Composting our Collective Resources

Evanston resident Erlene Howard was frustrated when she couldn’t find a way to compost her food scraps easily, and wondered if there were others like her who would be willing to hire a door-to-door compost pick-up service if one were available. One day, her friend told her to stop waiting for enough people to commit to the idea and “just get busy,” Howard jokes.

Busy she became, and soon after, founded Collective Resource, a service that picks up food waste from both residential and commercial businesses and diverts the would-be-landfill product to a commercial compost site, where the scraps are converted into useful fertilizer by landscaping companies.

“I started with three customers, carrying their buckets in my Toyota Camry to a commercial compost center at 122nd Street, in Chicago,” she says proudly. “Through word of mouth, we’ve grown to servicing clients in several areas of the North Shore and Chicago.”

The company also offers zero-waste event consulting, by which she and her consultant, Mary Beth Schaye, advise clients on ways they can make their event as waste-free as possible. Says Howard, “When planning events, we don’t have to create a landfill extravaganza in the process.” Collective Resource will also provide composting services for the event.

While her residential client base is growing steadily, Collective Resource’s commercial side is really booming as more restaurants like Chicago’s Uncommon Ground and educational Erlene Howard and Mary Beth Schaye ~ Photo by Collective Resourceorganizations like the Academy of Global Citizenship begin using her services.

By May 31, Collective Resource had diverted 90 tons of food waste from regular landfills. Howard prefers to think of this diversion of scraps that people may typically throw out as “harvesting,” to become part of the cyclical nature of a food system, as opposed to just something else to throw away.

“Part of our job is education,” says Howard. “It’s about teaching people that our landfills are not an infinite option. Also, our food scraps are not garbage. We have to look at them as nourishment for the Earth.”

The demand for Howard’s services is growing and big, traditional haulers are trying to figure out how to meet the needs of businesses and large organizations, like universities, that are interested in composting their food waste and not adding to a landfill. She is not concerned that she’ll be out of a job in the near future; in fact, she hopes some municipalities will consider hiring her to handle some of their food waste, as well.

“We want to make it really easy for people to compost,” Howard adds, although sometimes she realizes that Mother Nature has other ideas, especially when it comes to curious critters. “Thankfully, we don’t have too many problems, and we’ve taught our clients how to take care of their buckets so they aren’t as welcoming to animals like raccoons.” And for those really determined squirrels, Collective Resource has invented a squirrel stopper—because nothing will stand between Howard and composting.

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