How Wastewell is bringing Composting to Delaware County
Composting pops up in Delco
Jen Panaro admits a lot of people think composting is “gross.” But after running Kennett Square-based curbside composting company WasteWell for two years, she persuaded many community members. “I’m proud that I can help people find a place for that in their kitchens and their lives.”
“It might seem small, but I think composting brings joy,” Panaro said. “They appreciate knowing that their food isn’t ending up in a landfill but being used to make our soil healthier for everyone.
WasteWell has a largely suburban clientele, serving Pennsylvania communities of Garnet Valley, Chadds Ford, and Delaware’s Greenville, Centerville, and parts of North Wilmington. Panaro started serving communities near her hometown, offering a composting option for residents otherwise not covered by existing companies. “I centered the service area around places like Kennett Square that were denser to maximize the efficiency of business operations as WasteWell grew,” she said.
Keeping it local, WasteWell uses a third-party processing partner named My Kitchen Harvest to convert food scraps into finished compost at Linvilla Orchards, a 300-acre farm in Media, Pennsylvania. Linvilla uses the compost both for the farm and sells to customers.
They have to pay extra to do ‘the right thing.”Jen Panaro
Challenges to Composting
She sees members of the communities WasteWell is active in experiencing two major challenges: cost and misconceptions.
First, people generally already pay for waste removal services like trash and recycling through taxes or a private hauler. “Diverting their food waste to a compost bucket doesn’t typically reduce the amount they pay for waste removal, even if they see significant reductions in volume. They have to pay extra to do ‘the right thing,” said Panaro.
People choose not to pay extra – even when they can afford it – because they don’t directly see the impact of composting. “They don’t understand the consequences of depleted soil or the shrinking capacity of landfills either,” she said. “These are longer-term problems that don’t rise to the top of the list when people are tackling the day-to-day pressure of life.”
Another challenge is the learning curve of composting, like what items to put in the bucket and how to prevent it from becoming a mess. (In addition to food, Wastewell accepts newspapers, toilet paper rolls, and Pela cell phone cases, which are made from plant-based bioplastics.)
However, people can be persuaded with the consequences of not composting and education – especially around the smell. “They seem to envision a large container of food waste getting smelly, breeding flies and attracting wildlife,” Panaro said.
Panaro insists that doesn’t have to be the case. “A property-managed compost bin is no more offensive than a trash barrel. I try to educate people in my community about how easy and clean composting can be whether they choose to use WasteWell’s service or not.
New Year, New Leadership for Wastewell
WasteWell has grown due to collaborations, farmers markets, and word of mouth. “People most willing to start the service often have a friend or neighbor who’s already a customer and can reassure them about their hesitations,” she said.
Despite its success, Panaro stepped down from WasteWell in January. John Williams, formerly of Philadelphia-based Bennett Compost, is now running the company.
“What (attracted) me to WasteWell is the fact it offers the community good service in keeping the environment clean,” Williams said.
Panaro’s future includes more time to be a mother and running Honestly Modern, a company focused on sustainable living for modern families. However, her impact from Wastwell will remain a fond experience.
“Once someone signs up to be a customer, they understand that ‘do good’ feeling,” said Panaro. “And they appreciate having to take their trash far less often.”
Photos by Dylan Francis, courtesy of Kennett Collaborative