From ‘recycling pick-up guy’ to compost pioneer – we’re busting myths with Conor Miller
At 11th Hour Racing, we invest in projects that advance sustainable practices and solutions in coastal communities around the world. Whether you live on the coast or in the middle of the country, composting your food scraps benefits the ocean by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving water quality by building healthy soil. Find composting options near you at 11thhourracing.org/closer.
Black Earth Compost serves 34,000 residents in Massachusetts and 1,000 residents in Rhode Island.
Sure, composting isn’t glamorous, in fact, it’s technically quite the opposite – but let us tell you why getting down and dirty might just be cool.
Despite being a natural and sustainable process, composting has its fair share of myths and misconceptions. So we joined up with straight-talking compost expert Conor Miller, Founder of Black Earth Compost, to dispel some of these myths and set the record straight.
Career paths can be an interesting thing, does anyone set out from a young age to become a composting expert? Conor certainly didn’t. But then, as American author Glennon Doyle famously said in her book Untamed, ‘When, as humans, we decide to lean into what makes us uncomfortable, that is where we discover we have the power to affect true change.’ And that is exactly how Conor’s story begins…
“I have an innate dislike for both waste and inefficiency,” he explains. “In fact, when you think about it, they become two of the same thing. Food waste and wasting time are both ugly.”
Conor, originally from Wisconsin, owns one of many bespoke, local composting companies available in the US. After completing several ski seasons working as a recycling operative – a self-confessed ‘ski bum’ – he moved from Wyoming to Massachusetts with his fiancé and began researching opportunities related to his experience in recycling. Conor’s personal distaste for waste and a lack of viable solutions for those who were compost-curious drove him to spend his savings on a fourth-hand truck and set about providing a local solution to what he saw as a global problem. Black Earth Compost was born.
“I have an innate dislike for both waste and inefficiency”
Black Earth Compost was founded in 2011 and currently serves 35,000 residents, commercial businesses, and schools in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.
With composting directly impacting the health of our ocean, it’s vital we understand as individuals and communities just how easy and accessible composting is.
We’re talking about saving the planet – literally – every day!
So let’s get down to business. Here are seven common myths surrounding composting:
1. “Composting smells bad”
Conor: I hear this one a lot! Composting is like most things; it comes down to hygiene. In reality, regularly emptying your kitchen compost bin, using certified compostable bin liners, keeping liquids out of the bin, and rinsing your bin often mitigates any smell. With a backyard compost pile the right balance of materials should not smell bad.
Extra tip: in the warmer months, put your leftover meat and bones in the freezer until compost day – it will cut down on both smell and critters! And make sure you have a tight lid on your compost bin to keep the goods in and the critters out.
2. “I hate creepy crawlies!”
Conor: We must embrace them! Worms and microorganisms are known as the heroes of composting. When people say this, I often tell them one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. In this case, your leftovers are food for creepy crawlies, and more importantly, they are essential to a healthy composting process. Think of them as your little helpers in a backyard pile! You won’t get creepy crawlies in your kitchen or curbside compost bin with good maintenance.
Extra tip: Regularly turn or aerate a backyard compost pile to provide oxygen, which is key for effective decomposition.
3. “I’m confused about what can go in my compost bin”
Conor: One of the biggest myths I hear people say is, ‘Oh, that certified compostable cup/fork/container won’t break down,’ but I can promise you – they do! It might feel strange at first to put something like a certified compostable fork in your compost bin, but that’s exactly what they’re designed for.
Learning what can and can’t go in your compost bin doesn’t take long.
On the flip side of the coin, not everything can be composted, depending on how you decide to do it. For example, cooking oils, meats, or dairy can lead to ineffective composting due to high moisture and fat content, creating water-resistant barriers around the waste, displacing water, and reducing airflow. Dairy can also carry an unpleasant smell when it spoils, attracting rodents and various other animals that might disrupt the process. However, if you use a residential composting service such as Black Earth Compost, we are able to compost these matters for you.
If you’re composting directly from your garden, it’s important to never add weeds, diseased plants, or pesticides to the compost heap. Animal waste also needs careful consideration; waste from chickens and rabbits, for example, is fine to use; however, dog and cat waste needs an extra layer of precaution as growing food from it requires extra care for pathogen destruction.
At a commercial composting facility, the temperature of the compost piles is hot enough to destroy pathogens and too hot for rodents.
Like all good habits, it takes a bit of work and education at the beginning, but after a month or so, you’ll be flying!
Extra tip: check out this article from the EPA on composting basics to get started.
4. “It won’t make that much of a difference”
Conor: Ah, ‘what difference does my plastic water bottle make?’ said seven billion people. Compostable waste makes up nearly half of household trash by weight. You get the gist; that adds up fast.
Composting alleviates several environmental crises we are currently facing. Food waste in landfills generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Landfills are running out of space, and the price of trash disposal is increasing. Our soils are depleted of nutrients, and we rely on foreign synthetic fertilizers that pollute our waterways and oceans.
We can create resilient local systems by turning our food scraps into compost and returning those nutrients to the soil. Compost added to soil reduces erosion, increases soil moisture content, grows healthier plants that draw down atmospheric carbon and adds nutrients that grow healthier food. Many single-use plastic items can also be replaced with certified compostable versions, which can help clean up our oceans.
Composting is nature’s circular solution and it’s right there for the taking.
5. “Only households can compost”
Conor: Absolutely not. We collect from restaurants, schools, hospitals, supermarkets – even dog groomers! One of the most powerful things you can do is not only think about your household but in fact, think about your community, where you work, where you spend your time – get creative.
6. “Composting is too time-consuming”
Conor: Absolutely not. You just have two bins in the kitchen instead of one. Like all things worth doing, it will take a little time in the beginning, but this is more about the education and organization to get started as opposed to the actual action of composting itself. For those looking to get into garden composting for the first time, I would recommend reading through these guidelines provided by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The healthier the soil, the healthier we are as human beings.
7. “I can’t compost, I don’t have a garden”
Conor: Another one we hear a lot. This is where a little effort is required because you need to research what options are available to you in your area. Some towns and cities have communal composting drop-off points, some have local pick-up services such as ours, and sometimes, it can be as simple as donating it to your local school or community garden. There’s always a solution, you just have to find the right one for you.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Conor: Yes, the healthier the soil, the healthier your food, the healthier we are as human beings. Do not underestimate the power of composting for your future health and that of those around you. Research why soil is important and dedicate just a small amount of time to finding the compost solution that is right for you. You won’t regret it – you might even look back and wonder why you once thought it was so hard.
“Do not underestimate the power of composting for your future health”
Remember, you can always do your part to help… the ocean is closer than you think, and so are your composting options.