Tucsonan Shannon Sartin can point to a specific moment when she realized she wanted to start a business from scraps. A year ago, when she had just relocated from eco-friendly Seattle, “I had this epiphany moment standing over a garbage can and a recycling bin with a banana peel [in hand] going, ‘Where does it go?’”
In most cities, it goes in the landfill—and it adds up. According to the EPA, the average person throws out 1,500 pounds of waste per year, an estimated 950 pounds of which is compostable. So Shannon and her sister, Moira Sartin, decided to create an alternative option in Tucson. “Can you take something that would have otherwise been considered waste and turn it into a reusable byproduct?” Shannon says. “If you can utilize it to do something else then you’re closing that circle.” Banana peels into Tucson gardens. Thus, Scraps on Scraps was born.
The idea is simple: provide customers with a bucket and a smell-tight lid to keep under the kitchen sink. The Sartin sisters come by every two weeks to pick up full buckets and drop off clean ones. At $13 a month (or $7 if you meet them at the farmers’ market), it’s a convenient option to make composting accessible. “So many people wanted to make a difference, but they didn’t know where to start or didn’t have the space or the time,” Moira says.
“I am in that middle-of-the-line demographic,” Shannon adds. “I’m too busy—I work full time and I’m a mom, and I have a business. I don’t have time go out and turn my compost pile and worry about what it’s doing, but at the same time I want to make that choice to be green, and I want to make that choice to do right for my daughter and for future generations. I think it’s important to make sure there’s someone catering to that.”
After picking up buckets, the sisters take the scraps—25 pounds per bucket, roughly 650 pounds from each customer per year—to be composted. Originally they sent the scraps to Compost Cats, but they’re working on an independent option to expand their reach to apartment complexes and businesses. The sisters are focused on making their mission even bigger by distributing compost to communities with food insecurity through the Community Food Bank’s farm, Las Milpitas de Cottonwood, and others. Customers can even drop off cans of food for donation with their scraps. “We started initially with ‘Oh, we’re just going to keep stuff out of the landfill,’” Shannon says. “But it just kept coming back to this food security issue, and this thing we could do through essentially taking that compost and making sure it’s doing good. We live in Arizona; we don’t need more lawns, we need more gardens.”
She hopes Scraps on Scraps will begin a dialogue about urban composting and sustainability. She’s getting her wish: when Shannon’s daughter, Chloe, saw her grandmother throwing something out, she stopped her in her tracks with “Grandma, that’s compostable.”
“You realize that for a kid, when it’s just there, it’s this intrinsic knowledge,” Shannon says. “Chloe is always going to be like, ‘That’s compostable.’ That’s a huge thing for us. We’re making sure that when those kids are 35, everything underneath us is not a landfill.” One bucket at a time.