Welcome to BioBag’s Community Heroes series! Each month, we will highlight community heroes that are making a difference in their communities and working to make their local environments cleaner and healthier.

This month, we are taking a look at Reclaimed Organics!

Reclaimed Organics was started in 2014 in the East Village (NYC) by neighborhood members committed to sustainability at home and in the community. The program was founded on the knowledge that properly addressing the organic waste stream is a fundamental piece of creating sustainable urban communities. We spoke to Operations Manager Gwen Ossenfort about Reclaimed Organics. Her interview is transcribed below.

What led you to start your composting operation?

Gwen: Our founder Laura Rosenshine launched Reclaimed Organics in late 2014 after she transitioned from a corporate career track to one focused on organics recycling, waste diversion, and sustainability. Laura and the early Reclaimed Organics and Common Ground Compost programs were lucky to have their home based in a neighborhood middle and high school garden space that was underutilized. Laura connected with the school and offered to continue the student compost education programming (launched by Earth Matter) in exchange for access to the space. A suite of community-scale zero waste services grew out of demand Laura was seeing from local businesses, and the growing Common Ground Compost team worked to build greater community engagement in the space, including helping to re-launch a formal community garden.

The zero waste services included pickups of compost from a handful of food scrap producers including residents, cafes, and a food photography studio, which Laura and one team member did on her own bicycle with a small trailer: this was the sprout of Reclaimed Organics. Common Ground Compost‘s zero waste consulting services also began at that time, with Laura helping food businesses and event producers to build, launch, and operate organics diversion and recycling programs in their unique environments.

In 2017, we had 25 customers. As of February 2020, we had more than 120, including dozens of corporate offices.

Who do you serve, and how can people get in touch with you if they want to start composting?

Gwen: Reclaimed Organics is a cargo-trike-powered compost pickup service. We collect food scraps from residents and businesses in Manhattan, and ensure that the food scraps are composted locally, either by our own hands in our community garden, or by professional composters in the City and region.

Education is a huge part of what we do: we offer signage to all of our customers and conduct trainings with our commercial business customers to be sure that staff not only understand what to compost, but can grasp *why* this small action is so important.

Visiting ReclaimedOrganics.org and CommonGroundCompost.com is a great way to learn more about what we do and sign up for our services. We’re also very active on Instagram @reclaimedorganics 

How much organic material do you typically take in on a weekly basis?

Gwen: 2019 was our biggest year yet ~ we picked up more than 115 tons of food scraps from 120+ businesses and residences in Manhattan. That’s about 2 tons or 4,000 pounds a week. We were on track to double that in 2020. Most of this material was processed at large commercial compost facilities near the NYC.

In March of this year, all of our customers closed down and we suspended any compost collection for 7 weeks. On May 1st, we launched a new Residential Compost Collection service specifically to fill the gap left by NYC’s suspension of residential compost programming. Within a few weeks, we signed up 75 new residential customers and currently collect 600 – 700 pounds of compost weekly, solely from this residential route. Our business customers are slowly beginning to re-open as well. All of this material is processed by hand either at our garden HQ in the East Village or by Earth Matter on Governors Island.

Please give us one fun fact about your business.

Gwen: Since we launched in 2014, we had been the only bike-powered micro hauler for compost in Manhattan (for now!) As more entrepreneurs discover that food scrap collection can be a viable business, as well as a perfect example of a closed loop economic model, the landscape of compost collection in NYC is changing daily. We are all working hard to #SaveOurCompost and everyone is welcome to the table (just put your food scraps in the bucket when you’re done eating!)

If you would like to be featured in a future edition of Community Heroes, please email us at marketing@biobagusa.com.