Compost. Garbage. Trash. Waste.
Whatever you call it, most of us want it out of our homes as fast as possible. But Andy Brooks wants your trash. In fact, he will come pick it up for you.
Brooks is the president and founder of Bootstrap Compost, a home delivery service that will pick up your compost – coffee grinds, banana peels, egg shells and whatever other biodegradable foods stuffs you decide to toss. Simply throw it in a five-gallon bucket, and for a small fee, Brooks brings your compost to local farms that use the waste as fertilizers.
Last holiday season, Brooks was visiting his family in Vermont and was impressed with his sister’s compost service. “I was struck by the idea. It was really novel,” says Brooks, who had been out of work for two years. “I was at my wit’s end.”
So, he decided to bring a compost service to Boston. “On New Year’s Day 2011, I made a bunch of flyers and posted them around Jamaica Plain,” says Brooks. “It really got things rolling.” Subscribers signed up faster than you can say “biodegradable,” and Brooks was traveling all over greater Boston to pick up people’s trash… on foot.
“I was limited to who I could serve because I didn’t have a car at the time. I was just using a hand truck, my feet, and a T pass,” he laughs. “I was literally walking around Somerville. And Somerville’s massive.”
Over the next few months, Bootstrap Compost exploded, Brooks quit his part-time job and bought a bike cart, which enabled him to do six pickups at a time. Still, with over 200 customers in the greater Boston area, Brooks wasn’t able to keep up, and invested in a truck and hired help.
Now, he travels as far south as Hingham and as far north as Stoneham to pick up waste, using a car most days, but using the more environmentally-friendly bike trailer on select days. Subscribers can opt for $8 weekly, $18 twice monthly or $10 monthly pickups.
In 2011, Bootstrap Compost averaged 150 pickups per week, each weighing about seven pounds and amounting to more than 21,000 pounds of compost last year. Small family-run farms in the area use the waste materials as an asset for their own composting needs. In turn, every three to six months, Brooks gets back a massive amount of soil, which he passes on to his subscribers if they want it.
“Plants respond really well to it. It contains so many nutrients that help plants thrive,” he says, adding that he often brings access soil to community gardens in the area.
In the next five years, Brooks aims for Bootstrap Compost to have a presence in other cities in the Northeast. “With the right people and the right vehicles, I think we can handle it,” he says.
It’s obvious how incredibly dedicated and passionate Brooks is about his mission. “I think the name says it all,” he says. “’Bootstrapping’ – it’s this idea that nobody is going to help me out but myself. It’s also about lifting up the entire community because we’re all doing our part.”
The most important question, though: doesn’t it stink?
“It doesn’t smell any worse than your trash,” ensures Brooks. “In the summer it’s a little rough, but so are dumpsters.”