Michael Larrivee and his team of volunteers at The Compost Fairy are on a mission. They want your food waste — and for good reason.

The Compost Fairy is a Memphis nonprofit created to help everyday folks dispose of their waste in a more environmentally friendly way.

“Composting is the easiest way to make a positive impact on the environment, and the impact is felt immediately,” Larrivee said. “The second you make the decision to skip your landfill bin and put your compostables in a compost bucket, you’re short-circuiting an incredibly destructive and unsustainable waste management system.”

Think of The Compost Fairy as the magical helper to help you turn your waste into compost for your garden. They collect everyday items such as fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, leaves and garden trimmings, egg shells and even dryer lint. Rather than being lost to a landfill, these items are transformed into finished compost that can be used to fertilize your garden.

The environmental impact is substantial.

“We (Shelby County residents) throw away 1.7 million tons of waste every year, and around 40% of it is compostable,” Larrivee said, citing 2017 figures. “Capturing that waste stream would be the equivalent of taking 250,000 cars off the road every year.”

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How it works

The Compost Fairy currently collects compostable waste at more than 100 homes and businesses throughout the city — and that number is growing. They also have free self-service community drop-offs at two farmers markets (Cooper-Young Community Farmers Market and Memphis Farmers Market).

Betsy Hood has been a member of The Compost Fairy’s residential Curbside Pick-Up Program for over a year.

“They couldn’t make it any easier,” Hood said. “They literally pick up at my doorstep and twice a year drop off compost for my garden. My flowers look beautiful this year because of it.”

The weekly curbside pickup service is $20 per month. Members receive a bucket with a seal-tight lid and a compostable trash bag to collect their compost. Once a week, The Compost Fairy stops by your house and picks up the bag of compost, leaving an empty bag to be filled. Each spring and fall, they drop off a load of finished compost for your garden.

Hood loved the program so much that she told her friends about it.

“I’ve composted for years in my backyard and want to keep things out of the landfill, but it’s hard work,” Margaret Fraser said. “Mike and his team have made it so easy. They take my fruit and vegetable trimmings, and a few months later, I get a bag of beautiful compost. My flowers, tomatoes and cucumbers love it.”

Making events zero waste

Part of The Compost Fairy’s mission is to help events around Memphis become “zero waste.”

One of the first events they worked with was the Grind City Coffee Expo last fall.

“They reached out to all of the coffee and food vendors attending the expo to help coordinate disposal and make pickup of materials seamless,” said Rachel Williams, an expo co-founder. “We are very proud to say that with their help, we were able to divert 287 pounds of food waste.”

Caroline Smart is The Compost Fairy board member who spearheads the event “zero waste” initiative. She had worked with over 10 events since they started the program last October with the Mempho Music Festival. At that festival alone, they diverted more than 50 cubic yards of compostable waste.

Smart works with the event planners from the ground-up.

“We look at the layout, the utensils and serving pieces to be used and even the types of trash and recycle bins used,” she said.

For each event, she labels waste receptacles with what can be composted, what can be recycled and what, hopefully not much, has to be considered trash for the landfill.

Events are also an educational opportunity for The Compost Fairy.

“Events are super impactful because they are street level and hit a crazy cross section of the community,” Larrivee said. “It would be difficult to find an education and outreach model that effective. It’s a great way to show people that there are compostable options to petroleum-based plastics, like cups, plates and to-go containers.”

Why is it important to compost?

“Organics in the landfill generate methane, a horribly potent greenhouse gas, and create leachate that poisons the groundwater and soil,” Larrivee said.

On average, 35% of the waste produced at home is food waste, and 75% of that is compostable, Larrivee said.

The Compost Fairy wants people to know that once these materials are saved, a rich, dense soil for flowers, trees and veggies can be created. Healthy soil makes healthy plants that are more resistant to drought, disease and other stresses.

“You can reduce your personal carbon footprint by letting The Compost Fairy collect your food scraps and lawn waste, then we make it magically turn into a renewable product,” Larrivee said. “Through this experience, we hope we all start thinking about how to consume things in a way that wastes less.”

Jennifer Chandler is the Food & Dining reporter at The Commercial Appeal. She can be reached at jennifer.chandler@commercialappeal.com and you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @cookwjennifer.

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