From Combat to Compost in Harford County

More food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other single material in municipal solid waste. Food waste contributes 20% of all materials in landfills. This is especially problematic because its decomposition produces greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, landfills are a major source of human-related methane in the United States, accounting for more than 20% of all methane emissions.

Turning food scraps into compost instead keeps organic waste out of landfills and methane from being released into the atmosphere - the equivalent of taking more than 600,000 cars off the road each year.  By composting, local community members can have a big impact on cutting carbon. Currently, there are 26 permits for composting in Maryland. Located in Aberdeen, Veteran Compost is one of the only composters of food scraps, and the only commercial worm composting operation.

Justen Garrity is the founder of Veteran Compost, a company with just two goals. One is to turn food scraps into high-quality compost. The other is employing veterans and their families. Many people understand that veterans have unemployment rates much higher than the national average. After coming back to the US from being on Active Duty Army, Justen faced unemployment himself. 

This led him to decide to create his own business. With the issue of organic waste going into landfills, Justen chose to solve this problem by creating his own composting company: Veteran Compost. We asked him a few questions about what got him started, what his successes have been, and what it will take for businesses like his to thrive in Maryland.

How did you get interested in composting? 

"Growing up my family always had a compost pile behind our house in Columbia, MD.  Probably not allowed technically with all of the rules there.....  We used to compost our grass clippings, food scraps and leaves.  So, it was something I grew up doing alongside recycling." 

How did your company get started?  

"I left the Active Duty Army in 2009 and found myself unemployed.  So, I started looking around for a business that could sustain me.  I liked the idea of composting because it solved a waste problem and a soil problem all at once.  I took the money I saved up while I was in the Army, and decided to try starting a compost business.  We've bootstrapped ourself upwards ever since."

What’s been your biggest success while operating?  

"We added dental insurance and a 401K match this year as employee benefits.  It feels good to be getting the company to a point where we can give back to the staff that has helped us grow to this point."

What’s been your biggest struggle while operating?  

"Everyday something goes wrong – a truck breaks down, someone is out sick, a customer is slow to pay their bills, its raining, etc.  So, the biggest struggle as a small business owner is staying positive while all of that happens everyday."

What barriers have you faced while launching your company?  

"Its really tough to open a business these days, especially a compost business.  Government paperwork/regulations, lack of support from banks, and the challenging economics of composting have made it a long grind.  But, we’ve continued to move forward despite all of that."

Did you receive any assistance from the state or try to find any?  

"The first 7 years of business, we received no government financial assistance.  Two years ago we were awarded a grant from MD Department of Agriculture to help develop a manure composting and training facility in Anne Arundel County.  We hope to have the first phase up and running in the next few months."

To learn more about Veteran Compost, sign up for organic waste pick up, or even apply for a job, visit www.veterancompost.com/, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter!

Want to bring more composting initiatives to Maryland? Check out our zero waste campaigns and get involved!