'Mitigating climate change': Ames startup diverts food waste to compost with at-home pickup

Ronna Faaborg
Ames Tribune
Carissa Moyna dumps the contents of a customer's food waste container into the receptacle at Ames' Resource Recovery Plant as Andrew Frank puts away the scale they used to weight the buckets.

Carissa Moyna has earned the nickname Compost Queen for her passion for turning food and organic waste into a material to create healthier soil. Now she and her business partner Andrew Frank have turned their enthusiasm for compost into a business.

Core Living Compost is a recent startup, launched June 1. The food waste pickup service covers all of Ames and helps divert food refuse from the stream of garbage handled at the Ames Resource Recovery Plant.

The business was co-founded by Moyna, a recent Iowa State grad with an MBA and civil engineering degree, and Frank, a computer engineering student at Iowa State who shares Moyna’s enthusiasm for compost.

Core Living Compost co-founders Carissa Moyna picks up a food waste container from an Ames customer's front door and replaces it with a clean container.

Customers can sign up for weekly or biweekly pickup of their food and organic waste, at a cost of $35 or $25 per month, respectively. Then they receive a green 4-gallon container with a lid and a compostable liner to store their food waste until pick-up day, when Moyna and Frank pick it up and replace it with an empty, clean container.

“We’ll pick them up from people’s doorsteps and bring them to the Food Waste Diversion Program that’s run by the Resource Recovery Center, and then it gets diverted to a compost facility in Eddyville,” Frank said. “Our goal is to make access to composting more convenient for people.”

Part of the value Core Living Compost offers, Moyna said, is that they clean the buckets, so customers have a fresh, sanitized container each week or biweekly, depending on their account.

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The lids of Core Living Compost's food waste buckets have lists of the items accepted and not accepted.

Core Living Compost handles some of the yucky tasks of composting

It’s not a glamorous process. There are flies at the dumpster and some not-so-pleasant odors there and in the buckets.

“It takes a special someone to want to clean these buckets that have food waste that’s been stored in there for a week or two weeks,” Moyna said with a laugh.

The compostable liners help keep the containers clean-ish, but true to their name, they start breaking down a little before they make it to the dumpster.

Core Living Compost is collaborating with the city of Ames as the municipality tries to keep organic material out of the system.

Core Living Compost co-founders Andrew Frank and Carissa Moyna weigh the containers of food waste they collected Monday morning before disposing of the compostable material in Ames' Resource Recovery Plant's food waste receptacle.

“The city has had this food waste diversion program, which is now free for people to participate in,” Moyna said.

It’s a free program, but not everyone wants to put their old food in their car and haul it to the receptacle full of other biodegrading food – and the flies that go with it.

Her business with Frank helps make it more convenient for people to participate in food waste diversion.

Moyna met Bill Schmitt, Resource Recovery Plant superintendent, after she founded the Compost Team at Iowa State her sophomore year.

“I had asked Bill what he thought about this business idea, and he said, ‘Wow, what you’re doing is a great idea. We’d love to help you out any way we can,’” Moyna said.

“They really helped us kickstart as far as our buckets go and the compost liners,” she added. “They donated the first 50 to really help us get going and to reach the community easier.”

The city is also helping Core Living Compost get the word out by sharing information on the Resource Recovery Plant’s website.

Andrew Frank dumps the contents of a customer's food waste container into the receptacle at Ames' Resource Recovery Plant as Carissa Moyna gets another bucket ready. The Food Waste Diversion program at the recovery plant keeps compostable material out of the landfill.

“They’ve helped us out, but we are our own business and are separate from the government entity,” Moyna added.

The food waste diversion program, in general, is beneficial for the city, Frank said, because trash is burned by the power plant to generate electricity.

“Organic waste is not really combustible, so it messes up their efficiency,” he said. “Getting that material out of there is really good for them.”

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Ames burns garbage for fuel, but not all waste is burnable

Ames’ Resource Recovery Plant started in 1975 and was the first city-owned facility in the United States that burned waste to create energy, according to the plant’s website.

Garbage comes to the plant from Ames and other Story County communities. The plant separates reusable metals and sells it for recycling. The rest of the material is shredded. The burnable portion is used at the power plant. The material that can’t be burned is sent to a landfill.

A few years ago, someone asked Moyna why it matters if food decomposes in a compost pile rather than in a landfill.

“I had an internal panic moment, but it was such a good question,” she said. “It’s an important distinction. When food waste goes into a landfill, it’s covered up with other layers of trash and there’s no oxygen that’s allowed to get into the pile.

“It undergoes an anaerobic process, and the result is the creation of methane, which is one of the lesser-known greenhouse gases.”

When food waste goes into a compost pile, it does create a minimal amount of carbon dioxide compared to the methane gas created at a landfill, she said.

“By diverting your food waste to compost rather than a landfill, you’re mitigating climate change as far as greenhouse gases go,” Moyna said.

Core Living Compost's food waste containers fill the trunk of the car co-founders Carissa Moyna and Andrew Frank use for their business.

Composting is better for the air, good for the soil

As well as decreasing the negatives, composting creates many positives, she said.

“When compost goes into the soil, it becomes a soil amendment,” Moyna said. “The compost helps the soil to better absorb water as well as nutrients. So if you apply fertilizer, the soil is able to become healthier faster than it could without the compost. It helps water and fertilizer to be more effective.”

Moyna saw firsthand the positive difference that can happen when people divert their food waste to compost.

When Moyna started the Compost Team at Iowa State, no one came to the first meeting. It was disappointing, but she didn’t let it stop her.

“It was very humbling, but now to see how it’s grown and the impact that we’ve made on campus is amazing,” she said. “It just made so much sense to me from an environmental standpoint and an economic standpoint. Compost is really up-and-coming and is trending for cities so I see a big opportunity for it.”

A project that encouraged composting among 120 residents at Frederiksen Court, an apartment complex on campus, generated 850 pounds of compost.

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Core Living Compost co-founders Carissa Moyna and Andrew Frank pose by their car after picking up a food waste container from the home of one of their customers.

Frank and Moyna call their customers the Core Community, and it’s a group they want to see grow.

Composting services are gaining traction elsewhere in Iowa, too, like The Compost Ninja, a Cedar Rapids-based organization that does something similar to Core Living Compost and even serves businesses in the Des Moines area.

So far, the Core Living Compost has a couple dozen customers, including Iowa State President Wendy Wintersteen, Moyna said. The goal is to grow to connect all Ames households to composting and also to be able to include businesses in the Core Community. There is a survey on the website for businesses to indicate their interest.

Customers can sign up for service via the company’s website, corelivingcompost.com.