October 6, 2014
Next 2014

Garbage to Garden is 'a for-profit with a mission'

PHOTo / Peter van Allen
PHOTo / Peter van Allen

Tyler Frank

CEO Garbage to Garden, Portland

Garbage to Garden

600 Riverside St., Portland

CEO: Tyler Frank

Employees: 6 full-time, 6 part-time

Revenue: $600,000

Contact: 332-0277

To many, the future of Portland is about new restaurants, an influx of new residents and a vibrant 24/7 community.

For Tyler Frank, 29-year-old founder of Garbage to Garden, that future includes a lot of additional waste. And that's where Garbage to Garden comes in.

The Portland-based company works on a subscriber basis. Customers pay $14 a month and are given a bucket with a lid in which they can collect kitchen scraps. That waste is collected once a week and thrown into a giant compost heap. Customers are then eligible to pick up finished compost, which can be used in gardens, window boxes, flower pots and so on.

In two years, it has built a subscriber list of 3,300 residential customers and 100 commercial clients, including Allagash Brewery, Sebago Brew Pub, Old Orchard Beach, Falmouth schools and Yarmouth's Rowe Elementary School.

Frank estimates the company is saving the city of Portland $140,000 in charges from trash haulers. The company diverts about 2,000 tons of waste a year — waste that would cost about $70 a ton for the city to have hauled away.

Garbage to Garden is not subsidized. It's a for-profit company. Frank says it's on track for $600,000 in revenue this year and he says the company is profitable, albeit with "lean margins." There are 12 employees, half of whom are full-timers.

Like a growing number of young entrepreneurs, Frank sees Garbage to Garden as a for-profit company with a mission.

"Trash companies were not taking organic food waste [separately]. That created an opportunity for us," he says. "We're not a nonprofit but we're mission based. In 2014, it makes sense, but it also makes money. We recycle and literally return it to you."

Kendall Hinkley, a partner in Garbage to Garden, says it is an "intersection of a for-profit business with a mission."

"I'm impressed at how this business motivated people to adopt it," Hinkley says.

Frank grew up in North Yarmouth, attended Cheverus High School and Boston College. In college, he considered starting a T-shirt company, but decided the start-up costs would be too high.

"At B.C., I studied business," he says. "I always wanted to run my own thing."

He launched Garbage to Garden in 2012 with a pickup truck and $300, savings from working for Lee Toyota and Black Tie Catering. At the time, it was based at his mom's house in North Yarmouth.

"I needed people to commit to it. We needed a website. We had some marketing cards. We had 12 buckets," Frank says. "At the time, I had no idea how or where I would collect it."

Within 30 days of launching in 2012, Garbage to Garden had 174 customers. It has expanded mainly by word-of-mouth, though its green-and-white signs are becoming common in front of stores like Rosemont Market. At last month's Common Ground Fair in Unity, Garbage to Garden handled trash collection. Its green tents at the fair were paid for with a grant from the Libra Foundation.

For now, Garbage to Garden is based in about 1,200 square feet at 600 Riverside St. in Portland. It's enough space for an indoor bucket-rinsing operation and some bare-bones administrative space. By next month, Frank expects the company to move into 5,000 square feet not far away, at 460 Riverside, which would give it more indoor space for the growing number of buckets to be cleaned, as well as a "public friendly" drop-off location.

The organic matter itself is composted at the Benson Farm in Gorham, though customers can pick up finished compost at the Garbage to Garden site.

One of the big start-up expenses was developing software that would keep track of billing data and customer locations, creating updated route information for the drivers who do curb-side pickup.

In the next five years, Frank would like to have more locations, possibly including licensed operations or franchises.

Frank sees expansion as a possibility. Bangor, for example, is closing its Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. landfill in 2018. "There's a large amount of trash that has to go somewhere," Frank says.

Setting up in a new city would mean another set of trucks, another facility, new employees and other expenses. So for now Frank sees growth in greater customer density in the Portland area.

"If we can build density where we are, then we might be able to move into another town or two," Frank says.

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