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(Credit: Chris Casella)

Human Garbage Disposal

Talking trash with Eartha Limited’s Mike Minnix

By Kimberly Stolz

Published April 1, 2012

BY KIMBERLY STOLZ

Knobby meat scraps, leftover wilted salad, butts of cheese – my brother would take all these things, plop ’em into a pan of eggs and make himself a gnarly little omelette. “Human garbage disposal,” we sibs would taunt.

Mike Minnix is a man after my brother’s stomach. His company, Eartha Limited, has carved out a specialty niche in the world of waste – taking food waste from local restaurants and turning it into a gardener’s black gold of rich, nutrient-laden compost.

The 28-year-old ginger is from Hilliard, but his love for nature blossomed in the Land of the Midnight Sun.

“Growing up, my aunt had been a park ranger for 25 years and she lived in Alaska,” he recalled. “We were very close, I looked up to her. I just really enjoy that aspect of being closer to nature and I also like living in a big city, so it was like, ‘How am I going to balance these things?’”

After playing football at Ohio Dominican, spending four years with the National Guard, and a handful of quarters at OSU, Minnix left the world of higher ed to start Eartha Limited in 2009.

“In school, I had a real problem – I would listen to somebody tell me about how they did it; I wanted to go and do it myself and learn through that experience.”

And that’s exactly what he did. While interning during college, he saw an opportunity to work in waste management: a chance to make an impact. The budding entrepreneur left school and never looked back. He moved in with his parents, drew up a business plan, plundered his bank accounts, and in 2009, Eartha Limited was born.

Sitting in the echoing warehouse, located on the Whittier peninsula – a stone’s throw from the climbing wall – Minnix explained his relationship with the culinary community.

“We work with food service establishments to help them get more sustainable through a multitude of programs, one being the hauling of organic scrap to composting facilities. Another is the distribution of environmentally friendly products, and the third thing is we work with large institutions to help them develop a plan and to see that plan put it into practice.”

As a large-scale vehicle for retrieval and composting of organic material, Eartha Limited is unique. However, the underlying principle has been around for thousands of years. “Farmers have been doing it forever – and I always say, farmers are the first environmentalists – but on a large, city-wide scale, this isn’t done normally,” explained Minnix. “But the technology is happening right here in Columbus, Ohio. New types of power plants that are turning food scraps into energy are being built in Ohio right now; they collect the gas that emits off of it as it decays. This is the future of not only waste conservation, but also energy creation, so you have two for one.”

Minnix’s Ohio pride spills into his conversations, as does his desire to give back to the community that has been cheerleading his efforts since day one.

“One thing that we really care about here is the theory that to do good is to get good. If we care about the community, if we volunteer, if we donate, if we do those things, then they’re going to care about us,” he said. “We’ve really put a lot into that because it means the world to me to be relevant not just as a business, but also as a member of the community.”

Eartha Limited is involved with events all over the city, from Pecha Kucha to Earth Day, and Minnix sees places like the Columbus Commons as wonderful community spaces. “We’re so friendly in this town, this city loves to be around each other,” he observed. “I love that about Columbus.”

An avid gardener – so avid, in fact, that he turned his pool table into a greenhouse to start this year’s seedlings – Minnix spends his days planting seeds of sustainability and, alongside his one-year-old Rottweiler Truman, spends the evenings tending to seeds of the vegetable kind.

“I love it,” he said. “We’re reverting back, I think, in many ways . . . I look at the peace gardens after WWII and a lot of people have gardens now. It went away for many years and now it’s coming back, along with things like canning – I really love how we’re looking back to evolve as a society.”

With his unwavering desire to not only be good, but also to do good, Mike Minnix puts a positive spin the phrase “human garbage disposal.” The next time I spy my brother on a binge, I’ll be sure to remember that the phrase is too kind for the slob.

In addition to working with the food industry, Eartha Limited also accepts books and other materials at their warehouse. Books are recycled or donated to charities. For more information, visit www.earthalimited.com.

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