Storefronts sponsored Urban Seed, a hydroponics business incubator in Westville; ActualFood, which proposes online fresh-food purchase and delivery to low-income and “food desert” neighbothoods; and Sherill Baldwin’s EcoWorks, Inc , a group that seeks to find a building and a boutique where it will “upcycle” industrial and business scrap and connect it to artists, craftspeople and teachers throughout Connecticut. All are looking for funders and volunteers.

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posted by: HewNaven on April 18, 2014  4:38pm

Medina is a great man, with a great plan! Please support him, if you can!

posted by: mm on April 18, 2014  4:41pm

In January 1954 my parents moved into a brand new house in Westville, it was their first house and I was raised there.  Outside the back door was aconcrete recepticle sunk in the garden with a green metal lid. All food garbage had to be deposited there. No food garbage could be put into the garbage cans emptied by the city twice each week.  The food waste was picked up each week by a contractor for the city. We were told that it was sold to a pig farmer who used it for slop.  There is nothing new about picking up food garbage in New Haven, except that this proposal is small scale and expects the resident to pay for the service.

posted by: Paul Wessel on April 18, 2014  4:48pm

I’m in. Someone should set up a Kickstarter-like sign up for this.

posted by: poetbum on April 18, 2014  6:54pm

This is great and the people involved should be commended.  A few comments:
1)  I hope it is clear to readers that the payment is just a deposit on the bucket, not a charge for service.
2) I wish there were pictures of the composting device; turning scraps into soil in 14 days is pretty good, if true.
3)  The City of North Haven has free leaf compost available to residents outside the gate of its transfer station.  Does New Haven do something similar?  They should.  Leaf compost is awesome.

posted by: Steve Werlin on April 18, 2014  8:38pm

We had curbside compost pickup where we lived before moving to New Haven—it’s great, and long overdue here.  I’m a little skeptical about the mode of transportation for this program though.  Sounds like a heavy load to bike around town (especially at $15/hour).

posted by: Bradley on April 19, 2014  5:03pm

Poetbum, unless I misheard Domingo at Greendrinks, there will in fact be an on-going charge for the service. His challenge will come from the fact that the people who can most readily afford the service are also likely to have backyards where they can compost on their own. While there are well-off renters in town, I don’t know whether the management of buildings such as 360 State will be supportive of this initiative. But I wish him luck in any case.

posted by: nhstudent4ever on April 20, 2014  10:05am

I like the idea, but since they are already paying to buy compost from other towns, why not pick up the compost for free to start, perhaps in areas that don’t have space and time to compost on their own.

The idea is great, but I probably wouldn’t pay that much for a composting service when I could pretty easily compost on my own. Use the money they are currently using to buy compost from other towns to pay workers and help educate residents at the same time!