Posted: October 01, 2009
Small Biz: Waste farmers—redemption for the throwaway mindsetBy Mike Taylor
John-Paul Maxfield envisions the day when hauling trash to a landfill is as unthinkable as smoking on airplanes is now. But that day, he concedes, is 10 or 20 years down the road.
In the here and now, Maxfield cites a disturbing stat from the Colorado Association of Recycling.
"In Colorado, our recycling rate is 12.5 percent," he says. "Nationally it's 28.5 percent. And that's not a coincidence. The reason that happens is it's very cheap to throw things away here."
Supporting his point, Maxfield says landfill costs in Colorado range from $10 a ton in metro Denver to between $26.25 to $50 in Eagle and Pitkin counties. By comparison, "In New Jersey it's $72 a ton to throw things away."
Maxfield, 29, hopes to change that throwaway mindset. He had long entertained the idea of a resource-management company devoted to helping companies achieve - or at least strive for - zero waste, but he wasn't sure Denver was ready for it. Then last October he was laid off from his job at a private-equity firm. He decided his idea's time had arrived.
"The job market was dismal, and this is what I always wanted to do," he says, recalling the sense of opportunity he felt when one career door closed for the time being and another opened. "I remember the day I was laid off saying to Carrie, my wife, ‘This is great!'"
Two months later Maxfield launched Waste Farmers, a company focused on helping companies reduce, re-use and recycle their waste - or what Maxfield prefers to call "resources," because in his mind very little of what gets thrown away is a total waste.
Maxfield landed both an investor and well-connected area businessman in Erik Porter, who previously launched two notable companies - Colorado Computer Rental in the mid-'90s and Data393 in 2002 - and later sold both.
As of early September, Waste Farmers had secured about 15 clients including Crowne Plaza in downtown Denver, Dazbog Coffee and Snooze Eatery, a bustling breakfast and lunch hangout that debuted in the Ballpark Neighborhood in 2006 and added a second location at 700 N. Colorado Blvd. in July.
Snooze Eatery already was using disposable products made of plant materials at its restaurants, so for Snooze co-owner Adam Schlegel, hiring Waste Farmers for composting for $130 a month was a no-brainer.
"One of our servers is going to walk away from a five-hour shift with $130," Schlegel says. "It's minimal. And by doing this we're diverting 95 percent of everything we use."
Waste Farmers' services can involve much more than composting: helping companies educate employees about the resource-management program, identifying areas where waste can be reduced, customizing recycling programs and providing quarterly and annual progress reports for companies striving to reduce waste and increase recycling.
Along with providing ongoing analyses of clients' waste and recycling practices, Waste Farmers functions as a service aggregator. For garbage pickup, for example, it has subcontracting partnerships with vendors such as Alpine Waste & Recycling.
Waste Farmers typically starts with an assessment of a company's current waste-hauling and recycling practices and a breakdown of how most companies can achieve diversion and elimination rates of up to 90 percent.
Maxfield, who majored in economics at CU, attributes some of his resource-consciousness to his family's heritage and ties to the land; his father, a retired attorney, grew up ranching in Torrington, Wyo.
Another impressionable period were the six months as a University of Colorado-Boulder student he spent studying abroad in Botswana, where he says locals survived by harvesting trees and selling permits to hunters that allowed them to poach big game. Maxfield's group sought to show the villagers how they could earn a better and more sustainable living by preserving the rich environment and developing eco-tourism businesses.
Now he hopes to convince Coloradans that most of the time what looks like waste is really a resource, and that they can do better than a 12.5 percent recycling rate.
"It's a scary statistic," he says. "But it's also an opportunity."
Mike Taylor is the managing editor of ColoradoBiz. He writes about small-business money issues and how startups are launched. Email him at email@example.com.