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Eartha Limited Renews Focus on Food Waste, Grows Rapidly

Walker Evans Walker Evans Eartha Limited Renews Focus on Food Waste, Grows Rapidly
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Eartha staff from (l to r): Kevin Kennedy, Route Manager; Lelia Cady, Business Development; Harold LaRue, General Manager; Elizabeth Lessner, Owner/Operator.

Eartha Limited launched in 2009 as a startup business with a noble purpose: divert local food waste from the county landfill and become a premiere resource for composting and waste management consulting. Immediate challenges delayed some of the company’s plans as the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO) had existing policies in place that prevented any private entity from diverting food scraps from landfill disposal.

It took over a year of board meetings and paperwork, but Eartha helped to get those policies changed and became the first company in Columbus allowed to operate a food scrap recycling business.

In 2013, a renewed focus on waste hauling brings Eartha back to its roots, servicing local restaurants and commercial kitchens, which include a few new larger accounts such as White Castle and Nationwide Arena.

We spoke recently with Eartha Owner/Operator Elizabeth Lessner and Business Development Consultant Lelia Cady to find out more.

Walker Evans: First, can you tell us a bit about the renewed focus of Eartha on food waste hauling and the changes to other services — such as the selling compostable kitchenware?

Elizabeth Lessner: We are still selling compostables, however, we want to focus on reducing their use. Reduce, reuse and if all else fails: recycle. So we are working to promote use of more real glassware, plates, stemware and silverware for catered events and in all foodservice operations. In the 1970s & 1980s, Americans got into the bad habit of buying paper plates and other disposable products and we got hooked on them. Our hope is we can go back to using items that can be reused again and again.

Another important thing to note is that just because an event might use compostable goods (and we commend them for their efforts), those goods still might be ending up in the landfill if they’re not being composted. So while it’s a better product than throwing styrofoam into the landfill, it’s still something we wish to avoid. If you buy a coffee in a compostable cup but then toss it in with the regular garbage, it doesn’t serve much purpose towards helping our landfill.

WE: Gotcha. So it sounds like it’s still back to basics then with food waste hauling though?

Lelia Cady: Eartha’s core goal, its raison d’être, is landfill diversion. Eartha came into existence to serve the restaurant and food service industry because Columbus businesses needed an alternative to landfilling their food waste, not many restaurants and corporate cafeterias have space and resources to compost, it isn’t practical. So food waste diversion will always be an important core function for Eartha, but we do much more than haul organics.

Members of Eartha’s customizable consulting team have experience in all aspects of sustainability consulting including energy, water, waste reduction, purchasing policies, building operations, and the LEED process. Collectively, Eartha brings years of experience in sustainability planning, sustainable business practices, green building consulting, and environmental planning. We believe there’s profitability through sustainability and that we can help restaurants, schools, institutions and businesses make sustainable business practices affordable.

Restaurants or businesses that aren’t sure where to start can call us and we’ll help develop a plan that works for them.

WE: I’ve heard a few details myself, but can you tell our readers a bit more about your new pilot program with White Castle?

EL: First, White Castle is just a really terrific community partner in a lot of ways, it’s been so much fun for us to work with this group because their roots go back so far in Columbus history and they’ve contributed so much locally and to their industry. Their staff are all wonderful, from the cooks in the kitchen to the folks at headquarters. People don’t always think of the iconic fast food castle as being at the forefront of innovation, however White Castle is the first fast food chain in the city to start composting their food scraps. Shannon Tolliver has been working for White Castle in their sustainability efforts for the past few years and she’s worked with Eartha to facilitate this pilot program.

LC: Personally I’m a longtime White Castle fan, Columbus was very fortunate to bring Castle corporate HQ here in 1934, the company’s story is one of the greats in American ingenuity and the company is still family owned and privately held.

EL: For the pilot, we took six White Castle stores and began to haul their food waste, we’re hoping to add more stores soon but we wanted to keep it manageable for the pilot. We were expecting this might be a difficult transition for some, there’s a lot of long-time workers at White Castle and change can be hard in a kitchen. Turns out, they love it, it was the easiest transition in the world. They’ve embraced the program and are doing a terrific job diverting tons and tons of heavy food waste from our landfill every single week. Fun fact: their little hamburger boxes are 100% compostable!

We take White Castle’s food scraps to Ohio Mulch who turns the scraps into a really wonderful new product called Green Envy. Green Envy is an organic and nutrient rich compost product that is used to grow more veggies, fruits or flowers in. White Castle will be purchasing the Green Envy to use in their landscaping around their buildings this spring. It’s a super way to complete the circle.

WE: Lelia, you mentioned to me recently that you’ve got quite a few new accounts lined up for new food waste recycling services. Can you guys tell us about some of those new partnerships?

EL: We recently streamlined and lowered pricing so we could get more restaurants on board with diverting food scraps from the landfill. For only $12, a business will get a 64 gallon barrel that holds up to 400 pounds of food scraps (only $10 for each additional can). When you fill up the can, we’ll haul away your scraps to one of our compost partners, it’s that easy. Eartha is cheaper than any waste hauler and your food scraps are staying out of the landfill.

LC: Our value-added service includes educating kitchen staff and others to assure workers understand why they’re separating food waste, where it goes. We find that if kitchen staff is empowered with information we achieve greater compliance.

EL: Many great businesses that have already been composting on their own for a long time (Explorer’s Club, Made-from-Scratch Catering, Pattycake and Two Caterers) have signed on with Eartha because we make it easy to divert the scraps so they can focus on their businesses. Maintaining a compost bin is hard, especially if you have a business to run. We also cater to other businesses that might not be traditional restaurants or foodservice operations. Some good examples are the cafe at CCAD, the cafe at Battelle and another facility up at Greif.

LC: Event planners and catering companies are reporting a sharp increase in requests for zero waste, and brides are asking for green weddings. Along with outdoor festivals, Eartha has developed a niche market to service client desires, offering a menu of services to meet sustainability goals for events large and small.

WE: Anything else you’d like to share as it relates to new growth or the future of the business?

EL: We do hope at some point to create what we call our own ‘dirt farm.’ We’d like to work to build our own compost facility. We had a meeting with Local Matters last week to discuss ways in which Eartha’s compost could one day be used in neighborhood community gardens, urban gardens or to help support farmers in and around Central Ohio. Projects like this are inspiring and really fun to work on and dream about.

Another project I’m working on personally, is getting more kitchen gardens going in our area restaurants. As most restaurants have fluorescent bulbs in their kitchens, these are prime spots to grow their own herbs. We have seen restaurants doing urban gardens and roof gardens and all sorts of outdoor gardens but when February sets in, there’s not much action out there. I love the idea of our cooks growing their own herb gardens in their restaurants all year round.

We’ve watched the city evolve and get more environmentally conscious and with that, our vision is constantly shifting. Eartha is a great company because it’s constantly evolving with the needs of Central Ohioans wishing to live more sustainable and earth-conscious lives.

More information can be found online at www.earthalimited.com.

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25 Responses to Eartha Limited Renews Focus on Food Waste, Grows Rapidly

  1. Manatee March 14, 2013 5:40 pm at 5:40 pm

    Amazing. Love all of these guys. This is so huge for Columbus, BRAVO!!!!

  2. billbix March 15, 2013 2:36 am at 2:36 am

    It is good to see. When I was in Seattle they had curbside collection of food waste. Columbus will eventually catch up.

  3. leftovers March 15, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am

    Several of the restaurants I worked for back in the day used to compost their food waste. The good news is I think it isn’t that uncommon.

  4. OHIOBornAndRaised March 15, 2013 5:27 pm at 5:27 pm


  5. sunriseblues March 15, 2013 8:21 pm at 8:21 pm

    Is this where I sign up for spin class?

  6. bucki12 March 16, 2013 11:51 am at 11:51 am

    ^ This seems to have gotten weird.

    On another note, did Mike Minnix leave? He was always referred to as the face, the brains and the brawn behind the operation. He seemed a very vocal advocate of Eartha.

  7. DavidF
    DavidF March 16, 2013 5:48 pm at 5:48 pm

    Weird is right. Sign up for an account just make a negative comment and this is the best you can do? Pick a random page of the Wonderland thread and get some troll schooling.

    Anyway, awesome news for Eartha.

  8. Manatee March 16, 2013 6:00 pm at 6:00 pm

    You know you’re doin’ something right in Columbutron when people start bitching!

    Just recycle the bitching into more awesome stuff. The circle of life.

  9. sunriseblues March 16, 2013 7:34 pm at 7:34 pm

    Yay Columbus! Everything is amazeballs! Right?

  10. Manatee March 16, 2013 7:45 pm at 7:45 pm

    No, actually I don’t live in Columbus anymore. I’m a pretty discriminating person. I don’t think everything there is amazeballs. But this is.

  11. sunriseblues March 16, 2013 7:53 pm at 7:53 pm

    Well, then maybe your distance doesn’t allow you to smell the palpable bullsh!t.

  12. Manatee March 16, 2013 7:58 pm at 7:58 pm

    Please do enlighten us, oh cryptic one. What exactly is your problem?

  13. sunriseblues March 16, 2013 11:34 pm at 11:34 pm

    I don’t need to tell the story. Local media does, but why would they? That might mean giving up a free lunch or subject them to a Twitter scolding. Who needs that?

    Any ideas for 2013 entrepreneur of the year?

  14. DavidF
    DavidF March 17, 2013 8:31 am at 8:31 am

    What is the point of your ravings? If you want to educate, do so. If you want to sway opinion, do so. What you are doing so far is just acting like a child who just discovered anonymity on the internet. Try 4Chan, it’s just your speed.

  15. Manatee March 17, 2013 9:22 am at 9:22 am

    If you don’t have any actual information, why did you bother? Exactly what help or sense does that make? What am I supposed to do now, conduct some kind of expose?

    It’s actually funny because I’ve had one or two go-rounds with local media darlings where I knew things the public wouldn’t like. But because I had nothing useful or constructive to do about it, I’ve kept that stuff to myself. Because useless, fruitless bitching is just that.

  16. Manatee March 17, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm

    Thank you Roy, but what does this action against a former employee have to do with the complaints made by the above posters? I still see Eartha doing great work that really needs to be done. And at the end of the day, that seems to be pretty amazing.

    I don’t mean to be so insistent, but I’m starting to get a little freaked out by the fact that anytime anyone does something halfway decent in Columbus, people seem to need to cut it down. And not in a constructive or useful way. In a character-hazing way. That’s unacceptable to me.

    Offer suggestions, offer support, offer questions.

  17. bucki12 March 17, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm

    Wow – didn’t see that coming.

    I need to say that I know Mike as an acquaintance and have always respected him. I can’t think of anyone who seemed so genuine in concern or appreciation for what they were doing. This is off hours just him talking about what he would like to do for Eartha & Columbus. I am not sure about this lawsuit, but they say there are two sides to every story. I hope this gets cleared up and I am not sure now was a good time to go forward with an article considering what seems to be happening behind the scenes.

  18. roy
    roy March 17, 2013 2:45 pm at 2:45 pm

    bucki12 March 17, 2013 12:47 pm “…seemed so genuine…” end quote

    agreed, with an emphasis on ‘seemed.’ :-(

  19. mrmann March 17, 2013 3:33 pm at 3:33 pm

    I just read through these docs that were posted and they do cause one to have some questions about what is going on at Eartha Limited, past and present.


    What I know of Mike was that he was someone just getting by, not someone living high on the hog. He had roommates etc. I am not sure I would be too quick to judge this case especially someone so committed to his work. The competition issues seem vague. This is someone’s career. Those non-compete clauses are always awkward and I am not sure why you would keep someone on staff months after they had been caught embezzling over $50k?

    The other interesting note is that it seems there are other companies seeking to get involved in local food waste recycling. That can’t be a bad thing.

  20. OHIOBornAndRaised March 18, 2013 3:17 pm at 3:17 pm

    Since Eartha was created there has been much media hype surrounding the company. The whole time there have been statements made that lead readers to believe that there is a lot more going on than there actually was. Lessner is great at being buddy-buddy with many facilitators of non-profits and the “going-on’s” behind the scenes of Columbus’ progressive development, but I’ll tell you, i know better than most that since Eartha’s creation there has been a multitude of false information broadcast by the whole crew, especially the leaders. “Doing” these great things with Columbus and being progressive IS great, but building hype over actions that have not necessarily been done yet is a social crime and the benefactors should be scolded for making themselves seem more active in these issues than they actually are. It’s very important to me to be informed in a way that is not false and that informs the public about reputable actions that HAVE been taken instead of just saying that you :are” doing those actions or that announcing to the public that you are “going to do” those actions.
    It’s like a balloon. from the outside it looks like its growing and getting bigger, but at some time that thin layer of outer membrane will break and the whole thing implodes. because it’s empty inside. Start small, build from the inside out with strong progression and a sturdy foundation of operations. NOT just letting the local media do stories on you so that you can get more “hype” and use it as a marketing ploy. I’m not trying to sound negative, my intention is to engage in a conversation that was bound to be had sooner or later.
    Oh, and Mike is a great guy, agreed with the earlier statements, he is not living high like a king, and has been crucial to the creation of the existing company’s assets.
    On another note, recycling is great, lets go Columbus. Kick landfill butt. Thanks for reading.

  21. Twixlen March 18, 2013 5:28 pm at 5:28 pm

    *rolls eyes at another one off troll*

    Eartha has been growing rapidly recently, in spite of some pretty major financial setbacks caused when the business account was suddenly treated as a personal bank account. They’re doing the food waste for Nationwide Arena, they have the pilot program with White Castle that is bound to grow, and on and on. That’s not empty business – that’s actual business. Actual success.

    I’m looking forward to Eartha’s continued growth, and to what they’ll continue to bring to Columbus in the way of waste innovations. It’s an exciting time to be a thriving business, in a thriving city.

  22. OHIOBornAndRaised March 18, 2013 8:45 pm at 8:45 pm

    Waste innovations is right. It’s landfill diversion silly goose. If they keep innovating waste they will fill up that warehouse faster than you can say garbage.

  23. fbk March 31, 2013 9:39 am at 9:39 am

    I am quite late to this party, but I feel a need to chime in. What many people never see is what happens behind the scenes-ANYWHERE. That individual that you believe is your best ally can be your first mortal enemy. I am proud of Eartha and the work they are doing, and if you read the lawsuit carefully along with this article it points out something a bit cliche’ but still abundant and true-one monkey doesn’t stop a show. Just because one individual feels the need to take away from a business never meant that the mission wasn’t still the same for the rest involved. Many of the comments I’m reading on this article seem like people who are shocked that mankind can be evil…If embezzlement never happened, would there be a law against it?

    And mrmann-here’s a question for you-from the lawsuit it appears that someone decided to destroy their OWN career. Ignorance of the law is never an excuse. Further-committing career suicide by theft and saying that it only affects ONE individual is quite possibly the most insane thing I’ve heard in months. How about the Eartha employees and owners left to clean up a mess left by Minnix? How about the people who have come to rely on the business itself? If someone was dedicated to the core mission and believed in the business’ success, why would someone steal from it and jeopardize the long-term health and future?

    The reason for the article seems rather simple. Great things are happening in Columbus, Ohio. Here’s one more story.

  24. mrmann March 31, 2013 9:59 am at 9:59 am

    I guess I missed where Mike was convicted of a crime. It seems to me that these are civil allegations that have not been resolved. As has been mentioned there seems to be odd discrepancies such as Mike remaining at Eartha many months after this discovery and some wording about conditions in which Mike would not be paid for his work. There is also some bits about Liz trying and failing to sell Eartha and attempts to limit competition in the field. As far as this backstory, the lawsuit was posted by another poster. Mike has always been a stand up guy and I can attest to that.

    I appreciate Eartha’s involvement in food waste hauling and I hope that it and other companies will continue to expand that in Columbus.

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