Could compost be Grand Rapids’ next craft beer? Grand Rapids composter to double impact in 2023

Dan Tietema, general manager of Grand Rapids-based composting business Organicycle, believes that compost could become as important to Grand Rapids’ economy and legacy as craft beer. And he’s not talking trash. He, his wife and company co-owner Bridget Tietema, head composter Greg Mankowski and Walker farmer Dan Crowley, who utilizes the finished product, call compost “black gold.”

“It really started when I started up my own compost site out of need and necessity. Once I realized that you can take the collected organic material and turn it into soil — and actually watch the process — our efforts to become a bigger organization became more profound and more paramount to the end game,” Dan Tietema says.

Orgnanicycle plans to double composting effort and expand locations served in 2023.

By end game, Tietema, of course, is referring to growing a bigger, more successful and more impactful (rather than compactful) operation. While the five-member Organicycle staff diverted more than 5 million pounds of food waste to compost in 2022, they plan on doubling the amount to 10 million pounds in 2023 and adding 10 more employees. The firm expanded its reach to Holland, Grand Haven and Muskegon last year and is adding a residential drop-off program for area homeowners outside of the Grand Rapids city limits and a second compost site this year. The idea of doubling productivity in the span of a year might cause some businesspeople to soil their plants. But not the Tietemas.

“Trash is what people throw away. Trash needs to be collected. Then it needs to go somewhere," Tietema says. "I decided that we're going to change this industry, bring education and make people aware of how a simple step like composting can make a more sustainable future for everybody and how easy it can be to divert your waste from landfills. Organicycle is set up to be a leader in this industry.”

The other end game for Organicycle is environmental sustainability in the face of climate change. Composting food waste not only reduces the amount of waste going to landfills, it reduces the amount of methane gas those landfills release. Tietema explains that organic trash is responsible for the production of methane gas. And, while industrialized chemical-based agriculture contributes greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere, organic composted soil acts as a carbon sink that, if used widely, could help turn around climate change.

Orgnanicycle plans to double composting effort and expand locations served in 2023.

“When you see our trucks dump [rotting food waste], it's not pleasant of course. But when you look at the process, how the waste changes and then you look at the finished product, it's just amazing,” Tietema says. “And it's an easy step for all of us to participate in.”

Orgnanicycle plans to double composting effort and expand locations served in 2023.

Tietema plans to make an even bigger impact in the years to come. Plans include expanding into Detroit and Eastern Michigan as well as to other Great Lakes states. And he hopes his home-grown response to climate change inspires others to take composting seriously, whether it be in their own backyard or on a large industrial scale.

“My mission is to change the way that people look at this industry and to bring awareness to the importance of composting and actually doing something about it,” Tietema concludes. “My small little site is already making a major difference. It's changing the landscape for trash and landfills.”

This series seeks to highlight tech organizations and employers throughout Greater Grand Rapids that are delivering innovative programs and addressing talent pipeline challenges and seeking to develop, attract and retain quality talent in West Michigan. This series is underwritten by The Right Place.

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Organicycle

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