Melissa Tashjian, founder of Compost Crusader, is more joyful about food scraps than most people. We spoke with Melissa to find out more about how she is championing the cause of composting in the city of Milwaukee.

The City of Milwaukee’s Sustainability Plan published in 2013 sets forth some lofty goals towards a more sustainable Milwaukee. One rather daunting aim is to reduce residential and commercial waste sent to landfills by 40%. Melissa Tashjian, founder of Compost Crusader, is up for the challenge. What started in 2009 as a volunteer-run nonprofit organization called Kompost Kids has since evolved into a fully-fledged, compost-hauling, waste diversion service. Compost Crusader picks up food scraps from local Milwaukee businesses, schools, and hospitals and hauls them to Caledonia’s Blue Ribbon Organics for composting. Since starting in 2014, Compost Crusader has diverted an impressive 2.5 million pounds of food scraps from landfills. The trusty truck that hauls it all can carry up to 10,000 pounds per trip, and even though Compost Crusader has clearly contributed towards Milwaukee’s waste diversion goal, Melissa says that “this is just a drop in the bucket” compared to the amount of waste being generated.

Melissa also recognizes that composting isn’t just about sustainability; it’s also a financial opportunity. The cost of composting can be easily offset by saving money on garbage expenses and landfill pickup costs. Businesses are gradually starting to realize this, Melissa says. Milwaukee’s own Potowatomi Casino, for instance, has a compost digester to offset the energy consumption by their property. Composting is also a living-wage eco industry, comparable to the recycling industry. There are many moving parts and important players, and operating a compost business takes a wide range of skilled labor. Metal fabricators, fork-lift operators, mechanics, and educators all play an important role. The outlook is promising, as businesses are readily recognizing the benefits that composting affords, and still others are becoming aware that composting is itself a viable business opportunity.  

One thing that sets Compost Crusader apart is their approach to educating businesses about what is or isn’t compostable. Melissa’s experience in the restaurant industry has come in handy when she needs to teach local businesses about how to compost. For instance, when restaurants accidentally throw a contaminant or something non-compostable in the compost bucket, Melissa snaps a picture to use as a training tool. This way, the on-site contact can show the photo to employees to ensure the right materials go into the compost bucket. Training businesses how to compost is a necessary step, but Melissa thinks a focus on training and education in schools is also vitally important. When a composting program is implemented in schools, recycling habits also improve. Melissa says “if kids can do it, we as adults can do it too.” Forming sustainability-friendly habits as children may help shape adult behavior, too.

Melissa also encourages people to compost in their own backyards. If you’re looking for ways to divert food scraps from the landfill, all you have to do is start a small pile in your backyard, or in a receptacle- you don’t even have to tend to it! Melissa suggests a two-to-one bucket ratio, with one bucket of brown source such as leaves, newspaper, or untreated sawdust to every two buckets of compostable materials. Composting at home can also make us, as consumers, more conscious of our buying habits, and of what we choose to eat as leftovers in order to reduce the amount of food we throw out.

As Melissa says, “there is no such thing as ‘away’ -everything has to go somewhere!” With that mantra in mind, it’s clear that Melissa’s work with Compost Crusader is making a much-needed difference towards achieving the city of Milwaukee’s waste-diversion goal.

Melissa will be among the panelists at the June 11th MASA Kickoff event at Anodyne Coffee Roasting Co. in Walker’s Point, Milwaukee where a panel of experts will be discussing how climate change impacts science education, public health and sustainability. We hope to see you there!

Written by Lisa Taxier for the Milwaukee Area Science Advocates

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