A new Missoula business offers curbside compost pickup

Sean Doty with his big green Chevy.

Sean Doty just bought a big green '68 Chevy truck from a landscaper. The bed rails are so high that he's going to need a ladder to get over them. That's good, because Doty is going to need the capacity to haul Missoula's compostables. He's just launched Missoula Compost Collection, where, for $15 a month, Missoulians can sign up for a weekly compost pickup that will allow them to reduce the amount of organic matter they send to the landfill—without having to start their own backyard piles or haul it away themselves.

Doty went through the Environmental Studies program at the University of Montana and spent a year working for the city as a Montana Energy Corps member. He co-authored the city's zero-waste policy and, in the process, became intimately familiar with the city's needs.

"There was a lot of public input that said [people wanted] curbside compost pickup, and we found out that education and access were two of the things lacking in Missoula," Doty says. "People didn't know the proper way to recycle and compost." And there was no citywide compost collection service.

On a city-business trip to Fort Collins, Colo., to see how a community of a similar size diverts recyclable and organic waste from landfills, Doty learned of a private business that was doing home compost pickup. Inspired in part by its example, he launched his business in September.

In addition to the monthly service, customers can sign up for memberships, which include perks like free Christmas tree pickups after the holidays and extra lawn waste pickups. Doty says the membership fees will help fund his efforts to provide composting to local nonprofits. From Oct. 19 to Nov. 3, Doty will donate 10 percent of earnings from new sign-ups to Home ReSource.

Missoula's zero-waste plan includes multiple economic arguments for diverting waste, including the value of recyclables sent to the landfill. Another is the number of jobs that utilizing multiple waste streams provides. If, in addition to waste disposal, there's also a business that dismantles buildings into reusable components (like ReStore's deconstruction business), one that recycles electronics (like Oreo's Refining) and one that picks up compost, that's three more businesses with employees. The city estimates that diverting 75 percent of Missoula's waste could result in 800 new jobs.

For now, Missoula Compost Collection is just Doty and his girlfriend Jenny Schuberg, a physician assistant. They spend Saturday mornings at the Clark Fork Market talking to shoppers about how they can take home one of the bright green 10-gallon buckets stacked in front of their booth. Schuberg says she's a volunteer, for the time being. "And the dog, the dog helps out," she says. "He likes to divert waste from our trash cans."

Customers will get a card telling them what they can and can't compost—no meat, no dairy. Eggshells and coffee filters are fine. Once Doty takes delivery of the larger 64-gallon bins, he hopes to offer residential yard waste pickup and expand to commercial accounts. He'll be taking his loads to Garden City Compost and paying the city like any private customer would, then buying compost back from them to deliver to customers who opt for delivery to their homes.

The city is divided into different pickup areas for each day of the week, and the pickup and delivery area encompasses most everything within city limits and some outlying areas. "We'd like to include Lolo," Doty says. "We'd need about 10 customers out there to make the service pay for itself."

Last Saturday, while the homecoming parade continued on Higgins above the market, a fairly constant stream of shoppers stopped by the Missoula Compost booth. Some handed over checks on the spot. All expressed enthusiasm at the idea of curbside compost pickup. Doty and Schuberg had suggested that compost might not be an especially exciting subject for a reporter, but those Missoula residents were plenty excited. Especially interested in pickup were Missoulians who live in apartments and condos, an increasing segment of the population that lacks at-home composting options. "We're trying to make it more accessible to renters that can't put a compost pile in their yard," Doty says.

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