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228. Garbage to Garden | Curbside Composting | Pheobe Lyttle | Portland, Maine
17th June 2018 • GREEN Organic Garden Podcast • Jackie Marie Beyer
00:00:00 00:55:41

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I’m so excited to talk about one of those forward thinking bold visionary entrepreneurs . Pheobe Lyttle is here to tell us about Garbage to Garden!

Garbage to Garden is the most successful market-based curbside composting company in the Northeast, servicing over 5,000 households, schools, restaurants, businesses and events throughout Maine and Massachusetts. The ethos of Garbage to Garden is rooted in the spirit of sustainability and supporting the local economy while making composting for the masses as approachable as possible.

Tell us a little about yourself and what your role is there!

I am the community outreach director here at Garbage to Garden

So, we are very involved with community, so I handle all the 

  • marketing
  • strategic partnerships
  • manage the volunteer program we have in place which enables 
  • access services regardless of ability to pay
  • composting
  • recycling for events for different people ~ up to 50k people!

I am from Massachussets originally, I went to school in Vermont


to teach nutrition then came to Garbage to Garden

Does that mean you’re a Rockstar Millennial?

Cool, I’m compiling a book of Rockstar Millennials. I’ve interviewed like 65-75 millennials. 

The majority of our team is of that group

Tyler who founded Garbage to Garden the start up is also millennial!


Tell me about your first gardening experience?

I probably have only had my own gardens for the past couple of years, but my mom and dad do have some gardens around the house, mostly perennial flower gardens

They have actually gotten into vegetable gardening now that their schedule’s have lightened up with me and my siblings out of house

more time

I started gardening


robust garden system in Burlington


incredibly long waiting list

250 person on the waiting list, but I was really please how quickly that list was whittled down and I actually got a plot about a year and half later.

Wow well there’s some interest in community gardening!

have my own aren

with about 9 raised

latin Green Mountain (Latin Universitas Viridis Montis (University of the Green Mountains).

How did you learn how to garden organically?

I don’t think i ever knew any other way

When my mom was gardening that was she did it

IDK what her philosophy was behind that

Then at all of the community gardens in Vermont. 

They have workshops and they’re all lead by people in the Friday workshop

organic garden community

came naturally as my gardening education.

Do you have any secrets for that? Is that convenient? I think gardening has to be convenient. Is that convenient?


both Portland and Burlington are about the same size cities

  • 50-60k people
  • definitely a city but smaller then what most people consider a city.
  • They both have a robust system of gardens

A lot of neighborhoods would

  • create a garden
  • that is convenient
  • walkable or bikable
  • apartments living at a time

I wouldn’t have been successful if it weren’t convenient because it’s really hard to get out there

water and weed when you have to water 2xs a day

check up

The neighborhood will probably

  • create a garden
  • that is convenient
  • walkable or bikable

apartments living at a time

I would’t have success if it weren’t convenient.

really hard to get out there

water and weed

check up on things a couple of times a day.

What are some tips that you would let people know, like know about the commitment ahead of time?

totally both cities

there are meetings at the beginning of season

In Burlington I think there were required meetings.

They did a lot of educating

  • people knew about how to be a responsible neighbor to the pot next to you
  • neglectful over the course of the summer
  • build community

it helps if you make friends with the person next to you so if can’t make it down to your plot

There were days where they bring everyone together

picnics in the evenings when it’s a little cooler.

That’s a good idea to have picnics/potlucks for people to enjoy when maybe it’s not so hot

Focused in the NE area so a small quarter of the country. 

It’s just a small garden

Tell us about Garbage to Garden

Garbage to Garden ~ It’s a curbside composting service

services to

  • households
  • schools
  • businesses
  • organizations of all kinds
  • recycling composting events
  • miscellaneous services and products

started in 2012 Tyler moved to Portland from Maine

Portland is such a small city that it gets pretty spread out and becomes semi rural pretty quickly about 20 miles growing up but his mom always composted and he was used to being able to have that outlet for his food scraps

In a conversation with a couple of roommates. They said, “We can’t have a compost bin outside”

It doesn’t feel right to throw them in the trash bin but why can’t we put them out with our regular garbage on the curbside.

That spiraled and led to the others

Tyler had some experiences

we’d pay

wasn’t afraid

not the type of person to worry, just dives right in and then backstops to figure everything out

  • spray painted a sign took to First Friday Art Walk. 
  • Bought a bunch of buckets he found at  Walmart
  • within a month
  • 300 households in the portland area

customer management

program grew over the next few years!

Like I said, my listeners are very entrepreneurial, and visionaries just like Tyler and I love how he started with:

  • a sign he spray painted
  • grabbed a couple of buckets
  • got out there right away
  • got some feedback
  • 17 people that first night!
  • Said that’s a score!

So many people think oh  I have a business I have to have 100s of customers. Then he gets 300 customers! That’s huge! Ive been doing this for 3 years and I’m still waiting to break 300 emails on my list?!


I want to hear about the events you go to because nothing bugs me more when you go to an event, especially an environmental event and people are throwing water bottles in the garbage! That just infuriates me and seems so ….

How does that work because where do you make your money?

For events is one of those things growing very quickly!

charging for events services now. It grew as we realized there was a need! At first we were collecting 

food scraps

collecting compostables:

paper plates and napkins.

So we were setting up and no recycles next to us

We were doing it to get our name out into the community.

As a promotional tactic

We were just trying to finding ways to connect

never had a promotional budget

get our brand out there

but quickly we realized there was  a missing piece to the puzzle

  • no recycling
  • no one monitoring
  • make sure people are putting it in the right bins

once you started handling all all 3 waste streams. 

Not something we wanted to do on volunteer manpower.

lot of staff

multiple trucks

going back after a couple years

hope you see the value

most stopped us in our tracks and were 100% willing to work with us

people working so hard to handle all the heavy lifting


staff big events can offer people

all of the waste

event planner have a million things to deal with

Setting Up Recyclables

setting up recyclables is not the highest priority on their list but if we can do that and then go back and say we had a 90% conversion rate all the better for their marketing materials as well.

That’s a good point, something else to add, especially all you rockstar millennials out there want their recycling and garbage taken care of when your at an event

I was just listening to JLD talking about going to an event he goes to that Chris Ducker puts on and that he has kind of ruined it for anyone else because he does such an amazing job he just sets the bar so high! So if you can have someone take one more thing off your checklist is huge!

Can I ask you a question. I finally got up my guts to ask my County Commissioner what can we do to get recycling at our local Green boxes, Mike and I produce 3 times as much recycling as we do garbage every month, mostly I’m sorry to say is dog and cat food cans, the Commissioner laughed at me and said China is not even taking plastic anymore.

I don’t know all of the details, but I know a big issue over the last few months

China was accepting

changing the dynamics in recycling programs everywhere

In Maine the tipping fee for recycling was less for trash

made recycling

per ton amount a city pays for to dispose of that product

set a rate

any amount

varies from state to state

tipping less for recycling there’s an immediate incentive for folks to get that out of their trash 

save them money

cheaper for a business to have a recycling dumpster then a trash

now about even with that market disrupted 

there’s a little less financial incentive

cost for food scraps is still extremely really really low

trash tipping fee

huge amount progress to be made where to dispose of what would otherwise be processed or taken to a landfill or taken to an incinerator

burn trash

what he’s saying is true is there is probably less of an argument to be made towards increasing that

I think that the recycling market changes so frequently goes up and down I don’t think it makes sense to deter recycling! I still setting up a really valuable 

I was just talking in this interview I did this morning, I emptied 2 garbage bags I was gonna put in my car but then my car was full, they’re still sitting on my kitchen floor, they’re not making a mess, they’re not pretty to look at but they’re mostly paper, their light. Because all my compost thing, the cans go in the recycling thing.

I wish I could say the same about our classroom garbage because the kids are eating the breakfast to go, the kids are eating in the classroom not the cafeteria. The milk in the garbage and the individual packaging.

instilling values

individually package

  • more processed food you eat
  • take out containers that are styrofoam
  • plastic silverware
  • chip bags


bucket paper towels

coffee grounds

  • once a month
  • don’t need to go very far
  • its not filling up

illustrates to people how much you can if you have the ability to compost in place

onsite you can really reduce the amount you take to the landfill

See that’s what I have been saying for years does it really have to cost more? It’s just a matter of SORTING!! Instead of having to have 15 dumpsters that are just garbage and 5 could be recycling. Instead of the one day they drive 65 miles to Troy to the landfill, they could drive the 65 miles to Kalispell! They can teach the bears to stay out of the garbage.

I feel like we have proved that it!

in the beginning early adopters

We have awareness


no prior education

food waste as an issue

their neighbor has...