Sean Doty sifted and sorted through mountains of food scraps, water bottles, aluminum cans, and paper cups and plates during last weekend’s Travelers’ Rest Festival, diverting about 40 yards of compostable material from Missoula’s landfill and recycling most of the rest.

“It was a lot of manual sorting, but we hauled out just tons and tons of compostable material,” Doty said. “They had a very low percentage of actual waste, and we were able to recycle everything that was recyclable.”

It wasn’t an unusual assignment for Doty, who owns the local startup Missoula Compost Collection launched last October.

Doty begins work in the early hours of the morning, driving around Missoula with a trailer to pick up food scraps from restaurants and homes.

His job plays a significant role in the city’s new Zero Waste plan, which was adopted unanimously by the Missoula City Council Monday night.

The plan aims to cut waste to Missoula’s landfill by about 90 percent by 2050. Having co-authored the document, Doty understands the importance of his business collaborating with the city and nonprofits working to implement the goals.

“Without a plan like this, we’re kind of being left behind, or leaving ourselves behind,” he said. “It’s just silly to throw all of these resources into the landfill. It’s very old-school thinking to think that stuff is just going away when you throw it in the garbage.”

Now serving about 150 residences and about 20 businesses around Missoula, Doty works with Garden City Compost and delivers the purchased processed material to residents’ gardens and even restoration sites overlooked by Missoula Parks and Recreation.

On the company’s website, residents can become a member for $15 a month. A household can fill a 10-gallon bin with organic material like fruit and vegetable scraps, bread, coffee grounds, grass clippings and leaves, and compostable containers.

“The first thing is universal recycling and compost collection services for households and businesses, and that’s what I’m trying to provide so that part of the path can be fulfilled and make that available,” Doty said.

Missoula energy conservation and climate action coordinator Chase Jones said Doty is helping implement one of the first pathways to zero waste, which is access.

Allowing Missoulians universal access to services to increase participation in waste reduction and composting is a major force driving the plan, Jones said.

It’s estimated that yard and food waste make up about 28 percent of Missoula’s landfill. (Photo courtesy Sean Doty)
It’s estimated that yard and food waste make up about 28 percent of Missoula’s landfill. (Photo courtesy Sean Doty)

Developing infrastructure, introducing zero waste education and adopting policies will be other major pathways to success.

“I salute Sean for recognizing that gap in Missoula and providing that service. It was certainly a leap of faith,” Jones said. “It’s one that really brought all of this together and makes composting an absolutely viable option and has gotten us pretty far down the road of zero waste and will continue to.”

Other cities like Boulder, Colo., and Austin, Texas, are already making headway with their zero waste plans, and Missoula can follow suit with the help of private and government entities working together.

“That’s a perfect example of local government working with private businesses and citizens to achieve our common goals and our shared values,” Jones said. “What we thought about when we created this plan, [was] that it was a framework for the city to lead with community nonprofit partners and that it is a framework to spark innovation, ingenuity and business development. We’re already seeing it happen.”

While one of the short-term goals is to collect disposal data for Missoula, statewide data from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality estimates that Missoulians will landfill between 91,000 and 112,000 tons of solid waste in 2018.

It’s estimated that yard and food waste make up about 28 percent of Missoula’s landfill.

“The best use of food or organic matter that can be composted is not to send it to the landfill. It takes up volume and it also emits methane, which is a very potent greenhouse gas,” Jones said. “So if we can sort of view that from a different angle and view it as a resource to create compost and create soil, then it actually becomes a regenerative method.”

With the Zero Waste plan in its early stages, a few short-term goals include implementing more zero waste stations throughout the city, including bins for recycling and composting. Changing social norms is also a goal through creating educational programs in schools to spread awareness of the benefits of zero waste.

“It’s keeping up with the rest of the world. If you go out to any other big city and see these plans in action, people who come here from out of state and they don’t even see recycling cans out on the streets or in a lot of businesses, they’re confused about it,” Doty said.

In the end, residents and other cities implementing similar plans can agree that clean air, water and making a community an enjoyable place to live are worthy reasons to push forward, Jones said.

“A lot of them share the values of clean air, clean water, recognizing the full value of resources,” he said. “Recognizing that when you have all of those things, you have a really high quality of life, and a lot of other great benefits go along with that, like growing in a smart way.

“It creates an economy and it can create jobs. It’s an economic development driver because people recognize that Missoula and all of those cities really value those things. When you share those values, people want to live here, they want to do business here, they want to be a part of a healthy community that is resourceful and not wasteful.”