Missouri Composting

KC Can Compost puts organic waste in the right place.

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KC Can Compost makes it easy for Kansas City-area businesses to reduce their landfill contributions, collecting organic kitchen waste and taking it straight to the compost pile. The company works with dozens of local restaurants and cafés, including Bay Boy Specialty Sandwiches, Crows Coffee, East Forty Brewery, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Oddly Correct, Parlor and Thou Mayest Coffee Roasters.

“We believe that we are at our best when we minimize – or find a way to reuse – waste,” says Bo Nelson, owner of Thou Mayest Coffee Roasters. “Personally, I hate waste, so when [KC Can Compost] approached us, it was a no-brainer. Take our waste and turn it into compost? Heck yes! More people need to take advantage of this service, especially businesses that have food waste.”

The company is the child company and environmental arm of Shelter KC, a nonprofit that provides long-term recovery support to homeless, as well as formerly incarcerated, individuals. KC Can Compost also provides environmental literacy and green employment training to those individuals through its Green Core Training Program, which was made possible through the EPA’s Environmental Justice Small Grants Program.

Kristan Chamberlain, executive director of KC Can Compost, is a California native. When she moved to Kansas City, she quickly learned that there was very little commercial composting in the area. “I felt the gap,” she says. “Composting is such an easy way to reduce methane and greenhouse gas emissions, and there was just no opportunity for [local] restaurants to do it – it was too complicated. So I basically merged the two ideas: the need of [homeless and at-risk individuals] to earn a living wage and the need of restaurants to responsibly dispose of their organic kitchen waste.

“We spent two years researching models,” she continues. “We looked at examples from France and Germany, and we’ve come up with a model that is really easy for [restaurants and cafés] to implement.”

KC Can Compost does all the necessary employee training and provides all the equipment they need to get started – equipment, in fact, that reduces all of the problems that were once associated with composting. The kitchen staff doesn’t need to separate anything; KC Can Compost can take everything – from meat to dairy to clam shells – in the same bucket. And the method is clean – much cleaner than the regular trash. 

So far, the initiative has received nothing but positive feedback from participating businesses. “Kansas City is so great,” says Chamberlain. “The chefs have been the catalysts – they have really been the ones to jump on board because they realize how much waste is happening in their kitchens. And we’re giving them the opportunity to be sustainable.”

Depending on the quantity the restaurant or café produces, KC Can Compost will collect its organic kitchen waste once or twice a week. “Just to give you an idea, Thou Mayest Coffee Roasters is throwing out approximately 350 pounds of coffee grounds a week,” says Chamberlain. “That’s just one little coffeehouse – [its Crossroads location].”

Once picked up, all organic waste is taken to Missouri Organic Recycling – which has been an integral part of the Kansas City community for 25 years – to be composted.

Cities such as San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, Oregon, already have composting mandates that require restaurants – and sometimes even residents – to divert their organic waste. “Mandates are coming [to Missouri too],” predicts Chamberlain. “We’re trying to get out in front of that on top of being evermore sustainable.”

The company also works in conjunction with Kanbe’s Markets and Chef Collective KC to make sure absolutely none of the food coming into the organizations goes to waste. “It’s really a group effort,” says Chamberlain. “We’re sort of the bottom feeders, but it makes for a nice closed loop.”

Composting is the way of the future, and KC Can Compost is a call to action that will better our community and benefit our planet.

KC Can Compost, kccancompost.com