An Earth Day Interview

In the spirit of the upcoming 2023 Earth Day, we wanted to highlight our new compostable tea pouches. Now when you order loose leaf tea to take home from the teahouse or online through our website, the tea will be packaged in bags made from corn starch, "PLA" (polylactic acid from sugar cane) and "PBAT" (polybutylene adipate terephthalate). "PBAT" is a biodegradable plastic polymer that can be composted and breaks down within 6 weeks. By adopting these compostable pouches, we hope to honor the natural landscapes that bring us connection, healing, and joy, as we seek to preserve them for generations to come.

Our tea pouches (along with the compostable to-go ware used in the Bozeman Teahouse provided by the fantastic Eco Montana) are composted by our local partners at Happy Trash Can. Happy Trash Can also composts spent leaves from the yummy teas we brew at Steep Mountain Tea House.

Happy Trash Can is a commercial and residential composting service serving the Bozeman, Belgrade and Livingston Montana area. It was established in 2016 by husband and wife team Adrienne Huckabone and Ryan Green. We reached out to Ryan, who acts as the company's lead composter, to learn more about the process of turning compostable items into finished compost. Ryan was so gracious as to provide us with this interview!


Steep Mountain: How are our tea leaves composted?

Ryan: Collected materials from Steep Mountain are processed alongside other materials from residential and commercial clients. We mix all the tea leaves and certified compostable service ware with leaves and wood chips (carbon) in equal parts.  Once we have a good blend, we build out a windrow on one of our GORE-aerated static pile systems from Sustainable Generation. Materials compost for eight weeks via active aeration via blower fan and perforated pipes.  We only turn the material once (at week 4) due to the positive air flow from the blower fan that keeps our piles fully oxygenated (important while composting).  After 8 weeks material is then moved to a curing area where it stabilizes over the next 2-6 weeks.


Steep Mountain: We just introduced new loose tea pouches made from cornstarch, PLA and PBAT. How is it working with these materials? What processes, if any, are different from those used to compost food scraps?

Ryan: We take all BPI-certified and astm-d6400-certified compostable service ware.  These specially designed products are meant to break down in our hot piles in 30 days.  We process this material with our food scraps, and the process is the same.  With no special practices needed to break down these materials, we have found them to be a great alternative to single-use plastics in our community.  


Steep Mountain: What is your favorite food or material to compost?

Ryan: All materials are equal in our eyes, but we love setting up and accepting post-consumer composting with clients, similar to what we do with Steep Mountain Tea. When we can create successful programs where consumers can compost their food scraps and certified compostable service ware through business partners, we begin to see the closed-loop systems we strive for take place in our community.  


Steep Mountain: What are your customers' most common mistakes concerning what can and can't be composted?

Ryan: Our biggest issue with folks is putting non-compostables into their compost bins.  This includes fruit and vegetable stickers (plastic!), twist ties and rubber bands from produce, non-certified compostable service ware (always look for BPI certified, ASTM- d6400. or another labeling that states your product is compostable), regular coffee cups are a big culprit here. If it does not state it is certified compostable, it is a paper cup lined with plastic.  Take the time to properly separate your compostables, recyclables, and garbage.  We hand-pick through all collected materials and need our community's help to ensure our compost streams are clean!


Steep Mountain: I was reading on your website that your first commercial customer was the Bozeman Food Coop. When your business started, did it originally focus on commercial composting?

Ryan: Our first client was the commercial kitchen run by the Bozeman Food Co-op. While we started with a commercial client, we quickly opened up our collections to residential customers right away.


Steep Mountain: Do you use different processes for commercial and event compost versus residential?

Ryan: Our composting process remains the same for all collected materials, no matter where they are coming from.  We do have different education techniques for each of the above-mentioned client groups but at the end of the day proper communication and signage around what is and is not compostable is important.


If you are reading this post and live in the Bozeman, Belgrade or Livingston area, follow the link here to learn more about Happy Trash Can's residential pick-up options and pick-up and delivery options for finished compost. Also be sure to check out Steep Mountain's new specialty tea lines including WILDERNESS, MONTANA, PEAK and YELLOWSTONE which are presented in our new compostable packaging!

(Author: Cassidy Baerg, Steep Mountain Tea Creative Team)

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