New Compost House will do your composting for you

The Atlas Organics processing facility at the Twin Chimneys Landfill in Greenville, S.C.
The Atlas Organics processing facility at the Twin Chimneys Landfill in Greenville, S.C.

John Sweet, the founder and former owner of Niedlov's Breadworks in downtown Chattanooga, believes in composting.

For about a decade, at no charge, he picked up kitchen scraps and other organic waste from such places as Girls Preparatory School and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee's office downtown.

"I've been composting just on my own working with a few clients - although I've never gotten paid for it - over the past 10 years," Sweet said. "I just do it in my pickup truck."

Composting is about to get professional in the city, since Sweet and other Chattanoogans - including the Chattanooga-based Footprint Foundation, an offshoot of the Lyndhurst Foundation - helped bring a South Carolina venture capital-backed company, Atlas Organics, here to do commercial composting.

Starting Friday, Atlas Organics will launch its Compost House program in Chattanooga, which offers doorstep collection of organic waste.

For $24 a month, participants will receive two 5-gallon collection pails with a compostable liner to fill up weekly with vegetable scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds and other compostable waste. Compost House will collect the pails from participants' homes and return 10 gallons of finished compost each month.

"This kind of takes the hassle out of composting," said Joseph McMillin, the chief executive officer of Atlas Organics, which he helped found in Spartanburg S.C., and later expand to Greenville, S.C.

While people can compost at home, he said it's difficult to generate the industrial-grade, high-quality compost that his company makes.

"You can't compost meats or dairy in your backyard," McMillin said.

And since compost costs about $11 per one cubic foot bag, he said, "getting the compost back pays for a large portion of the program."

In its South Carolina markets, Atlas Organics first began with commercial clients such as Publix Super Markets and Michelin North America, which generate cafeteria waste. The residential Compost House programs in South Carolina have about 100 subscribers, McMillin said.

Here, the company will roll out its residential program first to raise awareness. Then, it will seek commercial business at such places as Unum and VW.

"They're on our short list," McMillin said. "There are a lot of businesses here in town that are interested in green initiatives."

Among those happy about Compost House coming to Chattanooga is Sara McIntyre, executive director of Crabtree Farms, a community garden off Rossville Boulevard where Compost House will take the kitchen scraps it collects and turn the waste into compost.

"I'm very excited that the service exists," McIntyre said. "You would be surprised, if you started collecting it, how much food waste you have in a day."

Atlas Organics also hopes to partner with municipalities to offer curbside composting.

"It's really prevalent on the West Coast," McMillin said.

Composting also is big in Europe and built-up parts of the northeastern United States, Sweet said.

"One of the things we've got working against [composting] here in the Southeast is landfill space is really cheap," he said. "It's so expensive to landfill stuff in the Northeast or out in California."

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at or or on Twitter @meetforbusiness or 423-757-6651.

More Info

For $24 a month, Compost House will pick up two five-gallon buckets of organic waste and bring back 10 gallons of finished compost monthly for Chattanooga customers in zip codes 37402, 37403, 37404, 37405, 37408, 37409, 37350, 37377. Sign up by Aug. 10, and the first month is free.

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