Local entrepreneur expands compost pickup business to corporate clients, restaurant chains

By Rebecca Fanning
Medill Reports

The United States has a food waste problem. Americans throw more than 130 billion pounds of food into landfills each year according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And as it rots, that food releases methane — a greenhouse gas and major contributor to climate change — into the atmosphere.

In Chicago, entrepreneur Jonathan Scheffel is working toward a solution. He’s encouraging individuals and businesses to throw their food in a different bin, and to let him take it away.

“I would say just to try it and see how easy it is. And try to get past thinking that it’s difficult, or its smelly or that it’s going to cause your house to collapse with rodents,” said Scheffel, whose small business, Healthy Soil Compost serves over 400 private residences, offices and restaurants in the city.

In the past year, Healthy Soil Compost has announced a partnership with local chain Hannah’s Bretzel, picked up thousands of pounds of food waste from the Chicago marathon and introduced compost to a 300-person law firm.

The pickup service costs between $20 and $40 per month for residential spaces depending on the frequency of pickup, and varies for corporate clients, restaurants and events.

Inspired by the ease of a compost pickup service, project manager Meagan Sherman decided to bring composting to her company.

“I realized that there wasn’t an outlet for young urban millennials to actually practice sustainable practices at work. It’s such an easy step. If everyone who was downtown in the loop thought about it, I think it would make such an impact on our local community,” she said.

Each month, Healthy Soil Compost picks up 33,000 pounds of food waste from homes, restaurants and offices around Chicago. Scheffel and his team bring the buckets to Nature’s Little Recyclers, a company that uses traditional composting and worm-powered methods to break down the variety of materials into rich soil. That 33,000 pounds of food waste produces 330 pounds of “caviar compost,” rich soil that they sell for $29.99 for 10 pounds.

“It’s cool that awareness is building and that big companies actually see the worm farm as a viable option to recycle food waste,” said Scheffel. 

Photo above: Healthy Soil Compost is growing. The service adds 1,000 pounds of food waste to its pickup schedule each month. (Rebecca Fanning/MEDILL)