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Entrepreneur builds model to give underserved communities access to composting

Posted at 4:07 PM, Jun 13, 2022

Domingo Morales grew up in a public housing complex in the Bronx, New York. On the streets, he was called "Reckless," but his new nickname is "Restless."

"I have this, like, this energy that never goes away," Morales said. "I can't sit still. I constantly have to be doing something."

Instead of fighting to live, Morales is directing his energy into the soil. He's the CEO of Compost Power, and his mission is to build compost sites in underserved communities.

"Let me create a separate entity that actually trains Black and Brown adults in these communities on how to be those experts to increase diversity," Morales said.

Morales says people in these communities didn't have food scrap drop-offs nearby. Now, he's built compost sites in six places across New York City with plans for more.

"I'm like, well, they're not ever going to be able to compost if we don't teach them, if we don't give them the infrastructure and the training to then change their behavior, we can't expect a whole community to change their culture," Morales said.

He says his grassroots model is necessary all over the U.S. if we are to meet zero waste goals. Eric Goldstein works for Natural Resources Defense Council. It's a nonprofit that deals with natural resource protection issues throughout the country and across the planet.

"Across the country, probably less than 5% of the food scraps and yard waste that we generate is sustainably composted," Goldstein said.

Goldstein says not everyone has access to curbside programs.

"What we need to do is have universal curbside collection of food scraps and yard waste, just like we do for recycling and for regular trash," Goldstein said. "There are probably less than 10 million Americans today who are served by curbside compost collection operations."

He says some cities like San Francisco, Seattle and Portland have been leading the way.

"When you have curbside composting and you've implemented it successfully, you can even save money for taxpayers because it costs less to drop off food scraps and yard waste at a composting site than it does at many landfills and incinerators," Goldstein said.

It also cuts down on methane, a harmful gas that is released from decaying food in a landfill. He says he loves to see grassroots-level composting like Compost Power, and he thinks they complement curbside programs well.

"People are seeing firsthand their food scraps, a yard waste transformed into finished compost," Goldstein said.

Morales says he wants to challenge people all over the country to build community compost sites like this.

"This is replicable," Morales said. "You can make micro-scale compost sites throughout the city. I feel like every community district in the world should have something that small-scale educational like this. And it's not hard."