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Closing the loop on compostable waste

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Return to Nature Compost provides pickup and delivery service across region

By Matthew Hodgson EBS Editorial Assistant

BOZEMAN – W.J. Woods was raised to respect the environment, and had an epiphany while living in Chicago in 2011 that would eventually redefine composting in southwest Montana.

Composting is the practice of reusing food waste as fertilizer, and once the seed of his idea was planted, Woods began brainstorming how to create the perfect compost service.

Originally from Colorado Springs, Colorado, Woods studied at St. Lawrence University in New York and now works during the winters for the Yellowstone Club ski patrol. He fell in love with the beauty and splendor of Montana, and decided to tailor his idea to meet the needs of his fellow residents and prevent waste in the region.

In November 2017, Woods set his idea in motion and by February of this year his business, Return to Nature Compost, was up and running. The young business, designed to collect compostable food waste from customers so they don’t have to take care of it themselves, is already experiencing success with clients across Belgrade, Big Sky and Bozeman. Woods’ customer-convenient process allows him to serve a wide clientele from all over the region.

“If there’s a need for it, I’ll go to Big Sky, Livingston, Ennis, anywhere,” he said, touting his ability to cater to the needs of residents who are interested in reducing food waste that would otherwise be put in landfills around the state. Woods uses his days off from ski patrolling in the winter, and working as a fly-fishing guide in the summer, as pick-up days.

He explained that his process is quite simple, giving his clients a bucket to collect their food scraps and other compostable waste to collect until pick-up time. “You don’t have to worry about it and you feel better about what you’re doing,” Woods said, adding that gardens profit from the waste, which is repurposed as fertilizer once it has undergone the decomposition process.

Woods monitors and tends to one large compost pile created from his clients’ waste. He keeps the pile in a facility near the Bozeman airport. After his weekly collections, he tends to the pile by turning it over and unsettling it, which oxygenates the compost to encourage decomposition. Woods hopes to expand and experiment with different methods such as bacterial and fungal composting. He wants to see what type of compost pile is most effective for the Montana climate.

“It’s a trial and error sort of thing,” he said. “It’s a pretty simple process and it starts just when you toss your extra food and stuff outside, and then the compost pile gets hot as everything is decomposing. A big thing is time and temperature.”

Return to Nature Compost provides clients with a free 5 gallon bucket of compost per month for use in home gardens, indoor plants, or any other soil that needs nutrients. “Compost . . . has a variety of different kinds of nutrients,” Woods explained. “It will help plants grow to their highest potential,” which, for customers, means creating healthier plants with a free natural resource they’d otherwise discard.

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