Jesse Marks wrote his thesis on food insecurity while studying for a Masters at Wichita State University.
Along the way, he discovered that food waste is also a big problem.
He learned that a typical American family adds over 500 pounds of leftover food to landfill each year.
Marks thought that if people paid more attention to what they throw away, maybe they could have a better feel for the entire food ecosystem.
“A lot of us are … very happy and the food isn’t something to worry about too much,” said Marks. “But that doesn’t mean that this is the case for everyone.
“So there is a greater awareness of food-related problems, be it uncertainty, waste, the impact of our garbage on our environment and the like.”
From this idea, Nudge Compost was born in 2018. (The company is a financial backer to KMUW.) Marks hopes the roadside composting service will encourage people to take a small step toward environmental protection, which could keep them moving forward with more steps in the future.
“I think we’ve found that people feel a lot better when they start paying attention to where their leftovers are going,” said Marks. “You don’t just throw things away and then … the garbage man comes in, it’s just gone.”
Marks said he has around 200 customers, both residential and commercial. For $ 20 a month, Marks picks up the leftovers, which you put in a 5-gallon bucket that the company provides. If you choose to hand in the material yourself, the fee drops to $ 10.
Compostable products include everything from leftover food to eggshells, coffee grounds, flowers and newspapers.
Marks takes the material to a transfer station in South Oliver and then to the Wichita Dirt Company. This is where the 8 to 10 week journey from food waste to compost begins.
Nutrient-rich organic compost is valued by gardeners. Not only does it improve soil health, but it also helps retain moisture and reduce the need for fertilizers and pesticides.
More importantly, composting keeps food waste away from landfills, which are where methane – a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change – is released when slowly broken down.
Compost ICT offers a similar service in Wichita. Established on Earth Day in 2016, it also offers roadside pickup for commercial and residential customers.
Leslie Coffee Company is a Nudge Compost customer. Owner Sarah Leslie said her company tries to be sustainable on many levels, from using biodegradable cups and packaging to working with Marks. “It’s nice to know we’re diverting some of this into the compost heap instead of throwing it in the trash,” said Leslie.
“I think things like that… you have to get involved regardless of the cost. But I think it’s worth it at the end of the day because it shows our commitment to the environment and to our community. “
In addition to compost, Marks also sells worm castings from the worm farm he built at his transfer station in South Oliver. He said he feeds the worms the best leftovers, which can eat almost twice their body weight in a day. (And yes, auditions are what you think.)
“The worms can process the food very quickly,” said Marks. “It is essentially their manure that you eventually filter out and use as plant fertilizer.
“And so worm casts came out as a name instead of saying… crap. Like, “Oh, we’ll call these auditions.” Makes them tastier. “
Marks said the company turned more than 200,000 pounds of waste into compost in the first two years. He wants to hit a million pounds.
He also wants to sign a large commercial client.
“For me, it’s kind of a goal for next year to find someone who’s a really big name in Wichita and who wants to improve their perception: ‘Hey, we’re big and sustainable and we value it. ” Marks said.
In the meantime, he will continue his role as an entrepreneur and father of his three children. And he’ll address the challenges of a small business – some of which are unique to his industry.
“Most composting companies would tell you that the bane of their existence is making stickers,” said Marks. “Because even I don’t always pick it up in my house bucket because it hurts.
“However, they are absolutely impervious to the composting process. So we have to deal with it a lot. “