Written by: Leonard Parker | Houston Business News | 15th July
Jesse and Melissa Stowers’ interest in composting began when they noticed that their five-person family generated more than one bag of trash a day.
Jesse Stowers was concerned.
“If everyone ... does this, we’re just going to have trash everywhere," she said.
Stowers tried to reduce his family’s waste through backyard composting, but he “failed miserably” at it.
GARDENER'S GUIDE: How to plan your Houston garden to survive extreme weather
Then Stowers found New Earth, an industrial composting company with locations in Katy, Conroe and San Antonio. He started taking his food scraps to New Earth, where they were processed into nutrient-rich soil.
Eventually, Stowers "set up a neighborhood composting company ... (and) it grew from there.”
On May 1, 2020, the Stowerses officially launched Happy Earth Compost, Houston’s first curbside composting business.
Composting helps “reduce waste and add nutrients to the soil,” according to the website for Plastic Free July, an endeavor that began in 2010 to help reduce plastic waste. The Environmental Protection Agency says the average American creates 4.9 pounds of waste per day and composting decreases that amount by over 30 percent.
Happy Earth Compost's warehouse.Jesse Stowers
“Happy Earth Compost is a great, innovative partner of ours that has diverted over 1.7 million pounds of waste from landfills this year alone," said Dan Graham, Senior Business Development Manager at New Earth,
New Earth receives an average of 700 million pounds of waste each year from large grocery store chains, universities, landscapers and other organizations. The company processes it into multiple types of soil which it provides to landscaping companies, soil yards and consumers.
A small amount of that nutrient-rich soil goes back to Happy Earth Compost customers. Stowers estimates that around 15 percent of his customers receive composted soil in exchange for their food waste.
“Gardeners love getting it back," Stowers said.
The benefits of using composted soil go beyond helping a single gardener, according to Gabriel Durham, the Sustainability Coordinator at the University of Houston.
“How much life is in (the) soil is directly related to how much life the planet can support,” Durham says.
Durham describes composting as a way to use “the fantastic amounts of waste in the American food system to restore the land.”
Composting even fights climate change, he adds.
Over 1,300 customers are currently putting their waste to better use with Happy Earth Compost. Stowers says the business is still growing.
New Earth's facilities in Conroe.Adam Leija
Meredith Maines joined Happy Earth Compost to limit the amount of waste she sends to landfills. She considered composting at home, but was afraid her dogs “would get into a backyard bin, or that it would attract rodents.” She also wanted to compost meat and dairy waste, which is not possible in a backyard setting.
When Maines signed up with Happy Earth Compost, she received an indoor compost bin, an outdoor bucket and instructions about what to compost. Once a month, she places her full outdoor bucket on the curb and waits for the Happy Earth Compost crew to come by and exchange it with a clean one.
She describes the process as “super simple.”
Composting made Maines more conscious of her food intake and waste, she said. It has also been a gateway to learning more about other zero-waste living initiatives like those promoted by Plastic Free July.
Her decision to start composting influenced her boyfriend and multiple friends to take up the practice.
“Composting is contagious,” she says.
Graham at New Earth hopes more Houstonians will start composting to reduce the size of landfills and add more organic matter to our soils.
"Composting is one of the very best things you can do for the environment," Graham says. "Houston is a great city with great people who can all do something to make our city greener.”
Both Happy Earth Compost and Plastic Free July are trying to change people’s habits. Stowers says he knows it’s difficult to change, so his goal is to make it as easy as possible for customers to compost.
The Plastic Free July movement equips participants with articles, quizzes and to-do lists. “Many people simply don’t realize the positive environmental impact they can make with small changes to their everyday habits,” its website says.
For more ideas on how to get involved with Plastic Free July locally and reduce your own plastic waste, join the Plastic Free Houston Facebook page.