Sunday, July 14, 2024

Building a composting business starts with community

Robbette Schmit of Winton Mfg. stands in front of a compost pile.
Robbette Schmit of Winton Mfg. stands in front of a compost pile.
TAYLOR CALDWELL/WARD MEDIA
Posted

CASHMERE - Winton Manufacturing Compost Works isn’t just a composting business; it’s a result of a community driven by environmental stewardship. In just over a year, 25 businesses, 201 residents, four schools, and the City of Leavenworth have kept nearly 2 million pounds of waste from going into the landfill by way of compost.

Nestled in the trees along Highway 2, Winton Mfg. sits between Tumwater Canyon and Coles Corner. The inbound side of the business, such as the collection of compost material, is supported by the businesses and residents who have signed up for the service. Winton Mfg. covers the outbound side of the costs, such as the composting process, by selling the product to farmers, landscapers and at-home gardeners.

While the facility itself is rather large, Winton Mfg. has only a handful of employees handling the composting process. They pick up the yard and food waste, then mix and grind it down. After that, they place it in a pile underneath a Gore-Tex covering. “Like your jacket,” said Robbette Schmit, the Sales and Outreach Coordinator. They make sure each pile maintains the appropriate amount of oxygen, water, and drainage for the other millions of unspoken employees hard at work, breaking it down: the microbes. 

“That’s the smell of composting. To me, it smells good,” said Schmit, standing between two giant steaming piles of food scraps, yard waste, and millions of feasting microbes. The composting smell is an acquired taste, she says, just like coffee or beer. While some onlookers may see - and smell - rotting garbage, Schmit sees the piles as a testament to the power of a community effort. Each pile is two to three months of waste from businesses, schools, and residents ranging from Leavenworth to Wenatchee. After thirty days and a few more steps to the process, such as removing sneaky plastics and other large items from the mix, the waste will be transformed into nutrient-dense compost.

It took Winton Mfg. a couple of years before they could bring the community into the process. They struggled through converting the old mill site into a composting facility during the height of the pandemic. However, by 2022, Winton Mfg. received the permitting needed to accept compostable waste from the community. One of the first deliveries from a local customer was a big bag of meat scraps, gladly delivered by J & J Meats of Cashmere.

With the help of Schmit’s outreach, Leavenworth’s participation quickly grew. Cascade School District joined early on as a way to educate students, personally driving up its waste before any pick-up stations were arranged in town. Munchen Haus joined shortly after, along with Yodelin and Los Camperos. In November of 2022, the Community Compost Program started as a way to get residents involved. For $5 a month, households could receive a 5-gallon bucket and bring their compostable waste to one drop-off location in town or to the facility.

Not only did the new participants support the business by way of composting material, but they also helped Schmit spread the word. “A lot of our customers have come from our Community Compost Program. LOGE came on because we had a community composter that worked there,” said Schmit. Blue Elk Inn and Obertal Inn joined in the same manner. More and more businesses have joined, such as Stevens Pass and Cascade Medical. According to Schmit, employees of participating businesses have shown some of the most support.

 

“I think a lot of employees feel very empowered…I know the hospital employees in the kitchen - there are so many advocates in that group of kitchen workers who take so much pride in their compost. Somebody puts a glove in [the compost], and they have another conversation,” said Schmit.

A year in, the Community Composting Program has grown from 26 participants in December 2022 to 201 residents. The number of compost drop-off locations (including the facility itself) has grown from two to seven. Winton Mfg. partnered with the City of Leavenworth, which helped add a drop-off station at City Hall. The City also received a USDA grant this year to help fund the composting efforts of local businesses and the school district. They’ve also partnered with Upper Valley Mend and Plain Pantry, offering to compost unclaimed or inedible food items that were donated. 

Its reach is also growing beyond Leavenworth. Winton Mfg. now has three new customers in Wenatchee: Wenatchee Valley College, Confluence Health, and Taco Time. It makes the drive to Wenatchee for pick-ups. “We're willing to go there for three customers because that's how much we really believe in the process and what the community can do with this. A lot of businesses, especially on the hauling side of things, wouldn't start unless they had 100 customers. We realized that we have to educate and promote and partner in order to build the business,” said Schmit.

Toyota Town Center, Yonder Cider Company, and the Gorge Amphitheater have all reached out in interest as well. “The other [one] I'm excited to work with is the school districts down there. The Cascade School District has been so successful, they're willing to help us educate down valley to our other school districts,” said Schmit.

Since September 2022, Winton Mfg. has collected 983 tons of waste, but Schmit only sees all of the waste that has yet to be collected. In a 2015-2016 study, Washington State Department of Ecology estimated that Chelan, Douglas, Grant, Kittitas, Okanogan, Yakima and Klickitat counties produced 518,121 tons of waste all together. Of that total, 32.6 percent of it was organic waste, totaling 168,970 tons (nearly 338 million pounds). Winton Mfg. has the capacity to compost 62,000 tons of waste a year, with the potential to service Chelan, Douglas, Grant and Kittitas counties.

To Schmit, it comes down to educating the public on all of the benefits. Not only does composting reduce the waste stream in landfills, but it reduces greenhouse gas emissions, improves soil health, and can even help offset waste management costs. 

Winton Mfg. is located at 17400 Winton Rd, Leavenworth. More information about composting benefits and how to get involved can be found at wintonmfg.com, or by calling (509) 763-0000.

Taylor Caldwell: 509-433-7276 or taylor@ward.media

Comments

No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here