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SALT LAKE CITY — Several young entrepreneurs from BYU are turning a profit by turning food scraps into fertilizer.
They're helping the environment, giving gardeners what they want, and growing a business, too.
"It's a dirty business," Ecoscraps co-founder Dan Blake said with a smile. He thinks that's one reason someone else hasn't already run with the idea.
Composting for fertilizer is not a new concept. Many people do it at home. But three innovators took that green idea and figured out how to make some green. Ecoscraps turns tons of food waste into organic compost.
"Probably the least sexy business that you could get into," Blake said.
A year ago, Blake was stunned by how much food went into the garbage at an all-you-can-eat buffet in Provo. He did some research and discovered food waste is 25 percent of our waste stream.
So he went dumpster diving and started compost tests in trash cans in the parking lot of his apartment complex.
"After a series of experiments with food compost, we came up with a recipe that had almost double the nutrients of chemical fertilizers, while still being completely organic," Blake said.
Each day, Ecoscraps makes the rounds at grocers, farms and restaurants. They haul in 9 tons of food scraps, mainly fruits and vegetables. Since the business started 11 months ago, they've kept 400,000 pounds of food out of the landfill.
At their Salt Lake City plant, they grind up the scraps, mix in wood shavings and pile it up.
"Within about 24 hours, these piles heat up to over 140 degrees, and it just starts cooking," Blake said.
The decomposing waste cooks itself. Blake reaches into the steaming pile and pulls out a handful of compost. It's hot in his hand.
The company oxygenates the massive pile of decomposing food waste every few days with a snowblower. After three weeks, it's ready to bag up and send to nurseries.
"We do good for the environment," said co-founder Craig Martineau. "It's a very profitable business, if we run it right, and it's green."
Ecoscraps already has another plant in Tempe, Ariz., and will expand to Denver and Portland this summer.
"We see it spreading nationwide fairly quickly," said co-founder Brandon Sargent.
The businessmen say it took a lot of trial and error, long hours, and innovative work with machines to get the business rolling in less than a year.
"It's sustainable, it's smart, and it's cost-efficient," Sargent said. "This is definitely the way of the future."
Ecoscraps sells under the brand Harvest Plenty in 35 nurseries in Utah.