Ted Simons: Produce is one of those food items you constantly have to replenish because it doesn't last long. That problem is multiplied for food banks and stores. Once produce goes bad it mostly goes to the landfill but one company is turning rotting fruit and vegetables into high grade soil. I will talk to one of the founders of Ecoscraps, but first here's a look at the company's Tempe facility.
Mike Sauceda: Every day Americans throw out tons of food including fruits and vegetables that produce usually ends up in a landfill where it rots and produces methane, a greenhouse gas. Three friends had an epiphany one day leading them to a solution to that problem. While eating at the buffet they noticed food going to waste and thought there must be a better way.
Brandon Sergent: See that steam in there?
Mike Sauceda: So they started researching composting and were soon doing it in a parking lot of an abandoned motel starting a company called Ecoscraps. They started selling their product, organic soil, to nurseries and it became so successful that they opened up this facility near McClintock and Curry in Tempe. At their Tempe location they get 10 tons of rotting produce a day and have processed 400,000 pounds of it. All that rotting produce has turned into high grade organic soil. Most of the discarded produce comes from food banks, grocery stores and distributors, taking it to Ecoscraps saves those organizations money because they don't have to haul to it a landfill. Ecoscraps soil can be purchased at valley nursery, sold under the name harvest Plenty.
Ted Simons: And here now to talk more about Ecoscraps is Brandon Sergent, one of the founders of the company. Thanks for joining us tonight on Horizon.
Brandon Sergent: No problem, thank you.
Ted Simons: How does this work? We kind of got an indication there of folks, do you collect the food? Do they bring it to you?
Brandon Sergent: Different arrangements with different people but basically, whether we go out and get it or they bring it to us, we get the food at our yard. We run it through some special machinery which basically pulverizes it. We mix it with a carbon supplement in order to really kind of start that composting process. We are cranking out between 30 and 40 cubic yards a day of compost that we make every single day. The product itself heats up over 100 degrees within 24 hours. And then we start aerating. We have some special aeration machinery we use as well and it takes, between two and three months to fully mature.
Ted Simons: So basically, you have got the rotting stuff. You mix it with, what, the special formula there?
Brandon Sergent: Carbon supplement. We use untreated wood shavings, you just have to make sure your nitrogen and carbon is balance in order for it really work. We have a special formula that we have. We mix it together and it just starts going to work. The microorganisms start eating everything and it's pretty cool.
Ted Simons: That's fascinating. How do you make sure it's properly balanced? Because anything could get in there and screw the whole thing up, I would think.
Brandon Sergent: You got to -- there's different types or different things that you have to have balance. You have to balance the micro and macronutrients. We do add a mineral mix in order to make sure that's all properly balanced for your end results and plants. You have to balance the PH. A lot of times down here we get a lot of citrus so we have to add things that are alkaline in order to properly balance that out for your plants because your plants don't want something that's really acidic either. And just different things like that. We also have to make sure that the moisture is balanced as well. That's one of the reasons why we do it indoors. We can control, if it's raining or if it's really hot outside, we can control the moisture of our piles.
Ted Simons: I was going to say, it sounds unusual to have something like this indoors. Is it?
Brandon Sergent: Yeah, it is unusual. But because of that, we're able to turn out a higher quality product. We are able to test it and keep all those things balanced from start to finish.
Ted Simons: Is it the kind of things where it has to be tested periodically over time? How long does this process take by the way?
Brandon Sergent: It takes between two and three months. Different things, you know, take longer to compost than others. But we get it tested at the end for maturity, for pH, for nutrients and then package it and send it out.
Ted Simons: Where do you send it out to?
Brandon Sergent: To local nurseries. You can buy it at almost any of the local independent nurseries here around town. We also have done quite a few things with community gardens and things like that, where our end product would be used.
Ted Simons: We kind of got an indication where this idea got started in the intro piece here. Give us more info, if you will. It sounds like a bunch of guys sitting around at a buffet saying, "Hey, that stuff's going to waste."
Brandon Sergent: Well so in truth, one of my partners Dan, he kind of thought of the idea. It's his thing. And I got brought on shortly after that along with Craig who is the third partner. And we just did a lot of business plan competitions. I remember, back in the early days, I would take my pickup in between classes as a student up at BYU and in between classes I would go to grocery stores and pick up produce and then we would go compost it at night.
Ted Simons: Really?
Brandon Sergent: Yeah.
Ted Simons: So this is what you did for nun.
Brandon Sergent: Well, for fun. I saw a lot of opportunity as far as a business goes. I have always been very fascinated with business and with things being able to scale. And this is, it's the sweetest business because, one, we are taking waste, trash, making something that's not only good, but one of the best products out on the market. You know, it's far better than any of the metro chemical based competitors. It is sustainable. We are being able to make money off this business and do something that's great. Help our people. Help the community. It's just a really great overall business.
Ted Simons: I was going to ask you, was this the kind of thing you always dreamed of doing? Producing compost?
Brandon Sergent: No. I never -- I didn't even really know anything about compost or horticulture, I knew what a pH was from science class but that's about it. So I really had to learn a lot to make this work. Because I'm out talking every day with nursery owners, people who have been in the industry 40 years. And I am happen to talk to them on an equal basis. I have had to step my learning up in this field. But, yeah. It's a lot of fun. I really do enjoy it.
Ted Simons: The idea that, I know some communities are experimenting with yard waste, palm fronds and whatever.
Brandon Sergent: Yeah.
Ted Simons: There's not the same thing. You need fruits and vegetables.
Brandon Sergent: Fruits and vegetables. In order to keep our end product consistent from bag to bag we got to keep our recipe consistent. That doesn't mean composting yard trimmings is bad. That's actually very good, and we actually teach free composting classes at some of the nurseries where we stress, hey, compost your yard, your leaves, your kitchen scraps and everything like that. We teach people how to balance that so they can also be sustainable.
Ted Simons: Are you working with any cities to get, you know, if they -- I don't know. Just get residents who have a lot of fruit trees in there yards?
Brandon Sergent: We are working toward something with the city of Tempe to get some bins placed out in the community. Right now we don't have anything like that. But I think it would be a really great thing to put together.
Ted Simons: All right. Brandon, good luck. Thank you so much for joining us, we appreciate it.
Brandon Sergent: Thank you.