Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, March 23, 2018

Composting company grows in Chattanooga

Atlas Organics, a composting company and hauler headquartered in Roebuck, South Carolina, recently expanded to Chattanooga offering compost pick up services and related equipment to residential and commercial customers.

For $24 a month, participants receive two 5-gallon collection pails with a compostable liner to fill up weekly with vegetable scraps, banana peels, eggshells, coffee grounds and other compostable waste, and the company then collects the pails from the participant’s homes or businesses and returns 10 gallons of finished compost each month.

Leslie Rodgers, director of education and business development at Atlas Organics, says business in Chattanooga so far has been “consistent and steady, like a slow snowball.”

The Herald spoke with Rodgers about growing awareness about composting and food waste, and how it’s fueling the company’s business model.

“We are spreading out, reaching our arms out to areas that want this kind of choice,” Rodgers says. “We are filling a need that already exists. Backyard composting is something a lot of people want to do, but many feel like they are not that good at it. These are the kind of people who are searching for what we do”

Can you explain your mission and why you decided to expand to Chattanooga?

“We have a dual mission of diverting organic matter from the landfill and regenerating the soil and feeding the earth. Organic matter is all things we can compost – all food and paper. We want to return waste to the earth, feed the earth and create a regenerative state in the soil because the soil is what sustains us.

“We are a private company and a social enterprise. Our business model is set up as a full service, integrated composting company. We are a hauler. We are just like your garbage company; we are just specific about the types of garbage that go in our bins. Our customers’ and partners’ job is to fill bins or buckets. You fill the bins and we handle it from here.

“We are also a processor. We bring the waste to our own facility and put it through the composting process ourselves and then sell that finished product out into the landscaping and agriculture market. There are quite a few farms in the Southeast that are starting to embrace regenerative soil and the importance of returning that material back to the soil.

It’s nature’s way of giving the next generation of plants everything it needs.”

Can you explain composting in an easy-to-grasp way? Why is it important?

“Composting is like the positive enzymes in your digestive system. The microorganisms come and break down the organic matter in the composting process. When you are applying compost to your garden beds or farm you’re applying something that’s going to regenerate. It’s going to keep breaking down.

“If you add fertilizer to your plants, there’s a point at which the fertilizer is done, it’s finished. Compost is the exact opposite. It keeps breaking down, and it keeps growing. It’s regenerative.”

How do you reach your customers? How do you convince them that composting is the way to go?

“I spend a lot of my time on awareness, education and advocacy. It’s really important in our business. If you don’t understand the natural life cycle of growing things and plants, it’s hard to understand all of this. You have to feed the soil, you can’t just keep taking from it, but a lot of people don’t know this.

“Compost, frankly, is not a whole lot different than plastic bottle recycling or paper recycling. I think of composting as just the next wave of the recycling movement.

“Food waste is the No. 1 thing thrown away by people, which is still not something widely known. We want it out of the landfill. Food waste is such an easy thing to address. You just need the infrastructure, the location and place to allow it to break down. It’s not like we are sending plastic to China and we have to wait for them to break it down and send it back to us.

“The investment into putting food through the decomposition process is like shredding paper and having it made into boxes. It’s something you can address in your own community in a feasible way. It makes so much sense.”

What’s your biggest challenge?

“One huge barrier to the growth of composting programs is that landfill age tipping fees are so cheap here in the South. Look at the tipping fees across the country and where composting has really taken off – places like New York, Seattle, San Francisco – the expense of a landfill is much higher.

People are forced to minimize their garbage in these places if they want to minimize their bill. We have lots of land here in the South so our culture has evolved somewhat differently.”

Do you expect more legislative action at some point to address issues surrounding food waste?

“I definitely think so, especially in urban hubs that are growing fast. There are a lot of people moving to cities [in the South such as Nashville, Chattanooga and Knoxville] who are exposed to what is possible because they lived places where these services were available. That is driving a lot of this movement and putting pressure on some cities and states to provide these services.”