Eartha Limited Renews Focus on Food Waste, Grows Rapidly
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.