The City Magazine Since 1975

Gettin’ the Dirt

October 2017
Gettin’ the Dirt
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The Compost Rangers are on a mission to makeover Charleston’s trash habits

Their enterprise was born from mounds of waste. Seeing all that Charleston restaurants threw out, food-and-bev worker Nathan Burnell knew there was a need for composting. So in 2012, he and a friend, both passionate about eco-friendly lifestyles, debuted a free compost pick-up service for downtown eateries that they named “Cycles Compost.”

Burnell would set an early alarm and bike for an hour and a half around the peninsula, collecting five-gallon buckets of food waste from spots like Black Tap Coffee, then delivering them to the Shaw Community Center garden on America Street.

The system worked well...until the winter of 2016, when Burnell and his new partner, Mark Rasmussen, learned they were unknowingly defying South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control regulations. So the group, by then called “Compost Rangers,” shifted its focus to education.

(Left) Burnell helps a student add to her school’s “compost cube.” (Right) A market-goer navigates the Rangers’ waste-sorting bins.

Last winter, the Rangers—now including Burnell’s fiancé, Sarah Roza—created working compost systems at N.E. Miles Early Childhood Development Center (ECDC) and College Park Middle School (CPMS). They partnered with The Green Heart Project to do the same at four of that nonprofit’s school gardens.

“After our initial build days, we provide all of the info a group needs to keep their compost happy and healthy,” explains Roza. On the second Saturday of each month, they hold a community volunteer day at one of the gardens (visit compostrangers.org for details). Next spring, ECDC and CPMS will be getting even more love, when the group uses a grant from the Nathan and Marlene Addlestone Foundation to roll out a month-long after-school program dedicated to the science and practice of making great ’post.

To further spread the word, the Compost Rangers—who are working toward becoming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit—run a booth at the Sunday Brunch Farmers Market on James Island. There, they raise funds by selling old jars repurposed into herb gardens and accept scraps from their Compost Collection members (folks get a bucket, fill it up at home, and drop it off at the “waste recovery station”).

“As a young organization, we’re eager to keep pushing the limits to see what works for the community and what doesn’t,” notes Roza.

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Photographs by (2) Anna Warner & courtesy of (Burnell & student) Compost Rangers