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Rochester zero-waste, composting companies merge

A Rochester-based zero-waste solutions company has acquired a composting company it first partnered with in 2014. Financial details of the purchase were not disclosed.

Impact Earth Inc. will take over operations of Community Composting, a company it first partnered with at the Brighton Farmers Market. The two companies have since worked together to co-market services whenever possible and to build momentum for sustainability, officials noted. Combined, the two companies have diverted nearly 4 million pounds of organics from landfills.

“The acquisition of Community Composting grants Impact Earth the ability to reach more people to expand our greater collective impact as a community,” said Impact Earth Founder and CEO Robert Putney. “We are dedicated to ensuring individuals and businesses have the opportunity to learn and engage in diversion efforts and are thrilled for this opportunity to greater serve our community and our planet.”

Since 2014, Impact Earth has continued to expand its team and services. Beyond composting, the company offers environmental education, lifestyle products and packaging and consulting services. Lifestyle products are available online and at retail locations like Eastview Mall and at the Rochester Public Market.

Consulting services range from waste audits and policy and program development to feasibility studies and sustainability/climate action plans, with clients spanning multiple industries such as the municipalities, venues and businesses. In 2020, the company was awarded the 2020 Rochester Museum and Science Center’s STEM Catalyst Award in the Sustainability/Agriculture/Food Production category.

With offices on Brighton Henrietta Townline Road, Impact Earth plans to continue to expand in 2021 and is focused on growth and expanding services, officials said. The pandemic has had a detrimental effect on many small businesses nationwide and has required the team at Impact Earth to pivot as a company to react to current community needs. Impact Earth saw an opportunity in the acquisition of Community Composting, officials said.

Community Composting’s curbside composting service is available on a weekly or biweekly basis, with an annual subscription available. Customers may elect to use the market composting service available at local farmers markets or co-ops including Rochester Public Market on Saturdays, Lori’s Natural Foods Center, Abundance Food Co-Op, and #Hydro Inc. Businesses can sign up for commercial pick up service. Current commercial customers include municipalities, restaurants, bakeries, school districts, commercial properties/offices and multi-family residential buildings.

Impact Earth will continue monthly drives to support various organizations and causes across Rochester, officials said.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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Partnership at public market turns food waste into compost

Two groups have come together at the Rochester City Public Market to make sure tons of food waste are used for animal feed or turned into compost instead of being trucked to a landfill.

The joint efforts of Flower City Pickers, which has been recovering food waste at the market for four years, and Impact Earth, a company that focuses on reducing waste, began a few weeks ago.

“It’s a dance of community partners,” said Evan Lowenstein, assistant market supervisor. “Everyone’s a contributor and a beneficiary.”

The city is one of those beneficiaries, as Lowenstein estimated it saves $10,000 a year in disposal costs because of food removed from the waste stream that’s still good enough to eat.

FLower City Pickers volunteers sort through food donations at the Rochester City Public Market. Photo provided by Flower City Pickers
FLower City Pickers volunteers sort through food donations at the Rochester City Public Market. (Flower City Pickers)

Flower City Pickers, an all-volunteer organization, makes rounds of the market to collect unsold food after the sales for the day are done. They sort it and donate the best stuff to organizations that feed the poor, or – if it’s no longer fit for use by people – to farmers who feed it to their animals or use it for compost.  The farmers save on feed and fertilizer cost by using what they pick up at the market.

But every so often, farmers are not able to pick up the waste at the market. Evan Zachary, director of development for the Pickers, said a broken-down truck or a scheduling conflict has prevented farmers from picking up waste food at the market in the past.  That happened one day last year when the Flower City Pickers had a record 14,000 pounds of recovered food, so several tons went into the trash.

“We don’t throw away good food,” Zachary noted. But as one of the groups’ missions is to reduce food waste, throwing away what could be composted or fed to a farm animal is still painful. He estimated that a little less than half of what the Flower City Pickers receives goes to people; the rest is composted or used for animal feed, unless there isn’t anyone available to take it.

That’s where Impact Earth comes in. A company that grew out of Rochester Institute of Technology’s Venture Creations incubator, Impact Earth is all about reducing waste. For the last year it has run a residential compost program in which residents collect their food scraps and bring their filled buckets to specified locations to exchange them for empty ones.

As a result of customer suggestions, Impact Earth recently decided to set up a collection station at the public market and also staff a table to sell some of its waste-reducing products, such as reusable food wraps. It has five other collection sites in the county.

“The Public Market is one of those locations people visit already,” said Cassidy Putney, a co-founder of Impact Earth and director of sustainability.

Impact Earth gained a spot in the new D-shed at the market, less than a football field away from Flower City’s sorting setup.

“We had this humongous ‘aha’ moment,” Lowenstein said. Putting together the two organizations was a simple and elegant solution that the market’s officials had been mulling over for years without a solution.

The market had been considering starting a composting operation on site, but realized it would require a long-term financial commitment and staff the market didn’t have. It considered trucking food waste off the premises to a composting operation, but that would have required having a fleet or paying for one to transport the waste.

Lowenstein said every option the city considered had an obstacle that made it impractical.

“We were trying to figure out how to make this work,” he said “With the Pickers and then the arrival of Impact Earth, the loop closed and we couldn’t be happier.”

Now when Impact Earth staff arrives at the market to set up a table of waste-reduction items and accept residential compost buckets, they also bring 96-gallon receptacles like the ones people use for curbside trash pickup and leave them with Flower City Pickers. At the end of the day, they truck them away to be used at a nearby farm for animal food or compost, or a worm composting operation.

Putney said if Flower City Pickers has an especially big day at the market, Impact Earth’s headquarters is close enough that someone can go grab another load of containers to fill with compostable food waste.

The city pays Impact Earth roughly the same as it would pay to bury trash at a landfill — $60 a ton.

“That works great for us,” Lowenstein said. “We feel like we’re spending that money way more wisely.”

Zachary said in these first few weeks, the amounts taken by Impact Earth have ranged from 100 pounds to more than a ton. Seasonality has something to do with that, as a greater volume of sellers and buyers operate at the market in the spring and fall. Even if volume doesn’t change, the contents can shift, causing more to be diverted to compost.

Pigs tend to eschew citrus fruits and peppers, for example, so if a wholesaler drops off a pallet of either of those, anything that’s already a bit off goes directly to compost, he said.

Food safety regulations on rescued food also prevent distributing prepared foods, even including bagged salad mixes and baby carrots, Zachary said. The Flower City Pickers end up removing the prepared produce from its wrapping and composting it.

“We were very fortunate when the Flower City Pickers arrived on the scene on their own initiative,” Lowenstein said. “One of the heroic things the Pickers do for us, is not only do they collect stuff, they prevent or solve contamination.” By carefully sorting out packaging and other non-compostable materials, the pickers guarantee what Impact Earth or a farmer takes is safe to compost.

A volunteer packs donation boxes with food salvaged from the Rochester City Public market. Photo supplied by Flower City Pickers
A volunteer packs donation boxes with food salvaged from the Rochester City Public market. (Flower City Pickers)

Flower City Pickers is unlike most other food rescue operations, Zachary said, because it operates from a single location. That’s partly because Rochester has a vibrant outdoor market. Before expanding to other locations, he said he’d like to see Flower City Pickers gain a greater share of food waste produced by the market’s farmers and wholesalers.

“We know there is food (waste) at the market that doesn’t pass through us.” Zachary said. “There are still pallets flying around here.”

The market currently requires vendors to recycle cardboard, but it doesn’t have such a rule for compostable food waste. Lowenstein said it would be hard to guarantee the resulting product would be contamination free with so many people with varying attitudes toward recycling participating.

“A lot of them, it’s just easier to toss … than to figure out something, “Lowenstein said. He attributed the lack of composting ethic to the long hours and pace of work that vendors experience at the market. On the other hand, he said, “We certainly don’t want vendors to stick us with large quantities of waste. We really are trying to prevent vendors from leaving us with literally tons of waste on pallets.”

A new state law could change that, requiring composting as a partial solution for food waste by 2022.

“With the New York State Food Waste bill now in place, people are going to have start composting everywhere,” Putney said.

Such a law ultimately could also result in more food for soup kitchens, homeless shelters and others.
“When Vermont passed a similar law, food bank donations tripled,” Zachary said.

[email protected]/(585) 363-7275.


Sustainability is CMAC’s new tune

A young volunteer with Impact Earth helps concertgoers sort their waste into the appropriate refuse containers as part of CMAC's ongoing efforts toward more sustainable, environmentally friendly practices. (Provided)
A young volunteer with Impact Earth helps concertgoers sort their waste into the appropriate refuse containers as part of CMAC’s ongoing efforts toward more sustainable, environmentally friendly practices. (Provided)

When one environmentally sensitive artist was considering playing at Constellation Performing Arts Center a couple of years ago, he wanted to be clear about environmental practices at the venue first.

“To even put in an offer, we had to respond to his environmental rider,” said Lynne Frieda, executive director of CMAC. The musician wanted to stipulate that recycling and composting of audience waste take place, and that tour buses or other vehicles wouldn’t be left idling. That was the start of sustainability program at CMAC.

“We kind of decided, why don’t we do this for all shows?” Freida said. In a single season CMAC went from throwing out all of its trash to diverting 78 percent of it away from a landfill. Some was recycled, some composted.

Each season, the venue hosts nearly 20 pop, rock or classical concerts. Meanwhile, thousands of audience members are eating food, drinking beverages and creating mounds of food waste, foam plates and disposable bottles or cups.

“At end of a Luke Bryan concert, when you look at that hill, we have generated a lot of waste,” Freida said. Not that the popular country musician is at fault.

Before the 2017 season began, CMAC engaged with two companies to help ramp up environmental efforts. One was Just Water, a non-profit company that bottles surplus drinking water and sells it in more eco-friendly package than a plastic bottle made from petroleum products. The other was Impact Earth, a Rochester startup company that helps other companies initiate, carry out and evaluate sustainability efforts.

Normally Impact Earth works with companies that have already been doing some sort of recycling, said Cassidy Putney, co-founder and director of sustainability and communications at Impact Earth. CMAC, however, was starting at zero of the zero-waste movement.

For instance, Freida said, CMAC had already been providing compostable cups for serving wine but there was no place for concert-goers to compost the cups after use. “To compost something, you actually have to put it in compost,” Freida said.

Impact Earth spray-painted blue barrels to help audience members identify them as waste, recycling or composting receptacles. They also provided and trained volunteers to guide people in correct disposal.

“Occasionally you’d have to sort if someone did it incorrectly. It was hands-on and very involved on our end,” Putney said.

“I do think a big part of sustainability and recycling is the education piece,” Freida said. “I hope patrons take something they’ve seen and take it back to their lives.”

Impact Earth also helped CMAC get a handle on its waste stream even before it becomes waste.

“Zero waste becomes significantly more successful and achievable if you control input of materials into the system,” Putney said. CMAC started avoiding Styrofoam and other non-recyclables.

“Most of our beer is served in cans, so those are recyclable,” Freida said.  Many of the paper take-away food containers went with food waste to a composting company in Seneca Castle where worms turn the waste into compost.

“The only thing that couldn’t be composted was wax paper,” Putney said.

CMAC also switched from petroleum-based plastic water bottles to the brand Just Water, which comes in a mostly paper bottle.

“When it comes to sustainability … they’ve done their homework,”  said Just Water’s Ira Laufer, who explained that Just Water likes to partner with events and companies that have a similar emphasis on environmental mission. It’s also sold in grocery stores such as Whole Foods, Safeway and, in Rochester, Hart’s Local Grocers.

The Just Water bottle is 82 percent from renewable resources, with a body that feels like a milk carton, and a top — cap, neck and shoulders — made out of sugarcane-based plastic. A thin layer of metal and plastic keeps the water from soaking through the paper body, and that film prevents the bottle from being 100 percent renewable. The company’s working on upping the percentage, though, Laufer said. “We’re not just addressing a packaging trend.  We’re looking at things in a holistic way,” Laufer said.

Just Water is based in New York City, a brain child of actor and musician Jaden Smith, but it gets its water from the Upstate city of Glens Falls. Like many old city systems, Glens Falls’ water system siphons way more water from its reservoirs than it delivers to customers because it loses quite a bit along the way to leaks in its 100-year-old-plus water pipes.

Just Water’s agreement with the city of Glens Falls has its purchases of water being used to rehabilitate the water system and local economy.

As a result of all that, “we’re not as cheap as a plastic bottle of water.  There’s added value in paying more for a better bottle,” Laufer said.

Freida said CMAC is also trying to work out a way patrons can bring or buy their own refillable water bottles that they can fill from fountains at the venue.

This coming season the sustainability program will be tweaked. Food truck vendors will be asked to follow the same program at the venue itself.  CMAC may also eliminate straws — a non-recyclable single-use item — and is looking at candy straws that are eaten after the drink is gone, according to Freida. Impact Earth will train CMAC workers and volunteers to take over what they’ve been doing.

“CMAC taking ownership is a really great step to showing they are definitely dedicated to sustainability,” Putney said.

[email protected]/(585) 363-7275

RIT incubator’s new graduates mean new ideas, new jobs

As a sales representative for artificial knee joints, Robert Turbett spent more than 20 years observing operations. He couldn’t help noticing the lengthy and cumbersome preparations surgical staff made unwrapping trays of sterilized instruments.

The procedure could involve three people to unwrap, inspect and discard sterile wrappings around each tray, taking as much as 20 minutes to set up before surgeons could begin their work.

Turbett started a company to create a solution to that problem and this week Turbett Surgical was one of four companies graduating from Venture Creations, the business incubator at Rochester Institute of Technology. The company has developed a multi-tray container for surgical instruments that is sterilized all at once and eliminates the need for individually wrapped trays.

”Our record time for setting up for a total knee replacement was 49 seconds,” Turbett said. With operating rooms costing an average of $100 a minute, a faster set-up of surgical equipment can save time and money—about 60 to 75 minutes a day, which is enough to allow an additional surgery to be performed, he said.

Promoting such advances, and the jobs created to spread them, are some reasons Venture Creations exists. In 14 years, 38 companies have graduated. Nine were acquired, and 28 of the remaining 29 still exist, with all but one still contributing to the Rochester-area economy. With the newest crop of graduates, 499 jobs have been created, said Ryne Raffaele, vice president for research and associate provost at RIT.

Four companies graduated Tuesday night, but that doesn’t mean the incubator is kicking them out of the nest, said Incubator Director Richard Notargiacomo. The companies tend to move off campus once their staff has grown so much that they need new space, or if they need special facilities, he said.

The other new graduates are:

  • Token, creator of a two-factor identity authentication technology housed in a ring you wear on your finger that replaces passwords, codes and cards.
  • Impact Earth, a zero-waste solutions company that handles recycling at more than 300 events a year, Constellation Brands-Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center, and Brighton Central School District.
  • Optel, a one-stop service company that guides medical device creators on design, engineering and compliance with regulations.

Typically spending about three years in the incubator, each company receives business coaching and may also obtain space on campus. There are other intangibles, such as encouragement and connections.

“It’s great to be surrounded by people who are knowledgeable, who you can go to for answers.” Turbett said.

Venture Creations graduation for Turbett Surgical
Venture Creations graduation for Turbett Surgical. Photo by Elizabeth Lamark/RIT Photography

The graduation featured a short keynote address by Marty Strenczewilk, founder, president and CEO of Splyce, an electronic-sports franchise. Splyce launched from Venture Creations in 2016 and in 2017 signed a deal with sports entertainment conglomerate Delaware North, to add Splyce’s e-sports teams to the group’s traditional sports teams, such as the Boston Bruins.

“Without the help of Venture Creations, there would be no Splyce,” said Strenczewilk. He provided a list of tips for new graduates that included his theory that hard work is worth more than great ideas, and “no one sells your product better than you.”