Planet Police Composting
Over at Berklee.net, I’ve posted an interview with the head of Planet Police, the company that collects Berklee’s food waste for compost. Leon Tarentino had a lot of interesting stuff to say, far more than I could use there, so here’s the rest of the interview. Enjoy!
How did you start this company?
It branched off of a major recycling company, Environmental Operation Management Services (EOMS), about three years ago. We decided to put a separate arm of the company together to handle food waste. It was almost experimental at the beginning. The containers are pretty much the same as you would use for gathering bottles and cans on the campus. Where all of that investment was already made, it was now a matter of seeing if it would work. And it has. There’s a long long way to go, don’t get me wrong, but as of right now, it’s working. And as the desire comes up, everybody will be in position to do more of it.
How many customers do you have?
What sorts of places?
We’re doing some hospitals. Public schools, we’re just branching into. We do a lot of hotels, restaurants, other colleges. And food manufacturers, bakeries.
What’s your service area?
We cover from the Lynn area north of Boston to Framingham, Natick, and Westborough, and then the Rhode Island line and up the Cape Cod canal and up the south shore, all of Boston.
That’s a huge service area for just four employees!
That’s part of the issue; that’s why we continue to try to grow within it. It’s a route density issue. There’s a lot of driving.
Is it cost effective if gas prices rise?
If the fuel prices keep increasing, it is going to become more of an issue. That’s why we need to get that route density, so they’re stopping more times but less distance. Right now we are doing okay with it.
What is your background?
My background was 32 years in the food service industry, where I worked for a distributor that brought the food to the location rather than away from it. I’ve spent a lot of time in kitchens.
How many other services like this exist right now?
The only other company that does this is Save that Stuff in Charlestown. They have a lot tighter footprint; they don’t branch out to the suburbs much at all. I think Casella has a like service in Vermont, but they don’t do food waste in Massachusetts.
Many times I’ll go in to see a prospect who will say, “I really thought of doing this, I just didn’t know how to go about it,” because there aren’t that many players in the game. At some point in time, when the demand comes up, like everything else, there will be other companies involved, as well.
Are there a lot of different sites that you’re able to take the compost?
There are probably 12 state-approved facilities. But the DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) is trying their best to develop, say, 5 more sites with anaerobic digesters in the state. Right now they’re mostly open-air facilities, either farms or just dedicated compost yards, but it’s an outside process, not internal.
Are these facilities able to compost biodegradable plastic?
Usually in a case where there’s plastic it goes to the digester, because they don’t have an issue with it. But any of the open-air facilities prefer not to have the plastics in there, because it doesn’t decompose at the same rate, and then the finished product doesn’t have the pH levels that, say, all food would have or all yard waste. If we have customers that use the biodegradable or compostable products, then we’ll bring that to a digester facility.
There’s a certain percentage that the farmers don’t have a problem with. They separate it out, anyway. There’s a certain fudge factor, certain things that do get in there that they don’t have a problem handling. At this point, no one has called and said with Berklee we have to treat it differently, so right now it’s going to more outside facilities than the digester.
I heard there weren’t very many anaerobic digesters in the state.
There aren’t. There’s actually one right now, and there’s going to be one in Rockland, and then they’re looking in the southeast area, they want to get down near the border, near the Cape, but they have a tough time. It’s expensive—multimillion-dollar investments. That’s why it’s kind of a dog chasing its tail. Do we have enough material, and do we have the place to bring it? If the DEP had their way they would have mandated last May that you’d have to separate food waste out of solid waste, but they quickly realized if they did that, there wouldn’t be enough haulers or facilities to handle it. So what’s going to happen? It’s going to end up right back in the landfill again. Over time I’m sure they’ll rectify those issues. A lot of out-of-state investors have come forward and they want to spend the money on digesters. It’s honestly a matter of the town or the city not having a problem. The old NIMBY [not in my backyard] thing. I’m on the DEP organic task force to help them to try to establish these facilities.
You wouldn’t think that would be that much of an issue, because it’s indoors.
It’s an education issue. A lot of people think they’re going to get the downwind effect; they don’t want the smell. These are all internal facilities with scrubbers and the air is cleaned. The one we have in Southborough right now, they have not had a complaint on any odors, because it is well kept internally.
The farmers, unfortunately, they’re closing down year after year. They’re taking the big development money and selling their farms, and of course that’s less facilities. That’s why we need those digesters; we desperately need them.