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Organic thinking

Technology | Utah compost company aims to make the most out of America's vast supply of leftovers

Issue: "Back to School," Aug. 27, 2011

In a Salt Lake City warehouse, tall mounds of rotten vegetables, coffee grounds, and sawdust are steaming at 160 degrees Fahrenheit. It's not a desert dump yard, just the facilities of EcoScraps, an innovative organic compost company started by three Brigham Young University classmates who dropped out of school to launch their business. With 2011 revenues expected to approach $1.5 million, their risk seems to be paying off.

EcoScraps' compost mix, sold by the bag in Utah, Arizona, and Colorado stores, is free of the chemical additives, bone meal, or animal manure often found in other soil mixes. (Garbage and pesticides can also be found in compost from less scrupulous companies.) Instead, EcoScraps gets its key ingredients-fruits and vegetables-from local grocery stores and food banks, which can reduce disposal costs 20 percent by dropping off expired produce at the company's yard. There, the food is chopped up, mixed with wood shavings and coffee grounds from Starbucks stores, and allowed to decompose until a proper balance of nutrients is achieved.

"Everyone involved is getting some sort of benefit out of it," says CEO Dan Blake, 24.

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Blake hit on his business concept at an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet, when he realized how much leftover food was headed for landfills. Nearly 40 percent of available food in the United States is ultimately thrown out, and by converting some of it into a useful product, EcoScraps makes money (20 percent to 30 percent profit) and cuts down emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas.

The company's food suppliers have latched on: "They love the fact that they can do what's good for the environment and save money at the same time," said Blake. EcoScraps has two production centers in Utah and Arizona and plans to expand to Texas and Southern California within the next six months.

Keeping cool

Handout

We take refrigeration for granted in the United States, but it's a big problem in underdeveloped nations where power supply is unreliable. The UK-based company True Energy has a solution for temperature-sensitive but vital medical products like vaccines: a refrigerator that keeps itself cool for 10 days without power.

The fridge works by converting a secret internal material from one phase to another (such as from liquid to solid) while plugged in. If power is lost, the phase change reverses itself, absorbing heat and maintaining temperatures beneath 50 degrees Fahrenheit for days on end, even if outside temps soar past 100. True Energy hopes eventually to apply the technology to more commonplace tasks, such as preventing food spoilage.

Google snoops

Associated Press/Photo by Ben Birchall

Internet search giant Google is once again embroiled in criticism over privacy practices after reporters learned its "Street View" cars-mounted with cameras that capture images of city blocks viewable on the Google Maps website-were also capturing the locations of millions of laptops and smart phones around the world. The cars recorded the unique ID addresses that Wi-Fi enabled devices broadcast to anyone within 100 to 200 feet.

Until late June, Google had stored these device addresses and locations in its public web databases. Assuming a snoop knew what to search for, the info could have revealed a device owner's home, workplace, or favorite restaurants.

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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