A Green Business Network Member Spotlight
Get to know fellow Green Business Network member Meredith McAllister. We recently spoke with her to learn more about her successful journey to launch a curbside compost collection service three and half years ago, how the company is growing, and what it has been like to operate a small business during a pandemic.
For Green Business Network member Meredith McAllister, she remembers always being interested in environmental issues, particularly food waste and how food systems work.
“With that, I’ve always focused on how we can take smaller steps that add up. It’s easy to become so overwhelmed with climate change and as a whole the things we are doing wrong, so I have to take a step back and focus on the small things I can do. That’s always appealed to me more than trying to take everything on at once,” says McAllister.
Three and half years ago, she took one of those simple steps – composting – and helped make it more accessible to the Kansas City community.
McAllister co-owns Compost Collective KC, a residential curbside food waste collection company serving most of the Kansas City metropolitan region. She started the business with her husband after moving back to the Kansas City area from Boston.
“We subscribed to a compost service in Boston, and when we moved back, we couldn’t find anything similar. I started thinking about how successful it could be here. Kansas City is progressive, and people want to make a difference.”
McAllister says it was some time before they acted as corporate jobs and daily life took center stage, but she never gave up on the idea.
“One day we finally said ‘Let’s just put something out on Next Door. See if this is anything someone would even be interested in.’ We began to look more closely at what it would look like as a pilot project,” says McAllister.
The feedback was positive.
“Soon after doing that, we sold our Honda Fit, bought an old truck, and started picking up compost from our first clients every Friday. We started with 20 customers and grew slowly from there,” she says.
McAllister says she learned so much in those first few months launching a new company and is thankful that business grew steadily but slowly, allowing them time to scale properly without feeling too overwhelmed.
“We were extraordinarily lucky. Of course, we hit our share of times with major learning curves. We hit stress points and had to add staff to keep up. Every day was something new, and as a small business owner, I found that you quickly learn to expect the unexpected, like figuring out what to do on a windy day when all the buckets have blown away. You know, things you don’t think about until it happens.”
McAllister says she’s proud of where the women-owned-and-operated company stands today. She’s a majority owner and runs the company along with her director of operations, Cocoa Castle, who started as Compost Collective KC’s first employee after only six months into operation.
She also says that running a small business during a pandemic has been interesting, but that they have been lucky and being considered an essential service helped.
“Our structure hasn’t changed, but you have to be nimble. We’ve had to make some changes, like now were using super strong disinfectant for our bins versus a natural botanical. Early in the summer, we had an exposure risk with a few degrees of separation, and at that point, there wasn’t a template on how to navigate everything. We didn’t know if staff needed to get tested or not and we suspended service for a short time. We found that you just have to trust your gut and hope your customers understand you’re doing what you think is the right thing,” says McAllister.
In spite of the pandemic, they’ve found ways to keep their business growing. They recently launched a new bin swap program as a way for customers to compost without subscribing to their curbside service. For a one-time $10 fee, customers can purchase a bin from one of several local business partner locations (view the list here) to take home and fill at their own pace. When the bin is full, they can return the bin to a swap location for a clean one, paying a $6 “swap” fee.
“The bin swap makes composting accessible to even more people. It can be a great solution if you travel a lot, live by yourself, or don’t cook very much, and maybe don’t need a regular composting service. We’ve found that home composters really love it, too. They’ll use the bin swap to compost their meat and dairy scraps to keep their own home compost really clean.”
Another current project is growing their social media content to provide education and tips on reducing food waste.
“We understand that everyone is not going to be ready to compost and pay for our business. So we also think it’s really important to provide education and awareness on how you can manage food waste by reducing it to start through things like proper food storage, meal planning, etc.”
McAllister jokingly admits that she’s struggled herself to always reduce food waste.
“I used to hate eating leftovers, something my husband used to criticize me for not doing. I’ve definitely struggled with it, but it’s something I’ve overcome. I’ll eat leftovers now.”
It’s been very important to McAllister to look for ways in which the business can operate as sustainably as possible, too.
“We have to be careful that we don’t let being a green business provide a crutch. We’re already doing a green service, but we fully understand that we are driving trucks all over the metro. There are a lot of steps we’ve taken to make sure we’re being as efficient as possible.”
McAllister says they utilize custom software that creates efficient routes and eliminates the need for paper. They’ve also partnered with KC Can Compost, another compost collector serving primarily commercial clients, to share warehouse space for collection and transporting food waste to Missouri Organic Recycling in one combined trip.
She says she’s found also value in being a part of the Green Business Network as a member to develop new relationships and learn about what other businesses are doing for sustainability in the community. “Bridging The Gap in general is one of the main environmental groups in KC, and so many key environmental companies are part of the GBN. It’s sort of the gold standard – you have to join GBN. Beyond how legitimate it is, the programs are so useful.”