fb-pixelA R.I. startup diverts 1 ton of waste each month from landfills. They’re trying to get businesses to do the same. - The Boston Globe Skip to main content
INNOVATOR Q&A

A R.I. startup diverts 1 ton of waste each month from landfills. They’re trying to get businesses to do the same.

Tess Feigenbaum co-founded Epic Renewal, which looks to provide low-cost composting services for homes, businesses, and events

Epic Renewal co-founder and operations director Tess Feigenbaum loaded a spinning sifter with broken-down food products.MARK STOCKWELL FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

While studying at the Rhode Island School of Design, Tess Feigenbaum became fascinated by America’s relationship with waste and single-use products.

A social impact designer with clients like World Bank Group and Doctors Without Borders, Feigenbaum moved to Los Angeles and saw a clear need for affordable and easy composting solutions. She co-founded Epic Renewal in 2016 with Brendan Baba, looking to provide low-cost composting services to businesses and for events. From 2018 to 2019, the company’s last year in Southern California, they diverted more than 26,000 pounds of organic waste from landfills, which offset about 5 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

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Three years ago, Feigenbaum and her co-founder decided to return home and move their headquarters to Providence. As of January 2023, Epic Renewal is diverting approximately 1 ton of organic waste per month from landfills — and looking to help more Ocean State businesses do the same.

Epic Renewal co-founders Brendan Baba, left, and Tess Feigenbaum, right, next to a pile of composted paper products and food waste that can be mixed with soil for gardening.MARK STOCKWELL FOR THE GLOBE/MARK STOCKWELL FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Q: How does Epic Renewal work?

Feigenbaum: Epic Renewal is a community-scale composting organization. We work to keep food waste out of landfills, and use it to build healthy soils and promote equitable and resilient food systems. We offer easy composting services for homes and business or help plan zero-waste events such as providing useful signage and clean containers for clients to collect their food waste (and then we swap them out for clean ones each week). You could say we do the dirty work.

We also offer zero-waste consulting to help people further shrink their carbon footprint, and are in the process of developing software for other composters like us to do their work more efficiently, and effectively measure their impact.

What are the benefits of composting locally?

Composting locally creates local jobs, reduces the trucking footprint for our waste, and allows us to transform our food scraps into a key resource to build healthy soils and support our local food system. In one teaspoon of healthy soil, there are more living microorganisms than there are people on earth. Those microorganisms help us combat climate change by sequestering atmospheric carbon, replenishing our water cycles, and supporting ecosystem repair. They even help us grow more abundant produce more efficiently, and without the need for toxic chemicals.

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What kind of impact has Epic Renewal had so far?

We currently divert approximately 1 ton of organic waste a month from landfills; that equates to 1.95 metric tons of CO2 emissions avoided, or just about five cars taken off the road per month. We expect to increase that amount over the coming years. In practice, we have already begun to close the loop in Rhode Island by composting with local businesses, and contributing that compost to local farms to feed our communities. The composting software we are actively developing is being tested and refined as we speak, and will support many more composters as they scale their work.

Epic Renewal co-founder Brendan Baba scooped composted paper products and food waste that can be mixed with soil for gardening.MARK STOCKWELL FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

What kinds of businesses do you work with?

We’ve worked with offices, food service, retail, gyms, cosmetic producers, and other kinds of businesses. One of our favorite projects was working with The RealReal [a luxury consignment store located in Hollywood], who approached us to not only compost the food waste from their in-store cafe, but also train their entire staff about composting, and explore a zero-waste approach for their entire Los Angeles operation.

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Some small businesses and offices don’t feel they have the resources to compost in-house. Others aren’t as knowledgeable about the topic. How do you streamline the process?

We try to make it as easy and accessible as possible. We’ll work with each client or partner to understand their unique workspace, needs, and challenges, and then design a solution that fits them and what they’re looking for. We conduct one site visit and then work out the rest, which could include onboarding maintenance teams, to sourcing on-brand collection containers, to picking out the right compostable serveware.

We also host an in-person “lunch-and-learn” or onboarding event to welcome everyone in the space to the process, share the why behind composting, answer any questions, and get to know one another as partners. This extra touchpoint helps ensure that our customers feel confident about what goes in the compost bin, and that they can feel comfortable reaching out to us with future questions.

How do you help plan a zero-waste event?

A zero-waste event is one with a keen eye towards minimizing landfill waste. We’ll work with our clients to ensure every detail of their event is considered — large or small. We’ve helped customers reduce waste at their events from a wedding to a 5,000-guest music festival. We provide compostable serveware, work with caterers and florists to minimize packaging, provide clear signage, and staff. We divert everything organic from landfill with our composting services, and even secure a food recovery partner for leftovers.

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Feigenbaum loaded a spinning sifter with broken-down food products. MARK STOCKWELL FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

You also sell ready-to-go at-home bokashi composting kits. What is that?

Bokashi composting leverages an anaerobic fermentation process to break down food scraps in a closed container, easily stored in a closet or under the sink. It also allows users to compost typically challenging materials like meat, fish, dairy, and other backyard composting “no-go’s.” Our bokashi composting kits include the container, helpful illustrated instructions, and about a month’s worth of the fermentation starter. We also offer one-on-one or group workshops to go over the process.


Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.