Michelle Bradley says she used to be one of those people who would toss her food in the trash and forget about it. After all, once the garbage truck hauls away the trash, she shouldn’t have to worry about what happens next, right?
Growing up in New York City, Bradley associated food waste with trash and the rodents and bugs it attracted. So, when her husband started teaching composting at his school and wanted to try it out at home, she was focused more on the creepy crawlies it might attract instead of the environmental benefits.
“I couldn’t see why anyone would want to recycle their food scraps,” Bradley recalls.
Today, Bradley’s opinion on composting has changed. So much so, she’s made composting her life’s work. What started as a school project has now turned into a family company—Java’s Compost—dedicated to educating people in north and central New Jersey about the benefits of composting and providing services to help people compost at home.
“As we started composting on our own, we realized that more than half of our waste was food scraps,” Bradley says. “We thought, if we can see the value [in composting], then maybe others are interested, so we started doing collections for our neighborhood.”
While composting is not a new concept, over the past few decades environmental movements have helped people become more aware of the benefits. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, between 30 and 40 percent of the country’s total food supply goes uneaten and is discarded at some point. That’s 133 billion pounds of food loss that ends up in landfills. Once in the landfill, the food rots away, emitting methane—a greenhouse gas that helps trap the sun’s heat and warm the Earth, contributing to climate change. Composting allows microorganisms to break down the organic matter in your food scraps and turn it into nutrients that can help fertilize soil for future plants.
“Composting is very rewarding,” says Bradley. “It’s a tangible, easy action that anyone can do. As your trash output decreases, people feel encouraged and empowered that they are actually making a difference in caring for our planet.”
One hindrance, however, is accessibility to composting, especially in city environments. Bradley says that if you have the backyard space and the interest to compost on your own, it just requires some time and a willingness to learn the basics. But for those who live in apartments without extra space, finding a way to compost can be more of a challenge.
That’s how Bradley and her husband came up with their idea for Java’s Compost—by offering pickup services for residents, as well as education on how to successfully compost on your own, Java’s Compost makes it easy to recycle your food waste. Since the business started two years ago, it has grown from a small neighborhood pick-up service to a thriving business in 17 towns across New Jersey. How it works is that residents sign up for weekly or every other week pick-ups and receive a 5-gallon compost bucket with a lid. Pick-up days are designated according to Java’s Compost’s schedule—just leave the full bucket on your doorstep on your pick-up day and time, and Java’s Compost takes care of the rest. In the spring, Java’s Compost provides a 5-gallon bucket of finished compost to use in your garden, or to donate to a partner urban farm. Customers also receive a login to Java’s Compost website, where you can see how much food waste you compost. Java’s Compost estimates its customers have diverted 350,000 pounds of food waste so far.
We measure our success in several ways but at the top of the list is how much we’re growing and how satisfied people are with our service. Providing a high level of customer service to our community is one of the most important parts of our business and one of the reasons why we have been able to be so successful. Each new customer, means more food waste being redirected from landfills and incinerators which increasing our impact on the environment in a positive way,” Bradley explains.
Efforts like Java’s Compost to make composting easier are popping up everywhere, too. In cities like Cambridge, Mass., curbside compost pickup is part of a citywide effort alongside recycling ad trash. In Queens, N.Y., when curbside compost pickup was halted during COVID-19 lockdowns, a rescue pug and his owner stepped up to collect compost throughout the neighborhood. And in Washington, D.C., the Institute for Local Self Reliance provides trainings to help empower communities to create compost programs in their area. Chances are, even if you don’t live in New Jersey, a business near you is ready to pick up your food scraps, Bradley says.
“I’d suggest first starting with Google,” Bradley says. “Even though this isn’t a huge industry, there are a bunch of services like us in the U.S. You can also learn how to compost in the backyard with tumblers, open piles, or Bakashi kits depending on the space you have.”
“Composting is one of those things you feel good about doing, and it has a big impact,” Bradley adds. “We try to make it even easier for people to compost—just click a few buttons and you’re composting in a week.”