One waitress wants to 86 food waste.
Twice a week, Melissa Tashjian, 35, serves grub at a local pizza joint in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The rest of her time is devoted to her budding business, Compost Crusader, which helps turn food scraps and organic waste into nutrient-rich soil.
“I’ve been in the restaurant industry since I was old enough to serve and I’m definitely conscious of the amount of food waste out there,” she told The Huffington Post.
Tashjian has two garbage trucks that service 55 local business -- restaurants, breweries, elementary schools and a few plant shops -- once or twice a week by picking up their food waste and dropping it off at the composting farm, Blue Ribbon Organics.
The 35-year-old said many of her customers are able to reduce their regular trash pickup enough to cover the cost, or at least 90 percent, of her service.
“Most come out even-steven,” she told HuffPost.
But saving money isn’t exactly the point for her customers.
"Where we really make up is the peace of mind with it, that we know this isn't all going to a landfill," Kristin Hueneke, Lakefront Brewery executive chef and one of Tashjian’s clients, told Milwaukee’s Journal Sentinel.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council about 40 percent of the U.S. food supply goes uneaten. This food waste creates 33 million cars’ worth of greenhouse gases and is “the single largest contributor to landfills today.”
Due to this, composting seems like a practical and simple way to combat the problem, but Tashjian’s journey that led up to starting Compost Crusader was one long haul.
Seven years ago, she started a local nonprofit, Kompost Kids, which had the humble goal of simply educating the folks of Milwaukee about composting.
“We just wanted to make people aware that composting was an option,” Tashjian told HuffPost. “Our goal at first was just to get gardeners to recycle their food scraps.”
It didn’t take long for local restaurants to catch wind of Tashjian’s efforts and soon she was invited to swing by their locations, pick up their waste and use it for composting.
So, for five years Tashjian and Kompost Kids would drop off five-gallon buckets to local restaurants, wait until they were full, pick up them up and compost their scraps in a secure area. Yet, as word continued to spread, it became clear the nonprofit needed a new game plan to keep up with the growing demand.
“I have a dog, and I would literally walk him twice a day to pick up five-gallon buckets in a little red wagon. Then I’d pull it blocks to where we established our first compost site,” she said.
She got a pickup truck, but even that wasn't enough. However Tashjian was determined not to give up.
“One day, I was talking about all this to my boyfriend who is a welder, truck driver and a master mechanic, and he said ‘Why don’t you just try to do it yourself?’ And I was like ‘Well, I don’t drive trucks, I don’t know how to build composting bins,’ and he was like ‘Well, duh, I can help you with that.’ And that’s pretty much how I started,” she said.
With the help of her boyfriend, Matthew Scannella, Tashjian bought “a slow-moving kind of Frankenstein truck” that she named "Torty." She and Scannella retrofitted the vehicle to be able to pick up dumpsters and roll away totes, so it could service businesses just like a waste management truck would.
Six to eight months later, she got a loan, which enabled her to trade in her startup truck for two rear-loading garbage trucks. It’s been two years since Tashjian started Compost Crusader and just last month, the company picked up 115,000 pounds of organic material — more than four times the weight she was handling when she started in 2014, reports the Journal Sentinel.
Although Tashjian is trying to have a big impact on food waste, as a waitress, she does have a small tip for everyday diners who want to do their part.
“I often suggest that people split items when I think their eyes are bigger than their stomachs,” she said. “I mean, they could always order more later if they want. The kitchen’s not going anywhere.”