Discussing the Joy of Composting with CompoKeeper’s Kristen Hess
February 13, 2015
While studying Marketing and Psychology at The University of Colorado-Boulder, Kristen became immersed in business. However, as a yoga-practicing, earth-loving minimalist, Kristen had no interest in a career focused on selling more “stuff”. Through her studies, she came to believe that businesses and products injected with passion, honesty, and heart-felt intention can improve community faster than any other force – and for her, composting is just about the coolest, most natural thing you can do to keep the planet healthy. After graduating in 2010, Kristen teamed up with her Dad, Van, to bring his innovative composting tool to the public. In September, 2013 Kristen braved a packed Boulder Theater audience and competed in the Naturally Boulder “Entrepreneur Pitch Slam,” against impressive competition. After her live pitch to a panel of CEO and VIP natural products industry judges, Kristen won the Pitch Slam and more than $2000 in cash and another $48,000 in services and consulting prizes that would help CompoKeeper fund the launch of its projects. As interest grew in CompoKeeper, Kristen realized a strategic partner was needed to support the commercial realization of their product. In 2014, CompoKeeper received investment from Natural Eco Wholesale’s (NEW) Founder and CEO Steve Savage, a veteran in the eco-products industry. In March, 2014 Kristen took on the role of Marketing Director, helping to shape the company’s strategy and growth. She then moved to the Bay Area to oversee manufacturing and the manifestation of her family’s dream. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Today we’re at the Green Festivals in San Francisco, California, and we’ve got Kristen Hess with us. She’s the Founder and Marketing Director of CompoKeeper. Welcome to Green is Good, Kristen. KRISTEN HESS: Thank you, John. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And we’ve got a CompoKeeper right here in front of us. KRISTEN HESS: Yes, this is the CompoKeeper. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Before we talk about this CompoKeeper, and I love the color of it, by the way, I want to talk a little bit about the Kristen Hess. Talk a little bit about your journey in life. Where did you get the sustainability bug? Was it from childhood and was it from education? Was it just from the environment and friends and family along your journey? Share your journey a little bit with our listeners, please. KRISTEN HESS: Sure, OK. I grew up in Boulder, Colorado. It’s a very, very green and environmentally friendly place, beautiful scenery. It’s definitely a place to visit. When I was in school at CU, I studied business. I took a course on sustainable operations, and I learned all about how businesses could really impact and change the way that they were doing things so that, instead of being harmful to the environment, they could actually be part of the solution and actually lead society to be more sustainable. That was really the push that got me going towards a career in sustainability. Meanwhile, my dad was inventing this compost bin in our garage. After I graduated, I jumped onboard and really helped bring CompoKeeper to the marketplace. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So your dad also had the bug a little bit in his inventiveness. KRISTEN HESS: He did, yes. As a very handy person, he was actually solving a problem that our own family was having. In Boulder, as I said, it’s a very sustainable, very green place. We got curbside composting in 2008. The municipality comes around and they pick up yard and food waste from homes and businesses. They give you this small 1-2 gallon pail for collecting your food waste in the kitchen. What we found is that odors and fruit flies were a really big issue with those pails that they give out, and also that you have to take them out all the time because you make a lot of compostable waste while you’re cooking. What he did was he solved his own problem. He went into the garage, he took a big 6-gallon container, and built clamps into the bin that would seal a compostable bag, kind of like a Ziploc bag. It keeps everything contained. That took care of the odors and fruit flies, and it also allowed him to only empty it about once a week instead of every other day. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So when did your dad’s design and your bug for sustainability merge and you founded, then, what looks like a beautiful product that’s in front of us called the CompoKeeper? When was this founded? KRISTEN HESS: It was really founded in 2008. That’s when the very first prototype was made. Then in 2010, I graduated from CU-Boulder. I went and did this sustainable volunteering at a health and wellness retreat, and learned about permaculture. As soon as that was over, I was onboard. I was like, OK, I’m going to use my marketing education and we’re going to make this a reality so that other people can be less afraid of composting. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. So you launched it. How did you get the word out? Did you start selling it in stores, online? How did you start getting the word out? KRISTEN HESS: Yeah. We actually just launched after years of prototyping, development, and making this an actual model that can be manufactured with injection molding. We just launched in September, and right now it’s available on our website at compokeeper.com. We’re working on distribution. We’re talking to some retailers so that it’s really easy to find in any city across the nation. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So compokeeper.com. What is the environmental benefits of composting, for our listeners out there that want to buy it but want to understand the whole cost benefit analysis of composting? KRISTEN HESS: Composting is great because it takes nutrients that are in food and the parts that we don’t use, and it recycles them back into soil. That’s what you’ll hear referred to as compost, is the actual finished compost that you can then use in your garden or even in restoration projects. What it does is it feeds the plants, it gives them more nutrients, so it makes produce more nutrient-rich. It also sequesters carbon from the atmosphere, so it’s helping in that way as well. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And where would this product typically go if we weren’t composting it? Where would it go historically? KRISTEN HESS: In the landfill, right? Most people are used to just throwing everything from their kitchen into the trash, and then that heads to the landfill. What happens in the landfill is that food waste becomes anaerobic, which means that it’s not getting oxygen. What happens with organic waste when it becomes anaerobic is that it releases methane gas into the atmosphere. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So it’s a waste of product, first of all, to go to the landfill. It fills it up. It creates more waste in the air and the land, when it could be going back to fertilize and revitalize our whole ecosystem. KRISTEN HESS: Right. Or it could be a closed loop, where it just goes back to grow more food. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow. That is just great. So it’s all part of the circular economy, composting is, the new circular economy. KRISTEN HESS: Exactly. And when you use compost, you don’t have to use other synthetic fertilizers, which, first of all, take energy and create pollution to produce. They also have a lot of negative impacts when people consume them and on the water supply, so we’re just getting rid of all those chemicals and doing something that nature does by itself. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Kristen, I’m in the electronic waste recycling business as a profession, and what we see with the cities that we represent and serve, that there are three major trends going on in those cities, both electronic recycling, textile recycling, and composting. Talk about how that megatrend that seems to be really on fire now across America, in cities, especially, how that will positively affect your brand and how you can interrelate the founding of your company with the real trend and desire now for many households across America to compost in their home. KRISTEN HESS: I think the big push to keep things out of the landfill and find more uses is becoming very widely known. We’re understanding the impacts, and we want to make sure that the future for our children is just as good, if not better, as our lives are now. Also, all the land and sea creatures. As recycling is embraced by America and across the world, composting is really the next lowest hanging fruit, and it’s so easy. U.S. households, one-third of their waste stream is actually compostable waste. We’re wasting so much. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Does the city have to have a composting program, for our listeners and viewers, to be able to buy your product and compost? KRISTEN HESS: No. The bags that work with the CompoKeeper are 100% compostable. They are recommended for municipal facilities, but they do compost in the soil over time. What we recommend for backyard composters is to bury them, and they will compost in about six months. When you have a backyard pile, if you’re going to use your compost for your garden, then you can keep the bags out because they’ll tend to slow down the process, and you really want to get the compost as fast as you can and get it hot. If you keep the bags out, you can bury them. It’s also great for curbside composting because it’s super low-maintenance. You don’t have to do a lot of work. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So anyone in America who’s watching this show now or listening can buy your great product in front of us and use it. KRISTEN HESS: Yes, absolutely. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Explain how it works. KRISTEN HESS: There are clamps inside the bin that, when you open the CompoKeeper, it opens the clamps. I’ll show you. The clamps are open, and then while you’re cleaning up, while you’re cooking, you can just toss your food scraps in there. Then we close it. You push down on this, and it seals the compostable bag. It’s fashioned after a Ziploc bag. It seals odors in and fruit flies out. There’s also a charcoal filter in the lid to help absorb any extra odor. It’s six gallons, so you don’t have to take it out as often, as I mentioned. When you do take it out, there’s a bag tray inside that helps you pull out the compostable bag, so you don’t have to worry about the bag exploding or dripping all over your floor. JOHN SHEGERIAN: How much does this model cost right here? KRISTEN HESS: It’s available on our website for $99.50. It comes with 12 compostable bags and two filters. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And do they buy extra bags from you, or they can buy it from their local store? KRISTEN HESS: They can use any bags they would like. We made our bags specifically for the CompoKeeper for the longer storage, so they are thicker. They’re also the perfect size so there’s not a lot of extra bag. You don’t have that extra waste. They can buy our bags on our website, and they can even sign up for a subscription service, where you only sign up once. You tell us how often you want us to send you the bags, and we’ll take care of it from there. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow. I see that you donate 1% for zero waste education. Explain that to our listeners. KRISTEN HESS: We think that the children are really shaping our future. I hear so often that there are green programs at school, and the children, then, come home to their parents and they say, “We have to start composting.” So they’re really going to start leading this effort towards zero waste. We want to make those green programs more available to children across the nation, so we’re donating 1% of our sales to those efforts. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners and viewers out there, you can go to www.compokeeper.com. Kristen Hess, thank you for being a guest on Green is Good today. You are truly living proof that green is good. KRISTEN HESS: Thank you, John. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Thank you.