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Turning Kitchen Trash into Green Cash

A Bay Weekly conversation with ­Vinnie Bevivino, the ­mastermind of ­Chesapeake Compost Works

Give me your trash! says Vinnie Bevivino, the mastermind of Chesapeake Compost Works, of the organic and biodegradable material taking up 20 to 30 percent of all landfills.
    Chesapeake Compost Works — begun in 2010 as a 40-page business plan and a drawing — has risen as a 55,000-square-foot warehouse in Baltimore’s Curtis Bay. At full capacity by year’s end, 60 tons of compost will be cured there every day.
    Bevivino — a 31-year-old whose degree from the University of Maryland is in Environmental Science and Policy — quit his job to build his dream plant. It’s just opened, and we’re touring the start-up, beginning with a fresh pile of just-delivered food scraps.
When did this idea flash on?
    I was managing a non-profit urban farm in Prince George’s County that was composting a ton of material a week. That taught me the demand for composting services.
    Restaurants, brewing companies and tree trimming companies were calling us. I realized composting isn’t just the right thing to do for the environment and a smart way of dealing with our waste. There is a lot of money in composting. It’s a new, undeveloped sector of how we manage our waste.

That pile looks like it’s fresh off the plate.
    This pile looks like mostly cooked food. Another might be mostly raw veggies.

What’s the raw material of your compost?
    We’re dealing with food waste.
    We have this huge untapped section of landfill waste not being addressed, even more so with businesses that we’re dealing with now — grocery stores, commercial kitchens, restaurants, university cafeterias — that are throwing away tons and tons of material.
    We can process that waste and turn it into a product.

How do you get businesses to give you their food waste?
    Commercial businesses have to pay for trash pickup. They pay to have a dumpster. If they separate their waste into trash, recyclables and compost, they pay less for composting and recycling than they pay for landfills or incineration. We can process it and turn it into a product, where a landfill is just a one-way street. We’re a cycle.
    It’s a financial incentive for the companies that we work with to do this, like Giant, Safeway or Johns Hopkins University.

Who’s your supplier?
    Waste comes to us from businesses all over. One of the haulers is Environlation, a company that has mulitple trucks picking up the toaters — which look like the trash cans most people use — from the backs of businesses all over the region. The hauler combines it all in one truck and brings it here to dump. They pick up from businesses all over Maryland: Anne Arundel, Prince George’s, Howard, Baltimore Counties, Baltimore City, Washington, D.C.

Is Thanksgiving good to you?
    I was just talking to a hauler who said the days after Thanksgiving are some of the busiest times. There is a lot of food moving in the world right now, and also, unfortunately, a lot of food that goes bad.

How often do your deliveries arrive?
    Two times a day. For right now, we’re just getting our feet wet, well I guess dirty, and composting small amounts in a really simple way.

Simple composting?
    We take the scraps and combine it with wood chips that we get from BG&E tree trimming companies — about one part food waste and three parts wood chips — then add some water. We turn the piles every two weeks to help move the oxygen.
How do you know when a pile is done?
    I compare composting to wine. When do you know when wine is done? The older, the better.
    There are some uses for younger, less mature compost. One is using it as filter socks for stormwater management, which is really popular around the Chesapeake Bay.
    If you want it for a potted plant, you probably want the compost to be very mature.
    We’re a couple of months from selling Chesapeake Compost.

What will you do with that black fluffy stuff?
    We can mix the end product with different blends so we can make things like potting soil, topsoil or green-roof planting bed material. We plan on selling different products with this as the main ingredient. We will start with bulk, if people want a few yards dropped, then quickly move to bagged compost that we can sell at retail outlets. We can deliver that cleaner, and some people don’t want a huge pile in their yard. They’d rather have nicely stacked bags.

Who’s your market?
    The best approach is having both high-value, low-quantity customers and high-quantity low-value customers. Landscapers buy thousands of yards at a time, so they don’t pay a high price per yard. They help me get a lot of material out of here so I can get more material in.
    Homeowners may want a bag, or a couple of yards at the most, and we’ll charge more for small quantities.

Is your plan working?
    I feel constantly reassured at the end of the day — when the blowers are costing more than I thought or something — that what we are doing here is the right thing. It’s taken some time putting all the pieces together, but we stayed persistent and never gave up when things got tough.

When can I buy your compost?
    Around Feburary 1. We haven’t named it yet. I’m not going to call it compost because we want to show that it’s different and better than other products on the market.

Thanks for reporting on this great new green business.

Nice job, Ashley.

And kudos and thanks to Vinnie, Adam and their team bringing Chesapeake Compost Works to southeast Baltimore.

Greg Smith