An interview with Ray Leard, Founder and Chief Composter
Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Ray Leard, the founder and head composter of the Compost Exchange. The Compost Exchange is a local business that specializes in both residential and commercial composting. It was started by one guy – Ray Leard – who is a Columbus native, and originally operated the compost exchange in Athens, Ohio. The Compost Exchange has been a business sponsor of Simply Living in the past, and we hope to remain strong community partners in the future!
Two of my main passions in life are cooking and sustainability, but I’ve always struggled with connecting the two. While I try to utilize a lot of my food scraps to make stocks, preserves, jams, etc. there has always been a lot that I still throw away. I knew about composting, but it always felt very daunting to me so I never really took that first step to integrate it in my life. If you are like me, then the Compost Exchange is a great resource that makes composting a lot less daunting.
Composting is important because it prevents harmful greenhouse gas emissions, improves water and soil quality, reduces landfill growth, and benefits local communities. Not only is composting so impactful, but the Compost Exchange makes composting something that is easy, convenient, and affordable for all.
What is the Compost Exchange?
The Compost Exchange put simply is a food scrap collector and recycler. They focus mostly on the residential side of business – residents in Columbus who choose a more sustainable method of getting rid of food waste. In their vision statement, it is clear that the Compost Exchange prioritizes education, accessibility, community, and convenience, and they are paving the way towards achieving zero waste in the Columbus area.
Where does the Compost Exchange operate?
The Compost Exchange picks up the food waste in a few ways, firstly through Curbside pickup in a number of neighborhoods covering most of the city, and picking up eighteen to twenty thousand pounds of food waste a week. Additionally there are 8 drop off recycling booths in the Columbus area at various places such as farmers markets, floral shops, and grocery stores. They also partner with residential developers and property managers for multi-family buildings, which you can find out more about here.
How did the Compost Exchange start?
Ray Leard started the Compost Exchange initially as an experiment for himself in 2007, frequenting farmers markets and arranging to recycle food waste for the runners and customers. Eventually more people at the farmers markets started talking about it, and eventually Leard got a booth at the farmers market and business increased using the slogan “Drop, swap, and shop!” In addition to the farmers market, Leard recycled food scraps at 50 local restaurants for free for a few years, but eventually sold his business to the local recycling folks at the solid waste district. The solid waste district in Athens is the only place in the country that does normal recycling plus organic (composting.)
In 2016, Leard moved to Columbus and started a similar operation. Six years later, in 2022, the Compost Exchange collected 980,000 pounds of food scraps, preventing 490,000 pounds of CO2 equivalent methane.
What types of things can you compost?
The Compost Exchange offers a full list of what you can and cannot compost, and they are available to answer any questions that you may have. Most food including fruits, vegetables, meat, grains, tea and coffee, eggs, and paper products are compostable while oils, plastics, glass, metal, and a few other products are not. They also accept many yard waste products. You can check out the full list here.
Involving the Community
Simply Living has had a relationship with the Compost Exchange for a few years, and I wanted to know what other organizations and people the Compost Exchange partners with. Ray told me about the importance of having many community partners with local non-profits, businesses, schools, farmers markets, and neighborhood coalitions. Recently, Ray has been working with parents of children at various schools in the Columbus area, trying to encourage them to create a hub within the school which would help the earth and foster community-building between families. The idea is that when the parents come to drop off or pick up their kids from school, they could bring their food scraps with them to drop off as well. The Compost Exchange also has neighborhood hubs, and provides the training and materials for interested neighbors to start a composting hub within their community. If you want to find out more about their community partners, check out the page on their website, here!
In the future, Ray’s vision is to include people all along the composting timeline in new ways. For example, one idea that he had was to give the compost back to local people to use as fertilizer for their lawns, and to give the compost back to local farms for the same reason.
While Ray believes that the Compost Exchange will remain in the Columbus area for the time being, it is important to spread the word and encourage more people to get involved with the zero-waste community! There are a lot of misconceptions about composting mostly because people think it is expensive, smelly, or an inconvenience. Therefore, Ray wants to have more educational workshops at various populated establishments like schools, libraries, churches, etc. Additionally, the Compost Exchange is looking for more non-profit organizations to become community partners! This would be a mutually beneficial relationship where both the Compost Exchange and the other organization would advertise at their events or in their newsletters, and the organization would receive a 10% discount off rates for any of their interested members. If you belong to a non-profit organization in Columbus and want to take a step towards a zero-waste lifestyle for your members, contact Ray Leard through phone or email: