Garrett Menghini may be the most conspicuous composter in Reno. On Tuesday and Wednesday mornings each week, he pedals his way through central Reno collecting food waste from residential customers, consolidating it into large green bins he pulls along behind him on a bike trailer.
As of 2016, Nevadans generated waste at a rate of 7.9 lbs/day/person, nearly double the national average of 4.38 lbs/day/person [Solid Waste Management Plan of Washoe County 2016]. According EPA data, about 22 percent of all landfilled municipal solid waste is food waste. Doing the math suggests that each Nevadan generates approximately 1.7lbs of food waste per day.
Nationally, the amount of food waste composted between 2000 and 2015 nearly tripled. Yet the Washoe County Plan does not provide for residential composting service. While Waste Management offers commercial compost pick up, the company does not offer this service to residences.
This is where Down to Earth Composting fits in. Garrett Menghini and his small team of cyclists will pick up your food waste on a weekly basis. Riders pull trailers with large green compost receptacles, into which they dump the contents of residents’ 5-gallon buckets, which they then replace with a freshly cleaned and lined empty bucket. Those large receptacles are collected at a central location and then hauled away by truck.
Garrett and team collects upwards of 1300 lbs of residential compost per week. In addition to residential collection, Down To Earth offers “pay as you throw” locations where you can drop off your organic waste. Maps of the curbside collection area and residential pickup locations are available on the Down to Earth website.
Anyone who sees Menghini pulling a full trailer through their neighborhood may wonder what he eats to fuel that effort. “I’ll typically start the day with oatmeal w/chia seeds, some sort of nut butter, and a banana,” wrote Menghini. His evening post-work(out) meals usually involve more protein, eg “eggs, elk/venison, raw milk, yogurt, avocado,” and he admits to an occasional baguette binge.
While pedal-powered composting isn’t turning heads in the venture capital crowd, Down to Earth Composting is growing rapidly. Menghini started the company in February of 2018 by acquiring Reno Rot Riders’ residential service and its 45 customers. As of April 2019, Down to Earth was collecting buckets from 128 Reno homes. In addition, 145 people were using the drop-off locations.
Not prone to resting on his laurels, Menghini continues to mull options for the greenest use of food waste. While composting does allow food waste to come full circle, it also produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Some landfills are using methane-capture systems which burn that methane for energy. “The more I learn about anaerobic digestion, the more I see that technology as the most effective way to utilize our food waste” wrote Menghini.
Currently Down to Earth takes the collected food waste to RT Donovan’s commercial-scale compost facility near Sparks. There massive windrows of organic materials break down at high temperatures under the watchful eyes of the County Health Department and RT Donovan employees. As a part of their service, Down to Earth offers customers compost to use in their home gardens twice annually
- Map of Down to Earth Composting curbside collection zones and drop-off sites: https://www.downtoearthcomposting.com/
- Solid Waste Management Plan of Washoe County 2016. https://www.washoecounty.us/health/files/ehs/waste-management/solid-waste-plan-4.pdf
- “Food: Material Specific Data.” Facts and Figures about Materials Waste and Recycling. EPA website. https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/food-material-specific-data
Andrea is a freelance photographer and mountain enthusiast. She discovered the Great Basin on her first trip to California 15 years ago and finally made the move to Reno in 2019. Her favorite stories investigate efforts to strike a balance between conservation and recreation. Andrea has made images for a variety of publications, websites, and conservation organizations. In her free time—and sometimes for work!—she enjoys rock climbing, backpacking, snowshoeing, and lazy days in camp with her husband.