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Noticing Neighbors KC Can Compost

You might not know this, (or maybe you do!) but there is a band of local organizations that are all acting #forthegreenergood. This long list of businesses, coffee shops, restaurants and non-profits are using a service provided by KC Can Compost. With the motivation to keep our communities connected, Kristan Chamberlain works as the Executive Director to show neighbors just how approachable the practice of composting is for everyone.

Hayley: Can you share about KC Can Compost and what you all do? How would you explain composting to someone just learning about it?


Sure! A lot of people don't understand the composting process, and although it’s super easy, there are a couple of things that are important to understand. First, it is helpful to understand that when we send our organic waste—like our banana peel, leftover hamburger bun, or just fruits and vegetables to landfill, it gets smothered there in an oxygenless environment and as it decomposes, it emits methane.

Hayley: That’s terrible! Kristan:

Methane gas is about 86 times more potent than CO2 as a driver of climate change. So methane is like taking an already sick world and wrapping it in a very, very hot blanket that doesn't allow the heat to escape. Part of what's creating the hot blanket and driving climate change is food waste. To put it in perspective, if food waste were a country it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.

So the fact that we, as a global community, are not managing our food waste responsibly is absolutely crazy, right? KC Can Compost is trying to create the infrastructure for Kansas City so that we have a really easy, simple, and clean way to responsibly manage our waste. Hayley: Compost is nutrient dense too, right?


Absolutely, it’s healthy soil that has all this life in it. It actually pulls carbon down, increases water holding capacity and increases food nutrition. I can’t begin to list all the benefits of compost but they are amazingly numerous. Hayley: That’s good for the land. Kristan:

A lot of people are suggesting now that soil really is the answer. We looked at many of the issues preventing people from composting and asked: What are the barriers for big businesses, restaurants for instance, from doing this?

We then tackled each one of those barriers one at a time and tried to provide an infrastructure that streamlines the process and makes it easy for everybody.

Hayley: I love how you put it: you're creating that infrastructure. You're creating that process. What does that process look like when you start? Let's say there's a business that wants to get involved. What are the steps for that? Kristan: It's a really easy 3 step process. Let's say a restaurant, for instance, wants to begin a sustainability program. We would come in and do what's called a “waste audit,” where we would look at their space, see what they're throwing away and how much. From that we would create a proposal for them that includes a procedure that we think would work best in their kitchen space. We've worked with all kinds and sizes of businesses: from food trucks to big commercial kitchens.

We then provide them with all of the equipment they need to get started, so they don't need to order anything. The third and final step is education. KC Can’s team manages all of the employee training so employers don’t need to worry about it.

The idea from there is that composting can grow within that community by employers allowing and encouraging employees to compost at home and bring their KC cans to work during the week to dump them. Barkley is a great example. They have been super on board with encouraging employees to compost at home. It streamlines the process for the entire organization and makes composting accessible and easy!


So it benefits everyone. Kristan:

Yes! And we're exponentially increasing the amount of waste we're diverting as a community.

Hayley: You mentioned Barkley. Who are some of the local players that are involved?

Kristan: So the whole Fairwave Coffee Collective, which is all your Roasteries Black Dog Coffee, the Filling Stations—all the big cafes in our area have really stepped up to the plate. They've been doing an amazing job with their sustainability. The museums have been leaders for us. They've been total champions. The Nelson and the Kemper museums have been on since the beginning. They've been great.

We've got people in all different fields, even dental offices are recycling and composting toothbrushes! More schools have been reaching out recently, dog groomers, architectural firms. It's pretty cool because we get calls from just about everybody. It's really encouraging.

Hayley: I love how you mentioned that the service is a perk for the employees because I think people generally want to help but don't know where to go. What is a good way for someone new to get involved?


We offer drop off locations around the city, and we're opening up more of those all the time. We're now opening up a new one in Waldo! So people can sign up online as individual residents, and bring their 5 gallon bucket to drop as much as they need to throughout the month. Hayley: So that's one really easy way. Kristan:

When you ask what individuals can do, a big part of our mission in this city is trying to help people understand what environmental justice is all about. We're trying to explain the link between what we do as individuals for the environment, and how that impacts our vulnerable neighbors in neighborhoods that are economically challenged. As I said—when we as a community all throw our stuff into the landfill, we're creating more and more methane, which impacts our global climate.

Climate related weather events disproportionately impact people in economically depressed environments, right? And right now, we see people rising up for their neighbors in all kinds of ways. I see people listening to each other’s stories, hearing them, and supporting each other with signs and conversations. I think we need to connect the environment into our positive conversations. In that same way we can say: hey, it does matter to us. Because by taking steps towards improving the environment, we're tangibly improving the lives of our neighbors, too. It's intricately connected. I think that gives us all a sense of hope because we're doing something that creates hope for our planet and for the people in our community.


That's such a good connection. I have one question that I just like to ask: how have you seen goodness through this process?


Oh, my gosh. It's such a big question because I feel so fortunate but let me see how to answer that in the most succinct way. There really are so many positive moments I could share.

Hayley: Take your time. Kristan: I guess I'll take it down to a personal level: we work with people overcoming barriers to employment. Part of KC Can Compost’s vision is to make a difference in individual lives through green job training and through our work in the community. The people who have come alongside us to support individuals transitioning to employment has been amazing. One woman who worked for us experienced years and years of homelessness. Can I tell you her story?

Hayley: I’d love to hear it! Did she work with you?


Yes. She has worked for us for two years, and we love her dearly. She had a stroke about 3 months ago now, and is still in the hospital. The group of people that have come together to care for her, encourage her, and ensure that she has everything she needs has been an amazing thing to watch. Even the nurses at the hospital have commented to me over and over and over again that she's so fortunate to have this team of people.


Wow. Kristan:

KC Can has been surrounded by a team of people like this all along the way. People that have donated their time and their energy to help make this enterprise work. Every person adds something which encourages us to keep going. I have to say, her example really sums it up to me because it is amazing to see that type of community at work. Hayley: If someone wants to get involved, how can they do that? As a business or an individual? Kristan: They can go right online to our website and sign up. If it’s a business, they sign up as a commercial entity. And individuals can sign up, too! We would love to meet as many neighbors as we can.

To keep up with the latest KC Can Compost news, follow along on Facebook and learn more about it on the website. If you would like to reach Kristan directly, her email is:

All media originally published by KC Can Compost via their online platforms, with photos curated by Steph Rupp


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