A Green Business Network Member Spotlight
We recently chatted with KC Can Compost’s Executive Director, Kristan Chamberlain, to learn more about this new company helping commercial clients compost. Keep reading to learn more about the unique way it’s combining environmental stewardship with social enterprise and how it’s tackling the barriers to composting.
Since fully launching KC Can Compost, an organic waste hauler serving businesses in the Kansas City area, almost a year ago, Executive Director Kristan Chamberlain says she’s been encouraged by the positive response.
“I thought it was going to be a battle. I thought we were going to be pounding on doors,” says Chamberlain. “But the response has blown me away – the interest and need for education. There’s a tremendous desire by companies, schools and other organizations to want to be educated [about composting] and to want to participate. I was nervous that the market wasn’t quite there, but really, in the time we’ve started this, I think it’s tipped.”
Success has come in large part due to the amount of time they spent studying best practices and piloting the service. Chamberlain says they did two years of research before launching their concept officially in May 2019.
“We spent time looking to see what’s working in other cities and to identify potential barriers. We found that ease and cleanliness were the two most important things to people, and so that’s what we’ve focused on addressing,” says Chamberlain.
To provide easy storage of organic waste until pickup, they offer a variety of different container sizes with corresponding liners to fit different client needs. Sixty-four gallon, 35-gallon, 5-gallon and 1-gallon options are available.
“The misconception that composting has to be smelly or messy is one we’ve tackled head on. Our system is really clean – the containers are leakproof, and when used with the liners and tied off, some businesses are keeping their carts inside and aren’t having an issue.”
The truck used for pickup and hauling – a bright orange color that Chamberlain hopes will become synonymous with organics for people in much the same way Ripple Glass has made purple the identifier for glass recycling – are also leakproof.
Chamberlain says the process of setting up service is also simple and tailored to meet each company’s specific needs.
“The first thing we do is set up a waste assessment where we go in and look at their space, we estimate the volume of their waste, and then we create a unique system for that entity – because they are all different. We create a service agreement for them, set up their route, and then it essentially works like their regular trash collection.”
Chamberlain says businesses concerned about the additional space and cost of adding a composting pickup service soon realize that it’s simply redirecting where the waste they’re already storing
“You’re often not adding more containers to your kitchen; you’re just swapping them out. Most of the time, businesses can get rid of one of their regular trash cans. And some of our clients – like the Nelson-Atkins Museum, for example – have said they’ve completely eliminated an entire trash dumpster a week, which helps offset the cost,” explains Chamberlain.
Because composting correctly is critical to the program working, KC Can Compost requires every organization and its employees go through a training – both to eliminate contamination and to understand the importance of keeping organic waste out of the landfill.
“We do this so that there’s buy-in, and when someone drops in a metal fork, they know they need to reach in and get it. We’re also producing videos for places with high turnover, so they have it available and it’s easy for them with new onboarding of employees.”
Helping the environment isn’t the only mission for KC Can Compost. KC Can partners with local social organizations, like Shelter KC, which helped conceive the idea for this enterprise, to employ once homeless or incarcerated men and women, providing them with a living wage and the opportunity to grow job skills in the green industry.
“KC Can was created as a social and environmental enterprise. We’re trying to provide jobs and internships to people recovering from homelessness and possibly addiction or incarceration,” says Chamberlain.
“We want to provide a therapeutic work environment for them that’s supportive and that the community supports – it’s a realistic step-up program. If someone needs to begin working just two hours a week for the first two months, we give them an internship opportunity.”
“They need opportunities to fail and get back up again. We work with them to develop their soft skills and gradually increase their capacity for work. And the people that we work with love that they are doing something for the community and making a valuable contribution,” Chamberlain says.
What’s her ultimate vision for KC Can Compost?
“We want to keep providing dignified, meaningful jobs to people while helping to create a community-wide, responsible and reliable system for composting that’s easy for Kansas Citians to identify and use whether they are at the park, a festival or at a business – wherever they are – people know what to do with their organic waste, and we’ve helped create a positive stream for that.”
Interested in a free waste analysis from KC Can Compost? Visit their website at www.kccancompost.com.