Bootstrap compost goes to business bootcamp

Trash: Interrupted
By ARIEL SHEARER  |  September 12, 2012

WASTE NOT, WANT NOT Andy Brooks, founder of Bootstrap Compost, gets down and dirty with a
customer's food scraps.

I'm standing in an alleyway behind American Provisions, a specialty grocery shop in Southie with a cheese display that's borderline pornographic, watching Andy Brooks shove his hands into a barrel of future compost. He tosses an estimated 50 pounds of brightly colored fruit and veg bits into a transfer tub and slides it back through the store, briefly stopping to chat with his shop-owner client. Out front, I help hoist the bounty into his truck bed.

"I usually have gloves for this," he assures me. He's also used to lifting that tub on his own.

Brooks is the founder of Bootstrap Compost — a local startup business turning Boston's would-be trash into agricultural gold. Customers get a recycled 5-gallon bucket to fill with biodegradable food trash (organic waste like coffee grounds, eggshells, produce, and tea bags) and schedule a weekly ($32 per month), every-other-week ($18), or once-a-month ($10) pickup. Bootstrap delivers the old food scraps to local farms and gardens for use as fertilizer.

A waste-collection service might not seem like the most glamorous, or successful, of startup ideas. But with pressure on to save landfill space, and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection working to ban commercial food waste by 2014, composting has become a mainstream topic of discussion. Bootstrap has found its niche serving the growing number of citydwellers who want to collect compost but have nowhere to dispose of it. In less than two years, Brooks has gained more than 300 clients across greater Boston — from households to green-minded financial firms.

"It's becoming largely residential, and then the rest has been offices," says Brooks, adding that Bootstrap's ability to navigate tiny roadways in downtown neighborhoods like the North End and Beacon Hill is a major advantage. "We're really nimble. . . . [Big dump trucks] can't work in these tight spaces. That's what we're focusing on, and that's who's coming to us."

I arranged to meet Brooks and his business partner, Igor Kharitonenkov, at Brooks's place in Jamaica Plain. Bootstrap headquarters is currently located between his living room and kitchen, but later this month the office is moving to a new space in Charlestown — part of Bootstrap's plans for expansion.

As Brooks stencils "Bootstrap Compost" on plain white buckets, he explains how he launched Bootstrap by posting flyers throughout Jamaica Plain. Kharitonenkov was one of his first customers.

"I signed up for the service and shortly thereafter decided to profile [Brooks] in a little video," Kharitonenkov says. "I thought the Bootstrap idea was a really great way of tapping into this green consumer base that's out there — looking to vote with their dollars. They want to see their food waste go to good use."

Kharitonenkov spent months working marketing part-time for Bootstrap, until Brooks offered him a role as vice president. Now operating as a team of six, including Brooks and Kharitonenkov, Bootstrap's cyclists, drivers, and business administrators divert hundreds of pounds of biodegradable waste from landfills every day.

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