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Composting advocate looks to feed public information | TribLIVE.com
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Composting advocate looks to feed public information

Candy Williams
| Friday, June 26, 2015 6:16 p.m
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Tiramasu Cupcakes
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Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Travis Leivo, owner of Shadyside Worms, turns one of his vermicomposting bins at the Shadyside Nursery Friday, June 19, 2015. Leivo offers curbside pickups in exchange for fresh worm castingsfor useful fertilizer.
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Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Shadyside Worms, a vermiculture company, offers curbside pickup of people's compost in exchange for worm castings that provide useful fertilizaer. The business is located at the Shadyside Nursery.
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Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Travis Leivo, owner of Shadyside Worms, holds some of the red wigglers (worms) at his vermiculture business at the Shadyside Nursery Friday, June 19, 2015.
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Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Travis Leivo, owner of Shadyside Worms, offers curbside pickup of compost in exchange for worm castings for useful fertilizer. His business is located at the Shadyside Nursery.

When it comes to composting, Travis Leivo isn’t afraid to do the dirty work.

As owner of Shadyside Worms, Leivo runs a curbside compost-exchange program for customers who want to be green when disposing of their food waste, but don’t have the means to do it.

“Most of my customers are new homeowners or families who want to compost, but don’t have the time or space,” says Leivo of Spring Hill. “The majority of people come from a gardening background, but others just know it’s bad for the environment to put food into landfills. They know composting is a better method.”

Leivo started the business three years ago. Now, he’s composting between 300 and 400 pounds of food scraps a week on a patch of land behind Shadyside Nursery.

The most important part of his work, Leivo says, is educating people about the dangers of food waste, which can lead to high methane levels in landfills. He hosts composting workshops for adults and children at various venues and events around the city.

“It’s a national issue,” Leivo says. “Out of all the stuff we recycle, food scraps are the least processed. We do more with the rubber and plastic we throw on our curbs than food scraps.”

According to “The State of Composting in the U.S.: What, Why, Where and How,” published in 2014 by the national nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance, food waste makes up the largest percent (21 percent) of all municipal waste disposed. Pennsylvania was the state with the eighth-highest amount of organics diverted to composting in 2012,with around 860,000 tons, the study shows.

“We are seeing an increased awareness among consumers (about the importance of composting), but there typically has to be some kind of crutch — either they heard a news story or there’s a program in their community,” says Nora Goldstein, study contributor and editor of BioCycle Magazine, based in Emmaus, Lehigh County. “We are seeing subscription services popping up in so many places, but they are very grassroots.”

Shadyside Worms offers customers weekly door-to-door pickup of their food scraps, which they keep in buckets Leivo provides. In return, they receive worm castings, a natural fertilizer ideal for use in gardens. Customers also can donate their castings to a local nonprofit.

Customers tend to like subscription services, Goldstein says, because they “actually see the finished product versus recycling, when you put it at the curb and that’s the last you see of it.”

Leivo’s current 35 customers are based primarily in the East End to keep his travel time and costs low. Cost for the service is $75 for three months or $240 for a year.

Leivo’s method starts with thermophilic composting, or hot composting, which involves breaking down the tougher lignins and fibers in the food scraps. Those scraps are then fed to the thousands of worms hard at work in the three bins Leivo monitors, a process known as vermiculture.

Having someone else who’s willing to do that work is well worth it to customer Andrew Moore of Highland Park, who tried composting on his own before realizing he wasn’t able to keep up with it.

“There’s a lot more to composting than throwing it in the corner of the yard,” he says.

When Moore learned of Leivo’s service, he knew it was the ideal solution.

“With the amount of garbage we create, we’re always trying to figure out ways to knock that down,” he says. “Travis is really on top of things. It couldn’t be an easier process.”

Rachel Weaver is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

Categories: Home Garden
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