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Office Ecology: Composting at Etsy

Aug 3, 2012

by Aleksa Brown

If you’re around DUMBO, Brooklyn on a Friday morning, you just might stumble upon a strange and seemingly silly sight: a small group of Etsy Admin on bikes, outfitted in full-body jumpsuits and helmets, about to embark on what’s become a routine mission – taking our office compost to the farm.

They ride alongside the little orange Etsy wagon loaded up with bags of more than a hundred pounds of sludge: discarded coffee grinds, ripped-up paper plates, flower stems, brown paper towels, apple cores and decaying orange peels. Bumping along the cobblestone street, they make their way to the scenic bike path just past Brooklyn Bridge Park and head south toward Red Hook Community Farm. There, they’ll compost the week’s collection and help turn it into nutrient-rich soil that’s perfect for growing fruits and vegetables.

The weekly trek is part of Etsy’s composting program, which began last August and, as of June, brings in a monthly average of more than 600 pounds. Though Etsy has experimented with composting in the past, the most recent program began when office ecologist Jakob — in a quest to find the “noble side to garbage” — teamed up with local compost enthusiasts, eager to create a program with a higher impact.

The view at Red Hook Community Farm.

“I was looking for a way to minimize our wasteful ways, lower the carbon footprint and curb our modern decadence,” he says. “I approached my trusty composting friend (and expert) Louise Bruce of Compost for Brooklyn. She shared her secret knowledge with me and in turn introduced me to David Buckel, master composter extraordinaire of the Red Hook Community Farm. He then welcomed Etsy to his magic kingdom of composting.”

A large majority of the material we take to Red Hook comes from Eatsy — Etsy’s biweekly company lunch — which is served on compostable Bagasse plates. The plates are made from byproducts of the sugar cane industry, and break down completely in about two and a half weeks. After lunch, Admin form a line in the kitchen to scrape their plates and rip them into quarters, discarding them in the large compost bin. Roughly 280 plates are quartered and added to the pile at every Eatsy. That’s more than 2,200 plates per month that are going directly back into the soil to cultivate harvests here in Brooklyn!

“If you really think about it for a second, it’s magic,” Jakob says. “Stinky trash transforms into a magnificent substance that helps feed and grow things we love – and love to eat.”

David and Jakob explain windrows to Etsy Admin Josh.

Other compostable materials, such as tea bags, strawberry tops, grape vines, banana peels and avocado skins are added to the bin during the week as well. Signs taped up in the kitchen remind Admin and their guests of what’s compostable. Once the bin fills up, the material is stored until Friday when Jakob leads the crew to Red Hook.

At the farm, David and Jakob team up to teach the Admin volunteers more about the process. Red Hook Community Farm’s primary method of composting is to create windrows, which are pyramid-like rows of organic matter that is mixed together to ensure the fastest and highest quality of composting. The trick lies in the ratio of carbon to nitrogen-rich content, Jakob explains. It has to be just right in order to promote the bacterial bloom, which accelerates the decomposition process. David and his team have to monitor the temperature constantly to ensure maximum compostablility. The process is delicate, but contributing to our community through recycling is a way for us to uphold the values upon which Etsy was founded.

Etsy Admin return to DUMBO after a morning at the farm.

“I cannot begin to tell you guys how important and excellent a thing composting is,” Jakob said in a company-wide email when the program started. “Not only does it lessen the amount of trash we send to our jam-packed landfills – where even biodegradable waste often can’t break down (no oxygen) and instead just stays, taking up space and producing methane and C02 (both greenhouse gasses) – but it also makes use of this waste.”

Etsy’s composting program is one more step in our efforts to walk the walk. We take our B Corporation certification seriously, and are always on the lookout for new ways to improve our collective carbon footprint. Many members of our community have long understood the power of business for good — using recycled packaging or promoting buying locally — and we can only hope to do them proud.

It’s good for the environment, good for us (bike ride and fresh produce, anyone?), and it’s fun! There are several ways to get involved in composting – you could volunteer at your local farm, or buy produce from a local source that grows in composted soil. If you live in the US, you can participate in a regional or state composting program. You could encourage your workplace, school or community center to make the switch from Styrofoam plates to eco-friendly Bagasse plates. Or, create your own compost pile at home (and invite friends over to help out!).

How will you get involved?

91 comments

  • dirbab Admin

    Ryan D said 5 years ago

    Love this!

  • buffalogirls

    Ludmilla from buffalogirls said 5 years ago

    Bravo Etsy, not just talking the talk but biking the talk. Thank you!

  • buffalogirls

    Ludmilla from buffalogirls said 5 years ago

    On our ranch we recycle everything, composte all. Our sheep graze the pasture while the chickens follow them and munch on the bugs. All goes on the organic garden. Scraps from our kitchen go back to the composte pile of feed the animals. One small sustainable circle.

  • erinf115

    erinf115 from HarpandThistle said 5 years ago

    That is just awesome!!! Thanks for doing this! :)

  • florasvintagecloset

    Madi from 15MadisonStreet said 5 years ago

    Too cool! I want a ride! Glad your doing this.....

  • ecokaren

    Karen Lee from ecokaren said 5 years ago

    So inspiring and admirable to see Etsy walking the walk! As a captain of Team Eco Etsy, we are so proud to see Etsy being such a great role model. Go Green Etsy!

  • bradgoodell

    Brad and Maggie from bradgoodell said 5 years ago

    Wonderful!

  • riskybeads

    Lori from riskybeads said 5 years ago

    wow, very cool. inspiring!

  • AnnaDenise

    Anna Denise van der Reijden from AnnaDenise said 5 years ago

    Amazing, you guys are awesome.

  • CabinCreekArts

    Heather from CoopersCollars said 5 years ago

    Yay Etsy!! All the cotton fabric scraps from my shop go in the compost along with Kitchen, garden & lawn cuttings. Paper is shredded and used for mulch or added to compost. Read my blog post about how my collars help me garden: http://cooperscollars.blogspot.com/2012/05/collar-garden.html

  • cmu55

    Connie from LittleTurtleHatShop said 5 years ago

    I love this!!! Good job Etsy.

  • BeachHouseLiving

    BeachHouseLiving from BeachHouseLiving said 5 years ago

    The whole process from the composting to biking it there is wonderful. Bravo Etsy! I am looking forward to the opening of a local community garden and hope it will have a composting area. In the meantime, banana peels, coffee grounds and egg shells are used in our flower garden.

  • BlackStar

    Katie McClanahan from WearYourWild said 5 years ago

    Way to go Etsy! I've been hauling compost all week, getting the gardens ready for the fall crops. I love my compost pile!

  • crookedsmilecreation

    Ally from CrookedSmileCreation said 5 years ago

    280 plates? Really? That's a lot of plates, but glad they're composting.

  • justgivemepeace

    justgivemepeace from justgivemepeace said 5 years ago

    Simply Wonderful! Ma Earth deserves all of this and more!

  • OhFaro

    Faro from OhFaro said 5 years ago

    So awesome, guys. We plan to start composting this year to learn how, for when we move to Portland and have some land...

  • crochetgal

    crochetgal from crochetgal said 5 years ago

    Cool! But have you considered the option of using plates and coffee mugs that can be washed and reused rather than tossed? Its a much better use of resources.

  • kristinasmiley

    Kristina Smiley from CreativeEndeavorsKS said 5 years ago

    I live on a small farm with my husband and kids. We use a scrap bucket that gets emptied into a compost pile. We also have switched to cloth grocery totes that I make myself. We do not use paper plates or cups either (for picnics or outings we use plastic plates and cups that can be washed when we get home.

  • auntjanecan

    Jane Priser from JanePriserArts said 5 years ago

    Yay to composting! I compost a lot including my hen's manure. The garden is booming!

  • HeyHarriet

    Tracy from HeyHarriet said 5 years ago

    Yay Etsy! That's so cool! I compost everything I can and my garden certainly appreciates it :)

  • ArtMadeByTammy

    ArtMadeByTammy from ArtMadeByTammy said 5 years ago

    Awesome! Great job.

  • Gypsymoondesigns

    Gypsymoondesigns from Gypsymoondesigns said 5 years ago

    Very cool!

  • Jalycme

    Jme from Jalycme said 5 years ago

    That's awesome and it looks like they were having fun. Good for you guys! =D

  • Fliteline

    Fliteline from Fliteline said 5 years ago

    We've been composting for 20 years- even "packed" our compost and bin when we moved across town. It's great that you can compost your plates, but I also agree that washing reusable plates may be a better choice.

  • VintageAndSuch

    VintageAndSuch from VintageAndSuch said 5 years ago

    well done. we compost too and our gardens love it!

  • SoapForYourSoul

    Emily from SoapForYourSoul said 5 years ago

    Great job!

  • gardenmis

    Priscilla from Gardenmis said 5 years ago

    Loved reading this!! I was raised composting, recycling, and being mindful that we are to be caretakers of the earth. That is exactly how my children are being raised and I love seeing others in a more prominent place also showing forth this example! Yay Etsy :)

  • KittyCatsCupboard

    Diane from KittyCatsCupboard said 5 years ago

    How cool is this? Awesome!

  • NotLimited

    Loretta Clark from NotLimited said 5 years ago

    Growing up on a farm, composting was a natural way of life. Today we still compost and return the broken down organic matter into our small vegetable and flower garden. Not only does it get rid of the so called "garbage", it improves the soil, truly makes a difference in the growth results, taste of the vegetables, and minerals obtained that were replaced to the soil. I'm happy to see the expanded interest in composting with individuals and Etsy.

  • FallenAngelBrass

    Karen and Tina from FallenAngelBrass said 5 years ago

    This is great. Bravo for Etsy. Too bad that the rest of the city is not nearly so environmentally minded.

  • NakedRatDestash

    Julie from NakedRatDestash said 5 years ago

    how fun and wonderful! i wish i worked for esty! i recycle everything possible and save compost for a friends little farm.

  • PyxusPassionProject

    Michelle Maynard from SimonesRoseBoutique said 5 years ago

    Wow.. this is why I love Etsy so much. Love it!!

  • AntoinettesWhims

    Antoinette from AntoinettesWhims said 5 years ago

    I have chickens that do the processing of my kitchen scraps for me. This time of year most of those scraps are from our garden. It's a delight digging through the soil and seeing so many big healthy worms, and the fresh vegetables and herbs are so wonderful, so flavorful.

  • TheHickoryTree

    Linda from TheHickoryTree said 5 years ago

    Awesome. We compost at our house and it really makes a difference in the healthy growth of our flower and vegey gardens. Due to the eagerness of our canines to rifle through the scraps, I usually just dig a hole and bury the kitchen scraps then and there where the worms take over from that point on.

  • StarTribe

    Penelope Neil from StarTribe said 5 years ago

    I can't wait to see this on Regretsy.

  • nettesneedle

    Jeanette from nettesneedle said 5 years ago

    I love good news like this, so refreshing.

  • SunshineFelt

    Olena from SunshineFelt said 5 years ago

    Awesome! Great and good job!!!!!

  • lavankirk

    Lisa VanKirk from Folkartdaze said 5 years ago

    Awesome! That was really nice to witness!

  • cjwdesignvillage

    Cynthia J Williams from CJWDesignVillage said 5 years ago

    This is great and very thought out process. I know it took time but now it seems to work smoothly. Love it, Love it, Love it.

  • roxy5235

    Revelle Taillon from roxy5235 said 5 years ago

    Most excellent!

  • TheSingingBird

    Becky from TheSingingBird said 5 years ago

    This is wonderful! Our city here in California collects yard debris and kitchen scraps in one bin, and trash and recycling in two other separate bins, and then sells the compost to anyone who wants to use it. We also put solar panels on our garage roof several years ago. Hoping to see etsy go solar as the next step! Oh, maybe with a roof garden too, wouldn't that be fantastic?! :)

  • lisad137

    Lisa D. said 5 years ago

    This was an eyeopening piece of work! I was raised on a farm and still live in a farming community. It made me think that just the people on my street could join in and do something lilke this. I don't think that I could get anyone up on the bike however.!

  • GlassSailStudios

    Kathleen Bandaruk from GlassSailStudios said 5 years ago

    Great job! My day job is working for a company that makes those bagasse plates, so we take composting very seriously. Keep up the good work!

  • tammyann343

    Tammy from TammyannsTrinkets said 5 years ago

    Awesome story, have you guys ever thought of vermicomposting in your office? This can be done in a 18 gallon Rubbermaid tub with 1 pound of red worms( approx. 1000 worms). You make way more "food" that the worms could eat but it could be a fun project to reinforce your composting efforts. The compost that the worms make is even better fertilizer then regular composting. Just a thought, keep up the good work :)

  • LenkArt

    Elena Filippova from LenkArt said 5 years ago

    how to build one? where to get the blueprints? Elena

  • ModernHomewares

    Helen from ModernHomewares said 5 years ago

    Wow you guys blow me away! Taking it to the next level and educating the rest us at the same time. I'm in awe.

  • honeystreasures

    Michael and Lisa from honeystreasures said 5 years ago

    Nice video!

  • controlpanal

    Dan Hall said 5 years ago

    LIKE !

  • dancingintherains

    Gwen from dancingintherains said 5 years ago

    Thanks for sharing this. Love it :D

  • yimmekedesign

    Diana from yimmekedesign said 5 years ago

    I wanna wanna wanna ride that bicycle sooooo bad!!!!

  • shlomitofir

    Shlomit Ofir from shlomitofir said 5 years ago

    Loved the video and photos. Can I have a ride on the bike?

  • fearnsfolly

    Lori from fearnsfolly said 5 years ago

    Wonderful to see this happening within a city. It can be done it the desire is there! We have been composting at our home for 30 years with great success. Keep up the great deeds!

  • Hyakoukoune

    Hyaku Taro said 5 years ago

    Magnifique !

  • VintageEye

    VintageEye from VintageEye said 5 years ago

    Fantabulous job, Etsy! It's so nice to see a company taking eco-activism to the next level! I compost in an old chicken coop here in rural SC. The mister & I save food scraps in large baggies in the freezer until they overflow. Then it's out to the yard & into the pile. I rake things up a bit then add the newest material to the mix. I used some of my compost to start my container garden this spring & we take so much less stuff to the dump now! :) A real win-win!

  • TheSewingGin

    TheSewingGin from TheSewingGin said 5 years ago

    Every one can do it. Thanks for inspiring us to work at it.

  • LuvULots

    Pat Vincent from ScrapsofLuv said 5 years ago

    What a great example for all to follow. I plan on sharing this article with my daughter who is an Admin for Santiago College in Chile. These students are taught using the incredible IB program philosophy which promotes social responsibility. I am sure they would be interested in incorporating this into their program.

  • LuvULots

    Pat Vincent from ScrapsofLuv said 5 years ago

    Super, everyone should be so proactive!

  • laralewis

    Laurie Lewis from ShopHedgerowRose said 5 years ago

    Oh my gosh! Fantastic!!

  • TNTdollclothing

    Sarah Wurst from TNTdollclothing said 5 years ago

    What a wonderful way to burn calories to better yourself while also bettering the environment with your compost trash :)

  • EmmaKav

    Emma Kav from EmmaKav said 5 years ago

    Yes! More of this please!

  • boobahblue

    Renee Hanks from BooBahBlue said 5 years ago

    ETSY...You are awesome. Hats off to your efforts :) Thank you!!

  • andiespecialtysweets

    Jason and Andie from andiespecialtysweets said 5 years ago

    Awesome! Wish we could receive Etsy compost! : ) I love the body suits, helmets and cool bikes! That's going to grow some great produce : )

  • KrysLangner

    Krysta Langner from GigiBelleEmbroidery said 5 years ago

    Turning your ugly, smelly garbage into rich black compost is so rewarding!

  • tomsgrossmami

    Tom's Grossmami from tomsgrossmami said 5 years ago

    Bravo.

  • thietkelogo

    Thiet ke logo said 5 years ago

    Really wonderful, i love it

  • phoenixbotanicals

    Irina from PhoenixBotanicals said 5 years ago

    love it! :)

  • NaturallyHip

    Lindsay from NaturallyHip said 5 years ago

    This is so great! Way to go guys (and gals)!

  • MerlinMN

    MerlinMN from MerlinMN said 5 years ago

    Absolutely wonderful idea, Etsians! And biking it to the farm - love it!!! My own bins have helped me re-create soil for my veggie garden built on the wreckage of an off-campus fire-pit at no cost to me. All I have to do is eat and Let It Rot. Yay!

  • MandLyn

    mandy newell said 5 years ago

    this is cool...i wish we could compost here.

  • RenataandJonathan

    Renata and Jonathan from RenataandJonathan said 5 years ago

    Awesome ! Go Etsy ! :)

  • seacucumbermama

    seacucumbermama said 5 years ago

    You guys and gals at ETSY are awesome! Keep up the cool things you do!

  • BehindTheScreenDoor

    Tim Vidra from BehindTheScreenDoor said 5 years ago

    Bravo, bravo!

  • pasin

    pasin from Pasin said 5 years ago

    Great job!

  • wavetribe

    Derek Dodds said 5 years ago

    love the eco initiate, so stoked on this work. Great job etsy!

  • 79himmerich

    Dylan Himmerich from PraiseJesusLord said 5 years ago

    Haha that's awesome

  • violasboutique

    violasboutique from violasboutique said 5 years ago

    I admire your effort!

  • GoodTimeIsland

    GoodTimeIsland from GoodTimeIsland said 5 years ago

    YES!!!!! Puts my rinky dinky backyard compost to shame. BUT i love this the most.

  • bhangtiez

    Jana from bhangtiez said 5 years ago

    Awesome! I love composting! Keep up the great eco-work & play ETSY-ians

  • foxpots

    Carole Fox from foxpots said 5 years ago

    Every little bit helps!

  • PotteryHeaven

    Martina from PotteryHeaven said 5 years ago

    Wow, this is awesome! Reading this article makes me smiles! Kudos

  • VeganAndHealthy

    VeganAndHealthy said 5 years ago

    I agree that it's wonderful how Etsy is composting their garbage, but I have to agree with crochetgirl and wonder what's wrong with using reusable plates, cups and saucers. I looked at the company that provides the Bagasse Sugarcane plates and that is a great idea, but some of the other options sold there isn't so much. How much corn is used to produce the PLA corn plastic and how much tapioca and potato starch is used to produce the colorful compostable starch plates? Bamboo is another great alternative, but it's used in everything these days. How long will that still be "a rapidly renewable resource"? How about the wood needed for the "wood plates", or the Pressed Leaf, if the demand is great enough, will it continue to only be made from the fallen leaves and husks? I think that Etsy should invest in some plates, cups and saucers made by one of the many wonderful sellers right here on their website and some Seventh Generation Dish Detergent. They can still take the leftover food scraps and other papers to the farm, and save money that they were spending on products that seem sustainable today, but might not be so sustainable tomorrow. http://www.etsy.com/category/ceramics_and_pottery/plate

  • TheMillineryShop

    Marcia Lacher from TheMillineryShop said 5 years ago

    No one ever wants to do the dishes.

  • krazykatedesigns

    Kate from krazykatedesigns said 5 years ago

    I admire Etsy admin taking the lead in putting together a program that is very hard work to follow the ethics of good stewardship for the environment. Amazing and inspiring.

  • rebourne

    Marni from rebourne said 5 years ago

    Nice bike-- where did you get it? I also have an orange cargo trike, hand made here in Philly by Stephen at Haley Trikes. Woohoo to biking!

  • acanthusjd

    Joan from acanthusjd said 5 years ago

    I compost just about everything I can get my hands on , so I'm with Etsy on this one. I'm not too convinced about about the Bagasse plates though, based on your figures you spend about $5,000 per year, that makes very expensive compost! Apart from that, well done Etsy!

  • BackyardBrand

    Jim McLean from BackyardBrand said 5 years ago

    you're no fool to do their dirty work

  • CoreandMantle

    Alayna from CoreandMantle said 5 years ago

    saaaahhhwwweeeeeet

  • sianykitty

    Siany from sianykitty said 5 years ago

    amazing!

  • oppning

    oppning from oppning said 5 years ago

    Awesome! We do the same here on the other side of the Atlantic and love to see that we've got the same philosophy of life. Sooo proud to be part of Etsy!! xoxo

  • nickihearn1

    Nicki from AwaywiththeFaeriesAU said 4 years ago

    This is brilliant!

  • exitera

    Hristo Hvoynev from ExiArtsConceptWorlds said 4 years ago

    Great Etsy! I am proud of you-you are people of great honor!

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