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Waste to Worth

The owners of Organicycle want to change your trash.

The owners of Organicycle want to change your trash.

The owners of Organicycle want to change your trash.

This is 2013, just two years shy of 2015, when Back to the Future II predicted flying time-traveling cars would be fueled by garbage. While the release of a Mr. Fusion unit seems unlikely this decade, entrepreneurs Dan Tietema and Justin Swan believe that common household wastes may be an ideal, yet overlooked source for renewable biofuels such as ethanol and clean natural gas. Their leading-edge waste management company, Organicycle, aspires to change the way people see trash.

"65 percent of household waste is organic," Justin Swan, Organicycle VP and marketing director, explains. "Thirty percent is recyclables like glass, metal, and plastic. Only about 5 percent of what we throw out can't be recovered. Eventually, we'd like customers to consider making choices to eliminate this waste and to possibly make trash a thing of the past.”

In the mean time, Organicycle would operate as an additional bin at the curbside for users, similar to recycling or yard waste containers. "Organicycle will actually replace the yard waste bin by combining it with all of the household organic trash in a system we call Complete Package Organic Recycling. We will take anything that biodegrades into compost."

Under present waste management strategies, most business and household organic waste is shipped to traditional landfills for indefinite storage. Instead, Organicycle offers curbside pickup on a weekly basis. Presently, the company is affiliated with Zeelend-based Spurt Industries, a well-established name in commercial composting. In this phase of the business, they are focused on growing their residential client base by educating homeowners on the advantages of organic waste recovery.

"There's definitely a demand out there. People are interested in composting and in sustainable waste management, but until now there hasn't been a commercial solution. We created Organicycle to meet that demand," says Organicycle President Dan Tietema.

At the outset, the biofuel and natural gas potential remains a concept in development, but this industry shows much promise for fast evolution and application. "We can create ethanol by simply putting the organic waste in a fermentation unit and allowing the same natural processes to occur that we use to make other alcohol," Swan explains. The process for natural gas development involves the use of microorganisms to create clean natural gas through anaerobic digestion that can be directly piped into homes. "The sky really is the limit with this," Tietema says, who sees recovering garbage as both an obviously simple solution and a source of enormous ignored potential.

In the immediate future, Organicycle hopes to expand beyond the residential market and into Industrial Waste Management through partnering with businesses that could most immediately benefit from an organic recycling solution. "Right now, we do a lot of work with Eastern Floral. As you can imagine, a flower shop produces a lot of organic waste in the form of stems and cuttings,” says Swan. Obviously, companies that produce such large volumes of organic waste are prime candidates for this green alternative and will undoubtably serve as a rich resource for compostable material. "A lot of companies talk about going green and becoming sustainable, but organic waste management is the elephant in the room.”

The goal is to get people to shift from thinking in terms of a linear waste model, where garbage goes directly from home to landfill, to a circular waste model, and the pair thinks the toughest challenge will be getting consumers to break old habits and adopt a whole new system.

However, the system should be familiar to most customers. For a price point of $5 to $7 per week, customers receive an Organicycle curbside bin, similar to those used for recycling or yard waste, to separate and place all organic wastes. After dividing the organic waste and traditional recyclables, customers may be surprised to discover how little unrecoverable waste is left over. "In 5 years," Tietema hopes, "we might be able to help customers eliminate the traditional garbage system entirely."

One of the most immediate gains customers can expect to see is in the form of high-quality soil. One of the things Organicycle is most intersted in is Vermiculture Composting, where worms break down organic materials into nutrient rich garden soil. Organicycle plans to provide this as a service option to their customers.

Trash may not seem very attractive from an investment standpoint, but the cliche rings true that in the right context, it is a treasure. The possibility of revisiting waste as a renewable resource has both exciting potential for responsible and sustainable lifestyle choices, as well as a wellspring for intelligent industrial opportunities. While this may not be the most glamorous entrepreneurial endeavor, it definitely has the future in mind.

For more information, visit www.organicycle.org or call (616) 855-3377.

Photographs by Adam Bird
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