Tag Archives: Composting

INTERNal Dialogue: Josh the Intern Visits Farm, Talks Compost Appreciation

By Joshua Michael
Intern at Bootstrap Compost, Inc.

To help understand a little about why it is that I am interning at Bootstrap, it is only appropriate that I share with you some minute details about myself. My name is Joshua Michael, and I was born and raised in Chicago. I am 22 years old and I will be receiving my Bachelors in Environmental Studies & Anthropology in May of 2017. I attend Wheelock College in the Fenway area.

Hi my name is Josh and I intern at Bootstrap!

Hi my name is Josh and I’m your official Bootstrap Intern

My goal, as an environmentalist with an interest in the Anthropocene, is to find unique perspectives on how we can reshape our understanding of waste management in order to benefit ourselves & more importantly the earth. I am very passionate about the environment, which may seem obvious due to the degree, and I am somewhat of a sustainability aficionado, self-proclaimed of course. I would be quite the pessimist, which there are more than enough of in the world of environmentalism, if I did not believe that we are still in a position to change our anthropological impacts on the environment. However, we must act with a sense of urgency as a general population – not just wait and hope for change from our world leaders.

All of this sums up why I ended up at Bootstrap. So what have I been up to? For the last month, I have been working hands on with almost all of the tasks that make Bootstrap function with relative ease. The first week at Bootstrap I was processing residential food scraps, which would later be driven to the farm to be composted. We even received some finished compost in return. Later in the week I would learn how to prep each of the buckets that we send back to customers (so if they looked a little lopsided, I apologize in advance!).

“Going to the farm, dumping food scraps, and watching the bulldozer pick up finished compost and dump it into the truck bed is a beautiful closed-loop process that all people should be exposed to.”

In my second week I would learn a great deal more about Bootstrap by getting to meet and spent time with cofounders Andy Brooks and Igor Kharitonenkov and marketing and customer service whiz Emma Brown. This is where I was introduced to the company’s humble beginnings in a tiny backyard in the JP area and how it eventually came to grow and scale to meet the needs of 2000+ clients!

From the archives: Bootstrap food scraps arrive at Rocky HIll, circa 2014

Bootstrap food scraps arrive at Rocky Hill, patiently waiting to be turned into compost!

The second week was exciting because, going about my work in the warehouse, I got to eavesdrop on a presentation Andy was giving to a tour group from MIT, and I learned about the chemical make-up of compost and the macro nutrients that help feed soil. I try my best to eavesdrop all things science. Additionally, I was able to work hands on with the compost that Bootstrap receives from their farms by unloading it from the pickup truck and then sifting it – making sure to take out large sticks and rocks so customers receive the best and fluffiest compost in return.

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From the archives: Loading up compost at Rocky Hill (ca. 2013)

Honestly though, the most amazing experience so far has been seeing the process that the food scraps go through on the farm. Rocky Hill Farm in Saugus is one of the farms that Bootstrap teams up with. Along with Emma, I got to watch large industrial machines process the last bit of waste and catch anything that may not be compostable. Seeing this kind of a large-scale operation helped me realize that this is something that can be replicated on a much larger level all over the country and the world – and indeed should be in order to better the environment. Going to the farm, dumping food scraps, and watching the bulldozer pick up finished compost and dump it into the truck bed is a beautiful closed-loop process that all people should be exposed to. It was in that moment that I began to truly appreciate composting. The process itself warrants respect and notice because it is labor intensive – a tough job that requires a delicate nature to produce the best soil amendment for our soils. All while keeping food waste out of landfills.

That’s it for now. But stay tuned, I will continue with a regular posts until my internship is complete in early June! Thanks for reading! Until next time.

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The Wicked Green: Seven Tips to Put Your Black Gold to Good Use

By Emma Brown
Creative Marketing at Bootstrap Compost, Inc.

Here at Bootstrap, we’re basking in the glow of another successful Compost Week! – our triannual mega giveaway of soil amendment back to the community. Some of us are celebrating with a ski trip to Vermont, others are taking in Big Sky in Montana, and surely, we’re all happy that the long hours of our successful effort are behind us so we can enjoy a nice, warm meal. As we salute our largest Compost Week! effort ever, we take pride in its monumental impact: the distribution of a whopping three tons (6,396 lbs) of compost back to the Greater Boston community, a feat only made possible by the hardworking, hard-core individuals that make up Team Bootstrap (who weathered not one, but two snow storms this time around!) White outs or not, black gold was delivered to over 1000+ households and businesses. And we recognize that some of you are new and may not be fully in the know on how to use your finished compost, so here’s a quick rundown on how (and why) to put your soil amendment to good use. But first, a little breakdown by neighborhood:

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How much black gold did your neighborhood receive?

Alright, let’s talk compost! Here are seven tips to get you started:

1) Soil loses nutrients through erosion, over-cultivation, and culling of organic matter. Compost infuses nutrients back into soil. But what kind of nutrients?

2) Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are the most important elements for healthy plants. Luckily, these macronutrients can be found in abundance in healthy compost, thus serving to revitalize depleted soils and frustrated flora. But what, exactly, DO they DO? In short, this:
Nitrogen is essential for photosynthesis.
Phosphorus helps plants develop new tissue.
Potassium is essential for the movement of water.

3) Compost also helps soil retain moisture. Not sure where to start? If you have any house plants, add a healthy 1/4 – 1/2 inch layer of compost to the base of your plants.

4) If you’re doing any re-potting, be sure to mix compost into your soil. Up to 1/3 of the mixture can be compost, but no more than that! Over-saturation of compost can actually be detrimental to the health of the plant (let’s call it nutrient overload).

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Emma gets compost ready to sift + pack!

5) Compost can benefit all types of soils. Is your soil sandy and loose? Compost will help bind it together, giving your plants more stability. Is your soil more clay-like? Compost will help increase its porosity, giving roots a chance to breathe.

6) You can also use finished compost as a mulch. If you spread it around the base of your outdoor plants, trees, and shrubs, it’ll help shade and protect the underlying soil, as well as increase water retention. Plus, the nutrients will sink into the soil over time!

7) Finally, you can use finished compost to make compost tea, which is a potent, nutrient-dense solution you can spray plants with. How do you make compost tea? Place your compost into a porous fabric bag (burlap or cheesecloth, for example), and steep in water for 24 hours. Use the resulting solution to spray plants, no more than once per week.

There you have it! Do you have any other uses of compost that I forgot? Feel free to post them, as well as questions, comments, concerns, dirty fingernails, etc in the comment section! And find us on Twitter under hashtag #bscgrows for more gardening and composting tips!

Also, 574 degrees Fahrenheit and 574 Kelvin are the same temperature.

The Wicked Green: Mealworms to the Rescue!

By Emma Brown
Creative Marketing at Bootstrap Compost, Inc.

It happens to us all: you’re in the market for a new TV, maybe one that’s energy efficient with a really crisp HD picture. You save up all your money and finally pull the trigger to buy it. You take it home and unwrap it and it’s padded in styrofoam. You’re bummed because even though styrofoam is technically “recyclable,” you don’t have anywhere to recycle it, so you’re forced to put it out with your curbside landfill pickup.

Well, have I got news for you! It turns out that mealworms, those little wiggly buggers, can eat styrofoam with no negative repercussions, effectively turning it into a nutritious soil amendment. It’s the same process that happens when red wiggler worms feed on your food scraps in your home compost bin. Researchers in a collaborative study between Stanford University and Beihang University published their findings in September, 2015 and our joyful squeals haven’t stopped ever since.

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Here’s the catch: one hundred mealworms can only consume between 35 and 39 milligrams of styrofoam per day, which means we have a long way to go before that floating-Texas-sized trash patch in the ocean gets cleaned up by our little friends. For comparison, the average adult housefly weighs approximately 21.4 milligrams. Nonetheless, the discovery is an important one, because it gives scientists a clue as to one way they can start to tackle the problem at hand. Of course, we could also be making an effort to reduce our production and consumption of those products in the first place, but that won’t reduce the issue we already have.

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What are your thoughts? Questions? Comments? Disbeliefs? Concerns? Favorite beetles? Please add them to the comments below.

Also, due to Saturn’s low density, it would float in water (the only planet in our solar system that would do so).

The Wicked Green: How Mushrooms Will Save The World

By Emma Brown
Creative Marketing at Bootstrap Compost, Inc.

Whatever your culinary preferences are regarding mushrooms, it turns out that there are some seriously green uses with fungi outside of the kitchen. Indeed, there are good, hardworking folks throughout the world concocting unique ideas and products with mushrooms that may just help save the planet.

Back in February, I found out about Coeio, a company that produces the Infinity Burial Suit. What’s so special about it? It’s completely biodegradable and made from mushrooms and other microorganisms. Bodies buried in the suits eventually break down and aid the earth. Heck, they even make suits for pets to be buried in! You can read more about the Infinity Suit over at Grist.

As beautiful as some caskets may be, they also act to slow the process of decomposition. Thus, each and every body that is buried in a casket acts more like a personalized underground landfill rather than a compost pile that returns the body back to the earth. Couple this with the fact that populations continue to rise and age, solutions for alternative burials will become increasingly important over the coming decades.

Humans are one thing, but what about all that pesky plastic we are creating and throwing away? Plastic can survive over 150 years in a landfill- that’s bad news for Mother Earth. But it turns out that mushrooms can help us tackle that issue, too. We’ve known since 2012 that fungi can break down plastic, but no one has really figured out a great way to harness that power and use it to our advantage – until now. A joint effort between Livin Studio and Utrecht University led to the development of the Fungi Mutarium, which not only breaks down plastic, but leaves an edible product in its wake!

It works like this: pods of agar (an algae-based type of gelatin) are loaded up with plastic waste and fungi, which feeds on the waste and leaves a puffy mushroom-like food product within a few weeks. The plastic is completely broken down and not incorporated into the fungal matter so the end product is non-toxic and 100% edible for human consumption. These pods might be hard to come by today, but with more funding and research, we could all have plastic-fighting fungi in our kitchens in a few short years.

Whew! Like wild mushrooms in a damp forest, we covered a lot of ground here. Please feel free to add comments, questions, concerns, tiny hair-like fibers, your opinions on mushrooms, and other thoughts in the comment section below. Happy digesting!

Also, the human body consists of more bacterial cells (~39 trillion) than actual human cells (~30 trillion).

 

Client Q&A: Southie Simmons

By Emma Brown
Creative Marketing at Bootstrap Compost, Inc.

Ahh, Southie. Home to many young professional implants and native Bostonians alike. 11-4-2015 11-10-12 AMAnd while it isn’t the largest community of Bootstrappers, their excitement for composting is second to none. We could casually mention an article from Caught in Southie featuring us and longtime subscriber Mari, or we could drop the ever-growing list of businesses earning their green keep. Instead, today we’ll focus on Katherine “Southie” Simmons, another longtime subscriber, home cook, and young professional living in Southie. We couldn’t do it without you, Katherine!

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A beautiful day at Dorchester Heights in Southie

1. How long have you been a client of Bootstrap Compost?
For almost two years, since August of 2014.

2. How did you hear about us?
Honestly, I forget, but I heard long before I signed up. I had always kept Bootstrap in my mind and when I moved I had a much better location for pick ups/drop offs and storing my bucket.

3. Why did you sign up for Bootstrap?
I cook and always have a lot of scraps.  It seemed like such a waste that I was using my garbage disposal so much – or even worse, stinking my trash out.

4. In what other ways do you recycle, conserve and stay environmentally sound?
I do recycle and try to buy locally grown food when possible.  I’m also a member of Boston Organics.

5. How are you enjoying the service so far?
I love it!  And when I have a busy week, it always amazes me how much I can stuff in my bucket!  Just this week, I had some dead plants, cut flowers, and food scraps of all kinds – coffee grinds and banana peels are usually the most frequent fliers in my bucket.

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Taking a green bucket to a whole new level!

Client Q&A: Pulp Nonfiction at The Juicery

By Igor Kharitonenkov
Co-Founder at Bootstrap Compost, Inc.

Each and every week, Bootstrap helps The Juicery keep 550 pounds of beautiful pulp out of landfills, amounting to a whopping 43,450 lbs of food waste composted since October 2014. Our combined effort has created 21,000+ lbs of compost for local use and offset 41,277 lbs of GHGs – the equivalent of planting 239 trees! And, as an added bonus, I get to stop in and treat myself to my favorite smoothie in town, the Kale Storm. On a recent visit to the North End locale, I took time to chat with one-time manager Caitlin Moakley (who has since relocated to another sweet company, Sweetgreen) about our partnership and what it means to have Bootstrap serving the juice bar.

Caitlin Juicery

Ms. Moakley recognizes the value of sustainable business practices, explaining that “aside from serving food to our customers, we also serve them by composting.”

1.) How long has The Juicery been a client of Bootstrap Compost?
The Juicery has been a client of Bootstrap Compost since October of 2014.

2.) How did you hear about us?
I personally heard about Bootstrap through the SBN (Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts), when I was looking for sustainable, mission-focused jobs after college.

3.) Why did The Juicery sign up for Bootstrap?
The Juicery signed up for Bootstrap because it makes perfect sense. As a business, I believe it is our responsibility to provide our customers with excellent service – to me, that means serving them in more ways than one! Aside from serving food to our customers, we also serve them by composting all of our food scraps. Whatever comes from the earth, we want to put back into it, and not into a garbage bag, being of no use to our environment!

“Many employees didn’t understand what composting was before they began working for us – knowledge is for sure one of the bigger benefits!”

4.) What kind of benefits do your employees or your company derive from the service?
I know we gain the personal satisfaction of knowing that we are creating less “trash” on a daily basis. I know all of my employees have taken a second look at what’s in their hands, and where they should “throw it out” before doing so. Having Bootstrap has allowed all of my employees to not only recognize the benefits of composting within the workplace, but also within their own homes. Many employees didn’t understand what composting was before they began working for us – knowledge is for sure one of the bigger benefits!

5.) Are new employees educated on the benefits and the specifics of composting within your company? If so, how?
New employees become familiar with composting right from the start, hired or not! I explain the composting process in interviews to see if potential employees are with it or not. The sustainable side of our business is the most important to me so I hammer this home within our employees. I explain that any waste we accumulate that comes from the earth can go right back into it. I make sure that employees know to never throw any paper towels with sanitizer or cleaning solutions into the compost, as these are chemicals and ultimately, not something you would want to eat! Visuals always seem to work best, by grabbing each piece of waste, whether it be food, compostable utensils, cups, etc. and showing them where to divert their waste.

Ringing in Spring with Compost Week!

After months of collecting and composting food scraps through rain, snow, and sun-deprivation, we were thrilled to announce our spring edition of Compost Week! — our seasonal distribution of finished compost back to the community. Between April 4th and 15th, a six-pound share of our black gold (hand-sifted and mixed) made its way to your stoop, with hopes of boosting the health and yield of your houseplant, raised bed, or garden plot. And modesty be damned, this batch of finished compost is likely our best yet — dark, moist, and fluffy. It’s truly Boot-iful. And we’re hoping your flora feel the same way. So how did we do?

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Largely hidden from public view since 2011, Buckethead reappears to spread soil for the soul.

As we salute our largest Compost Week! effort ever, we take pride in its monumental impact: the distribution of a whopping two and a half tons (5,144 lbs) of compost back to the Greater Boston community (a feat only made possible by the hardworking, hard-core individuals that make up Team Bootstrap). Let’s break it down, town by town…

The fertile soils of Jamaica Plain will rejoice, as our founding neighborhood stayed true to its green roots and pulled in a healthy share of 1,190 lbs of compost. Across the river, the Fluffernutter-loving people of Somerville weren’t far behind, amassing 1,012 lbs of compost. Up third, Cambridge collected 380 lbs of black gold, amounting to a treasure of growing power for The People’s Republic. Capturing fourth and fifth place, respectively, were Brookline with 334 lbs of soil amendment received and Arlington, which took in nearly 200 pounds. The remaining 2,032 pounds were hand delivered across the Hub, from Malden to Quincy, Southie to Wellesley, and everywhere in between. Big shout to each and every one of you making good use of your soil amendment. As a quick tip, remember that a ¼” of compost on top of your soil will help your plants retain moisture and nutrients. If you’re mixing soil and compost, a ratio of 3 parts soil to 1 part compost is ideal. Stay tuned for a series of blog posts and Tweets that will provide additional gardening info and tips.

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Six pounds of black gold spotted in Cambridgeport.

Lastly, we’d like to highlight the gardens and organizations that took part in our donation program, while thanking our residential clients who elected to have their share donated. This year’s crop of donation recipients includes Glen Park Community Garden in East Somerville (which will put 90 pounds of Bootstrap compost to use) and the Cambridge Community Center garden and Malden Community Garden, both of which received 60 pounds. Our donation program is first-come, first-served — so give us a holler if you have any compost needs for your school, community garden, or organization.

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In total, 858 containers of compost were signed, sealed and delivered, courtesy of Jacob & co.

The BiG Stink: The Scoop on Poop, Part 2

By Faith Miller
Operations Manager at Bootstrap Compost, Inc.

Welcome back to The BiG Stink and thanks for tuning in for Part 2 of the ins and outs of composting scat. Last time I covered the merits of composting cat, dog, rodent, and bird wastes but this week is all about your fellow man. So without further ado, let’s talk about composting human poo.

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The story on humanure? It may kill you or it may bless your garden.

There are two reactions to composting human waste; either you think it’s gross or you think it’s awesome. For those of you on team gross, the ick-factor is warranted. Human feces may contain pathogens such as Hepatitis A, norovirus, E. coli, and roundworms to name a few. Also, food contaminated by night soil (untreated human waste) has led to major public health scares in places such as China, Southeast Asia, and Africa. Since poop can kill, a little fecophobia is justified.

Given that human feces is packed with pathogens and could be deadly, why would one want to compost it? Turns out excrement is chock-full of nutrients plants need including phosphates, potassium, and nitrogen which are the same ingredients in synthetic fertilizers. Americans are flushing 8 million pounds of poop a year, letting a major nutrient source go down the toilet.

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An example of a composting toilet

There are in fact people collecting their waste and saving it from a watery grave. Dedicated composters are harnessing the power of their poop using specialty composting toilets or by simply collecting their waste in a bucket. Contents of the bucket are transferred to the compost pile and given a generous dose of sawdust to mask odors. After several months of curing, a humanure pile should test negative for coliform bacteria and be safe for use on edible crops. When the pile reaches high enough temperatures to kill off pathogens, it appears humanure can be perfectly safe.

That’s human waste composting at a small scale. What about large scale composting of poo? Mass quantities of human waste are composted in the form of biosolids. Biosolids are the organic materials resulting from the processing of sewage in a treatment facility. Biosolids are NOT sewage. Sewage is the untreated mush from everything we flush, throw down the kitchen sink, and wash down the bathroom shower. Biosolids are produced from a heavily regulated process overseen by the EPA and can be applied to crops. In fact, nearly 50% of biosolids produced in the U.S. are returned to farmland.

While a significant portion of human waste is being recovered for fertilizer, many people are concerned that the heavy metals, steroids, and pharmaceuticals found in human waste will make their way into soils and crops.  However, regular testing has found that soils treated with biosolids have heavy metal concentrations significantly below the maximum permissible levels. When tested, biosolids are found to have the same concentrations of pharmaceuticals and steroids as water, soil and human bodies. Which begs the question- if these contaminants already are in the environment, does it matter if they’re in biosolids?

That’s the story on humanure. It may kill you or it may bless your garden. As long as the pile reaches high temperatures and is allowed to cure, pathogens shouldn’t be an issue for home composters (or they can invest in a $960.00 composting toilet). As for biosolids, they contain no more heavy metals or pharmaceuticals than the background environment. My take? Excrement is complicated and one should take it seriously. Tackle the turds at your own risk.

The BiG Stink: The Scoop on Poop, Part 1

By Faith Miller
Operations Manager at Bootstrap Compost, Inc.

Here at the Boot we accept a wide variety of undesirables. Rotten apples, moldy bread, pumpkins way past their prime and all manner of unidentifiable and rancid brown blobs make their way into our buckets. And we’re thrilled to have them! It’s amazing to watch Mother Nature turn foul ingredients into gorgeous, odor-free black gold. While we’re open to collect just about anything that can go into your mouth, Bootstrap is less keen on what comes out the other end. You know what I’m talking about- numero dos, feces, dung, night soil (that’s a term, I swear).

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Bootstrap’s resident pooper scoopees: Cooper and Kooskia

So why isn’t Bootstrap on the turd train? After all, human waste and animal manure have been used as fertilizer for millennia, so what gives? Well, poop is complicated. Composting food is a straightforward process: throw in some scraps and a dry carbon source, keep the pile damp, turn it now and then and voila, you’ll have compost. Composting excrement is a much more delicate subject. When handling waste, one has to be mindful of bacteria, pathogens and heavy metals. These factors vary depending on the kind of waste: cats, dogs, gerbils, birds, people, ponies. Each type seems to have its own composting quirks.

Let’s start with rodents because they get a thumbs up for composting. Bootstrap accepts the waste and bedding from rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and any other rodent friends. Since pet rodents are herbivores, there is less concern about pathogens infecting compost or plants. In addition, one can safely compost manure from chickens, horses, cows, and other herbivorous animals (even elephants!).

Unlike rodents, cat poop is a big no for composting. Felines can transmit a parasite through their feces that causes toxoplasmosis. An estimated 22% of the US population is thought to have toxoplasmosis and most recover without treatment. However, infected pregnant women can pass the infection to the fetus resulting in eye and nervous system deformities. For the sake of the children, please don’t let the cat poop out of the bag.

So what about Fido? Dogs fall into the yes-and-no category for composting. Because dog waste can be packed with parasites such as roundworms, it is recommended that finished compost be used on lawns and ornamental plants instead of the vegetable patch if you’re a home composter. In fact, there seems to be a niche market for doggy do composters.

Bird droppings get a maybe for composting. In fact, I had trouble finding any definitive answers for avian waste. Chickens seem to pass the test, but concerns were raised over transmission of Salmonella, E. coli, and parasites when I checked out parrots and pigeons. There also was apprehension about seeds in droppings surviving the composting process to become weeds. Composting of fowl scat might be strictly for the birds until I find a good answer.

I covered just about every animal on the ark. Now it’s time for the most contentious pooper of all: humans. Psych. That’s a tricky topic and you’ll have to wait until next time for the low-down on humanure. Keep your eyes peeled for post number two (zing!).

Client Q&A: Sarah Robinson

By Igor Kharitonenkov
Co-Founder at Bootstrap Compost, Inc.

Could Sarah Robinson be our #1 fan? The Boston-based green entrepreneur is certainly up for consideration. Shortly after Bootstrap expanded beyond Jamaica Plain and into the high-rises of downtown Boston, Sarah signed up and became a promising rookie in our inaugural class of 2011. The next year, she rose to prominence as a Bootstrap all-pro when she enrolled her company WeSpire, one of our first office accounts. Throughout the years, Sarah has sent many leads our way. And being an early ambassador of Bootstrap and having the perspective of a residential as well as commercial client, she had a lot to share with us about her experience. So here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson!

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What goes around comes around. Sarah using our compost – made in part from her food scraps – in her garden.

How long have you been a client of Bootstrap Compost? I’ve been a residential client since November 2011 and enrolled my business in 2012.

How did you hear about us?  I co-founded Practically Green (now WeSpire) and I’ve always enjoyed keeping an eye on upcoming green companies and entrepreneurs who were building companies to conserve resources.

Why did you sign up for Bootstrap? I’ve been composting for years in the country. I am continually flabbergasted by food waste, especially here in the city, and saw Bootstrap as an awesome, local urban solution to this problem. I also enjoy that as part of their service, I receive a pot of black gold for gardening at home and at my summer house in Rhode Island.

In what other ways do you recycle, conserve and stay environmentally sound? Oh, in every single way you can imagine. Outside of my personal  life, I built a business on conserving (WeSpire), launched our One Small Act initiative with large corporations and actively promote composting within other companies.

Do you have children? If so, are they apart of the composting process? Sure! I have three adult children and you know I make sure they know to compost. Mom’s orders! All jokes aside, I’m happy to say it’s part of our family’s way of life.

How are you enjoying the service so far? Bootstrap is flawless. I give them 5-stars.