Chip Hall spent 25 years working in the garbage industry before he took a chance on a different branch of the waste business: composting.
The idea was to get organizations like big corporations, universities and hospital systems, to pay to have their food waste picked up and hauled away to be made into compost.
Hall’s former peers had their doubts.
“There were a lot of people in the normal garbage industry who would tell me, ‘It can’t be done. No one will participate. No will pay to do that,’” Hall said.
But five years later, Hall and his company, Natural Organic Process Enterprises are turning more and more of Central Virginia’s trash into treasure.
A deal struck this month with a Charlottesville compost operation will give NOPE 18 new clients, and NOPE will bring the company food waste for compost in return. Hall did not want to name the composting company before it made its clients aware of the deal.
NOPE, which is now a four-person company, gets paid by commercial clients to pick up food waste and biodegradable material that is deposited in large containers. NOPE then hauls the waste away and pays facilities that do composting to take it. The company then either returns the compost to its clients or donates it.
“We originated a company based on research that organic waste was a largely underserved market, in particular on the East Coast,” Hall said. “We found there is a fairly substantial group of sustainable-minded companies that want to do this.”
Blair Maury, a NOPE vice president, said the company currently does food waste logistics for 25 companies in Richmond and Hampton Roads. NOPE’s Richmond clients include the Federal Reserve, Bank of America, Whole Foods, Randolph Macon College, Bon Secours and MeadWestvaco.
“With the scale of food operations at a university or health care system, you’re talking about tons and tons of food waste that is unmanageable on a simple level,” Maury said. “We help them keep it out of landfill.”
The addition of the Charlottesville clientele brings NOPE’s client list to 43.
In addition to servicing businesses, NOPE also picks up waste from events like the Monument 10k and Richmond Vegetarian Food Festival. Maury said NOPE recovered 5 tons of food waste from the infield at the Richmond International Raceway at a recent NASCAR Sprint Cup event.
Maury said NOPE will begin work in Charlottesville next month. The company plans to open offices in Newport News and Waynesboro in August. The additional offices will make servicing those areas easier by cutting travel time for NOPE’s trucks.
“The key to this entire business is route density,” Maury said. “By having a physical presence there, I can touch more (clients) in a day.”
The company’s recent growth now allows it to work with smaller businesses along its routes between its bigger clients and composting yards.
“As we’ve grown, we’ve gotten large food accounts that have paid our overhead and growth,” Maury said. “Before, it would have been exorbitant to partner with smaller businesses. It wouldn’t have been cost-effective.”
NOPE currently has three trucks that move up to 300 containers a week. Maury said the company did about $200,000 in revenue in 2014. After just four months into 2015, NOPE has brought in $350,000 in revenue.
“It’s growing like gangbusters,” Maury said.
The company is based out of an office at 3601 Mayland Court in Henrico County. It is certified as a B-corporation, which gives it a legal requirement to consider its community, the environment and employees in its decisions. Some B-corps, for example, give excess profits to charity.
Despite the rising revenues, NOPE is just barely breaking even and expects to operate at a loss this year, Maury said. That’s partly because demand for compost has not reached levels seen by other reusable commodities, like recycled plastic or cooking oil.
“Organizations don’t realize we’re a resource yet,” Maury said.
And it’s still cheaper and easier to just to dump food waste in a landfill, Maury said. NOPE charges about 10 percent more than what it would cost a company to throw its food away.
There is at least one other company looking to grow a business from composting. Bruno Welsh launched Compost RVA in 2013 and facilitates composting for about four Richmond-area businesses. He said he also plans to eventually offer composting services for consumers.
One of NOPE’s selling points it that it gives companies reports on their food waste that can be used to save money over time. For example, NOPE can tell a client the weight of their container pick-ups, which can give them a picture of how much food – and therefore money, is being wasted.
“Ultimately, the money they spend with us captures data that helps them be more efficient,” Maury said.
In addition to potential long-term savings from cutting down on waste, companies can get credits that go toward LEED certification, an environmental certification that can help a company’s image, Maury said.
“There’s the added bonus of having it be sustainable,” Maury said.
And beyond businesses looking to be green, NOPE sees rising consumer demand for composting services as another avenue for growth.
“Allowing people to receive compost drives demand,” Maury said. “I get calls once a week from people who want to compost in their house. We don’t think twice about recycling. At some point, we’re all going to have to get to that point for composting.”
Correction: An error in editing this story incorrectly characterized the definition of a B-corporation. Not all B-corps give excess profits to charities.