Detroit's eastern Morningside neighborhood is cloaked in a late-January slumber when Midtown Composting co-founder Michael Edwards starts out his day. A laptop sits on the coffee table, displaying a map of three complex routes, each with over 20 waypoints. This is the backbone of the business that he and partner Kristina Manolescu have been building since 2020 - a dynamic circular operation collecting waste across Michigan's vast south-eastern metropolitan area.
Midtown Composting is a community composting program that aims to divert food waste from landfills and turn it into nutrient-rich compost. Over 1,100 households and 25 businesses make up the customer base, each paying to have their food waste collected and responsibly disposed of. The waste is transported to an industrial composting site 50 miles north near Flint, where it is mixed with yard waste and other organic materials to create compost.
A lean team of three run the operation, with trucks owned by the business. One team member was using his own vehicle and being compensated for gas, but after the truck was stolen, he is now using a Midtown Composting vehicle. Edwards indicates one of the two 12-yard trailers he normally pulls, also revealing the fresh salad that's prepared for the crew to enjoy during their route - surely one of the most healthy employee lunches in America.
When Edwards first started working on the business alongside another composting entrepreneur, Tim Campbell, who was handing-off residential side of the operation, he was quick to make an optimization to collections. Instead of visiting doorsteps twice to collect a bucket, deposit in the trailer then return it empty to a doorstep, Edwards innovated by collecting and dropping in the same leg. Essentially a clean bucket is now dropped at the customer's doorstep at the same time that the previous week's is collected, effectively halving the walk-time for his team.
Since 2020, Midtown Composting has developed its business services to encompass many types of recyclable waste collection, also offering various grades of compost in return. Hundreds of yards* of compost are sold per year, available to purchase by the bucket and by the yard. Food is the latest introduction - fresh local produce delivered to your door, - and Midtown Composting even offers Snow Removal service during the winter.
With a bold vision to connect Michigan's local food production systems while eliminating food waste using software and dozens of vacant, local plots to test this supply chain, Edwards and Manolescu are at the start of a circular economy journey worth watching. We visited Sanctuary Farms during our tour - just one of the businesses with whom Midtown Composting are trading resources and growing Detroit's reputation as leading city in food sovereignty.
- yardage measured around a heap of compost when put in a pile to a maximum height