Keith Losoya

Keith Losoya is principal partner of Waste Neutral, a local firm that helps companies compost their food waste. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun / April 16, 2012)

Keith Losoya thinks a terrible thing to waste is waste itself.

Losoya is the founder and principal partner of Waste Neutral, a small Baltimore firm that helps businesses and institutions compost leftover food that would otherwise go in the trash. The company started consulting in 2008 and began hauling the next year.

Another business does the actual composting, but Waste Neutral gives its clients credits so they can get some of the compost back for use wherever they like — in gardens, at urban farms or on other property. Those clients range from the Johns Hopkins University to the Baltimore public school system, which this year began food recycling at 10 schools.

Losoya, a Baltimore resident, previously ran the Chesapeake Sustainable Business Alliance, a network of local companies and nonprofits. As he watched the green sector expand, he saw an opportunity to help businesses better manage their waste.

Losoya, 44, spoke with The Baltimore Sun recently about the composting industry's local processing problem, how he pitches composting to potential clients and where he sees the field going.

How does Waste Neutral's service work?

We go into commercial properties, institutions, small businesses and we take an overall survey or audit of their waste streams. We can determine how much of that waste stream can be recycled. And then we advise the clients on how they can divert as much of their waste as possible.

When it comes to collection of waste, the only thing we deal with is organics — food waste is primarily what we collect. If the client is a large food producer, then we let them know there's [a recycling] option … if they want to collect with us or through someone else.

Are there others doing this in the area?

It's still a very niche market in the solid waste industry … but now there's a lot more competitors getting into it as it's growing. Currently there's about four other haulers in the Baltimore-D.C. area that specifically [handle] organics.

What do you do with the food you collect?

We service accounts in the Baltimore metro area down to Annapolis. We currently take the food waste to a processing facility in Wilmington … called Peninsula Compost. And, unfortunately, it's the only processing facility that's able to accept large volumes of organic waste, food waste, in the region.

There was a composting facility in Carroll County that MDE [Maryland Department of the Environment] did not approve of. [The agency told the company in December to stop accepting food waste for composting.]

So the biggest issue facing this growing market is infrastructure.

What does it mean to haul to Delaware — what does it do to your costs?

We have to pay to dump it per ton, and those fees have doubled [compared to the cost of hauling to Carroll County] — more than doubled. A lot of it has to do with the transportation logistics to get it out there. Along with the distance, the price of fuel has obviously gone up dramatically.

What's your pitch to potential customers? How do the costs compare with simply throwing food waste away?

At some point, we would love to be able to compete with solid waste, but right now the cost for diverting and recycling your organic waste is a little bit higher. But what we encourage customers to do is look at their overall waste streams.

If they divert as much waste as possible … what they used to put in a large Dumpster or compactor is now very minimal. And the recycling rates are significantly cheaper than solid waste. If they manage their waste streams properly, and they're a high-volume producer, they can see an overall reduction in their costs.