Picture Via: Toan Trinh Photography
A cornerstone of CERO’s identity, besides closing the food loop by recycling food waste at local farms, is our status as a worker-owned cooperative business. Worker-owned cooperatives differ from traditional businesses in that they are owned by the people who work at them, rather than by one or a few wealthy individuals or many shareholders. CERO believes that worker-owned cooperatives are an important part of building greater equity in our economic system. In this model, workers are able to share in any profits a company generates, as well as democratize the decision-making that impacts their daily work. When a business incorporates as a cooperative, its workers also agree to uphold values related to cooperation, mutual aid, and community care. Worker-owned cooperatives strive to support one another in order to build up the cooperative ecosystem in a region, enabling more workers to democratically control their workplaces and participate in profit sharing.
Democracy Brewing is one of the Boston-based, worker-owned cooperatives that, like CERO, has decided that worker-ownership and composting are very important, and thus CERO helped to institute a composting program at the brewery and restaurant since it opened. James Rasza and Jason Taggart founded the brewery in 2018, with the goals of making great beer and empowering the Boston community economically. The Democracy Brewing team passionately believes that ownership should be attainable to all workers. Democracy Brewing strives “to re-create the traditional public house, brew the best beer in Boston, pair it with tasty food, and serve it to you in combination with two great American ideals: democracy, and owning your own business.” CERO had the opportunity to sit down recently with James Rasza, co-founder and worker-owner at Democracy Brewing to discuss the impact of composting with CERO on Democracy Brewing’s operations.
In your own words, what does your business do?
Democracy Brewing makes great beer and pairs it with tasty food in our large beer hall in downtown Boston. We have beers to go, live music and lots of fundraisers for community organizations.
How does your business generate most of its organic waste? How many pounds of waste per week?
The brewery is where we generate most of our waste. We generate about 3000 lbs of recyclable organic material per week. Most of this organic material comes from spent grain or malt. We process this grain and malt to get the sugars out and ferment it to make beer. That’s where the majority of our waste comes from.
What were you doing with this organic matter before CERO?
We have always been composting with CERO.
How did you hear about CERO?
Not sure - somewhere in the worker co-op world. Democracy Brewing is also a worker-owned cooperative, meaning that workers have the opportunity to own part of the business and share in the profits the business generates. Worker-owned cooperatives also typically operate with a value system based in cooperation and community care that diverges from traditional business.
How has working with CERO impacted your operations?
We put the barrels out. CERO picks them up and cleans them out. We receive them fresh and ready to go for another day. Then we do it all again. It is simple.
Have there been challenges with working with CERO?
No. When challenges arise -- like our street is blocked off, for example -- CERO is always willing to work with us to make pick-up happen. Sometimes this means getting creative. They are always willing to partner with us when unexpected things come up.
What do you think would be valuable for other breweries to know about composting?
Composting is an important way that breweries and restaurants can offset their impact on the environment.
Will you give a one-sentence review of CERO’s service?
Working with CERO has been fantastically easy. They are professional and always willing to be flexible and work with us when any inconveniences pop up. It feels great to work with a company that, like us, aims to be true to their mission and accomplish great things for the community.
By Casey Lynch
During this unprecedented time, stay-at-home orders and social distancing have increased the demand for more healthy and self-reliant measures in our homes. These include reducing trips to the store or for takeout food (and waiting in long lines!) in favor of making home-cooked meals and growing gardens.
We’re also spending as much time as possible out in nature, since that’s one non-tech form of entertainment we have left to enjoy. People are reconnecting with the outdoors, whether by growing a backyard garden, tending window boxes or spending time in shared green spaces like state parks or community gardens. As we use this time to re-establish our connection to the Earth, there is still a nagging question: How can we be more self-sustaining with limited open businesses while under a stay-at-home advisory? How can we nurture the plot of earth that we live on, and that sustains us?
Creating your own compost from your food scraps is not only a good way to save money and increase self-reliance, but it also is sustainable and Earth-friendly. Composting removes food waste from the landfill waste stream, returns nutrients to the soil and helps remove greenhouse gases from our atmosphere.
While there are several residential composting programs that pick up food waste (animal by-products included) from your doorstep, you might be wary about a company coming to your house weekly or bi-weekly because of COVID-19 or you simply don’t want to pay a monthly fee. There is always the option to create your own compost pile at home, even if you are short on space.
Raised metal compost tumblers are the best method to effortlessly compost at home (if you have space and the budget) because they also speed up the decomposition timeline. Note: I live in an urban area and have had pests chew through my plastic compost tumbler within two weeks from set up (although I did break the cardinal rule against adding meat). I have an aunt who lives in the same city and she has had a metal compost tumbler for over 10 years with no issues. **If you are not using a residential composting program that goes to an industrial composting site, I do not recommend putting animal by-products in your at-home compost, even a metal tumbler, unless you want to host pests.**
6 STEPS TO COMPOSTING IN A RAISED COMPOST TUMBLER
SHORt ON SPACE? TRY VERMICOMPOSTING: COMPOSTING IN A BUCKET WITH WORMS.
This story appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of Edible Boston.
Organic materials, mostly food waste, make up at least 30% of the trash Americans throw away. When sent to landfills and incinerators, this material breaks down and emits toxic methane, one of the most deadly greenhouse gases. A far better alternative destination for this material is processing facilities.
Composting is the best way to recycle food waste that will not be eaten by people or animals. It is a process for mixing food waste and other organic materials such as leaves and grass clippings to break down the material and create nutrient-rich compost. When applied to the land, compost replenishes depleted soil and serves as a carbon sponge, sucking up and safely sequestering carbon pollution.
So why think about this now? Don't we have enough to worry about?
The coronavirus pandemic has awakened many to our vulnerability as human beings. It makes us think more about how to be safe and how to protect ourselves and one another. With less travel and use of fossil fuels to power commercial buildings the cleaner air is strikingly observable. As we begin to come back out and define the new normal, we have a chance to do things differently.
Composting at home - Since we are cooking at home more we are generating more food scraps. And since we are home we have more time to learn how to compost in the backyard or get set up with one of many companies offering affordable home pickup subscriptions. Many cities and towns are establishing compostable materials drop off sites.
Composting for business - Trash is getting more and more expensive and composting is affordable. Composting is also the right thing to do. When any company starts thinking about reducing waste, the first place to start is with composting. Once groceries, cafeterias and restaurants start to separate and divert organic waste, they see a significant reduction in the amount of trash. The cost savings can easily offset the expense for professional composting services.
We are all eager to get back to business. What better time, as we thoughtfully reopen the economy, to do it in the best, most sustainable way? There are many free resources available to help any business get started composting. If your business is in eastern Mass, CERO Cooperative is the trusted local partner that can make it easy to start recycling food waste.
Food Waste Recycling at a Large-Scale Food Manufacturer: A Conversation with Arrow Farm’s DiSilva Fruit
The US economy is set to change drastically as dialogue and activism around climate justice and the ecological health of our planet enter the mainstream. Massachusetts has already begun important transitional work in multiple ways, notably through its Commercial Food Waste Disposal Ban. The Food Waste Ban, issued in 2014, initially required large-scale food enterprises that produce more than one ton of food waste per week to recycle this waste. It has since been expanded to affect businesses producing one half-ton or more per week. The policy helps our planet and communities by diverting waste from landfills and re-earthing nutrient-rich organic material. CERO recently sat down with Nelly Czajkowski, of DiSilva Fruit, to discuss composting at a large-scale food enterprise.
Nelly serves as the Organic Sales Manager and Quality Assurance Coordinator at DiSilva Fruit in Chelsea, MA. DiSilva Fruit sells organic and conventional fruit on the wholesale market and also re-packages fruit for customers throughout the Northeast. DiSilva is the largest citrus distributor and re-packer in New England. Nelly connected with CERO shortly after the Mass Waste Ban went into effect in 2014. “When the waste ban came out, we thought it was going to be more work,” Nelly said, “But it’s actually not. With the composting set-up from CERO, we don’t really have to reach out. It just goes.”
Large-scale food enterprises like DiSilva Fruit contribute substantially to the accessibility of fresh produce in Massachusetts, and as a byproduct, also produce organic waste. The Massachusetts Food Waste Ban focuses on such enterprises with a goal of diverting at least 35% of the state’s food waste from incineration and landfill disposal over ten years, resulting in more than 350,000 tons of annual waste diversion. In addition to food processors like DiSilva, many food manufacturers, universities, corporate cafeterias, and breweries are affected by the policy. Fortunately, as the state’s priority for composting has become clear, infrastructure continues to scale around it to support food enterprises looking to make this sustainable transition. CERO Co-operative has played a substantial role, with others, in building this infrastructure in the Greater Boston area.
A worker-owned cooperative, CERO began servicing organic waste generators in 2014, as the Food Waste Ban went into effect. From experience, CERO recognizes the needs of food enterprises in various industries and works to create a composting plan that suits the needs of each client. Nelly describes CERO’s impact on DiSilva’s operations as “a positive improvement.” She says, “I think that the customer service has been key to us and to the growth of our composting program because CERO has always been very responsive and very flexible in working with us.”
CERO prides itself on providing a clean, convenient service that is responsive to our customers’ evolving needs. We work out of 64-gallon toters, which our team picks up and returns to our customers’ sites clean and lined with biobags. The waste from CERO’s customers is re-earthed at local farms that produce food for the Greater Boston community and beyond. Nelly describes how CERO’s program can help a large-scale fruit and vegetable processor: “CERO provides those big green toters. We really like these because they’re mobile and small enough that we can wheel them around the facility to where we need them. As a result, this helps keep the facility very clean.”
Large-scale food enterprises like DiSilva are also reaping economic benefits from composting. Businesses in Massachusetts pay some of the highest fees for commercial trash hauling in the nation and composting typically decreases trash volume by 30% to 60%. Moreover, some businesses are able to decrease their purchasing costs by implementing composting. Nelly says of cost savings, “CERO is equivalent to our cost to throw away trash. Our goal was to be able to comply with the Waste Ban, but to have the costs stay on-par with our trash removal costs. Working with the toters and having to clean less, it is possible that we’ve come out a little bit ahead because of the labor cost of cleaning.” Indeed many of CERO’s customers see between 5% and 20% cost savings on waste hauling after implementing composting.
As the 2010-2020 Solid Waste Master Plan -- out of which came the Waste Ban -- draws to a close, CERO anticipates that the organic waste recycling industry in Massachusetts will continue to grow rapidly. As of 2015, it is estimated that only 10% of Massachusetts food waste was being diverted from disposal, meaning that there are still many large-scale food enterprises that stand to benefit from food waste recycling. To see whether your business is affected by the Waste Ban and to receive a free quote, waste assessment, or cost savings analysis for food waste recycling services, please visit CERO’s website. We are confident that large-scale food enterprises like DiSilva Fruit will continue to implement transformational composting programs, building on citizens’ increasingly urgent call for a transition to a regenerative, equitable economy.
CERO Cooperative, Inc. (CERO), a Massachusetts worker-owned cooperative corporation, has completed a consensual balance-sheet restructuring with its lenders involving a debt-for-equity swap and other loan modifications. As a result, CERO has reduced indebtedness by approximately $430,000 and significantly streamlined its capital structure. In connection with the restructuring, CERO also raised approximately $365,000 in new money financing from the Boston Impact Initiative Fund, the Ujima Fund, the Cooperative Fund of New England (CFNE), the Local Enterprise Assistance Fund (LEAF) and other individual investors. This funding will enable CERO to continue to expand its business and serve the greater Boston community over the coming years. CERO thanks its existing and new investors for their unwavering support, as well as its most valued customers whom CERO has been privileged to continue serving through the current COVID-19 pandemic.
The Worker-Owners at CERO are eternally grateful to all who have stood with us and worked collaboratively in a process that took almost a year to complete.
We extend special thanks and appreciation to our pro bono legal advisors -- Andrew Glantz and the entire team at Ropes & Gray, including Max Silverstein, Ellen Wheeler, Jack Murray, Jacob Sikora, Pam Glazier, Isabelle Farrar and Sara Clevering, for your patient, persistent commitment to getting this done. We extend a similar thank you to our pro bono financial advisors, Amine Benali and Chris Hunter at LEAF Technical Assistance, for your longstanding partnership, outstanding technical support and valuable advice. We also appreciate Carl Valenstein and the entire Morgan Lewis team for providing pro bono legal services to the Boston Impact Initiative Fund and the Ujima Fund in connection with these transactions.
In addition we want to expressly acknowledge certain individuals who share and support our vision -- Dorian Gregory and Maggie Cohn at CFNE, Mark Watson and Pablo Limon at the Boston Impact Initiative Fund, Lucas Turner-Owens and Nia Evans at the Ujima Fund, Josh Glickenhaus and Connor McFarland at LEAF, Elizabeth Killough at Untours, Brendan Martin, Clark Arrington and Ghislain Guiebo at The Working World, Austin Williams at the City of Boston, and individual investors including Libby Cohn, Jude Glaubman, Maria Jobin-Leads, Susan Patz, Kate Poole and Lisa Russell (among others).
More about CERO:
CERO (Cooperative Energy, Recycling, and Organics) is an award-winning commercial composting company based out of Dorchester, MA. CERO provides food waste pickup and diversion services for a wide range of commercial clients in the metro Boston area, and transports compostables to local farms where they are recycled into rich soil products used to support the local agricultural economy. Our mission is simple: keep food waste out of landfills, save money for our clients, and provide good green jobs for Boston’s hard working communities.
CERO was brought to life by a passionate group of black and brown women and men from Boston neighborhoods who believe the way to a more equitable and healthy society must be through a worker-owned solidarity economy. We wish to acknowledge our founders including Josefina Luna, Timothy Hall, Steven Evans, Guadalupe Gonzalez and Evelin Fuentes. Their vision for a better world will always be the light guiding CERO.
More about our investors and advisors:
The Cooperative Fund of New England (CFNE) is a community development loan fund that has been facilitating socially responsible investing in cooperatives and worker-owned businesses in New England and adjacent communities in New York since 1975.
“CFNE’s participation in the restructuring fits with our commitment to partnering with cooperatives led by black, brown, immigrant, and low-income entrepreneurs, building wealth in communities historically exploited by financial institutions. CERO makes sense - worker-owned, cooperative energy, recycling and organics - good for people, good for the planet. CFNE is proud to be a founding supporter of CERO.”
- Dorian Gregory, Deputy Director
The Boston Impact Initiative Fund is focused on economic justice, which means we invest in opportunity for all people—especially those most oppressed or abandoned by our current economic system—to lead a dignified and productive life. We invest integrated capital (equity, debt and grants) in regenerative local enterprises that restore the productive capacity of communities of color in Eastern Massachusetts
The Ujima Fund is managed by Boston Ujima Project, a fiscally sponsored project of the Center for Economic Democracy. Ujima is a Swahili word and the celebrated Kwanzaa principle for “collective work and responsibility.” Boston Ujima Project is building a multi-stakeholder structure that deploys the political and financial capital of Boston’s working class neighborhoods to invest in, purchase from, and advocate for local people-of-color owned firms that build community wealth and create good jobs. The opening of the Ujima Fund in December 2018 marked the launch of the first democratically governed capital fund in the U.S.
Local Enterprise Assistance Fund (LEAF) is a nonprofit community development financial institution (CDFI) that promotes human and economic development by supporting the growth of cooperatives and social enterprises. Based in Boston, LEAF's loan fund provides financing for co-ops nationally. LEAF's technical assistance program offers consulting and capital advisory services to women- and minority-owned enterprises and mission-aligned businesses, such as CERO.
“CERO sits at the intersection of economic inclusion, social equity, and environmental justice. LEAF Technical Assistance is honored to have been part of CERO's journey and is committed to supporting the Green New Deal companies and initiatives of tomorrow.”
- Amine Benali, Managing Director
Ropes & Gray is a preeminent global law firm with approximately 1,400 lawyers and legal professionals serving clients in major centers of business, finance, technology and government. The firm has offices in New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, London, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo and Seoul and has consistently been recognized for its leading practices in many areas, including business restructuring, private equity, M&A, finance, asset management, real estate, tax, antitrust, life sciences, health care, intellectual property, litigation and enforcement, and data. Honored with the prestigious Chambers & Partners “Pro Bono Firm of the Year” award, in 2019, Ropes & Gray attorneys and support team members dedicated 172,000 pro bono hours – or 112 hours per average attorney – to pressing humanitarian crises and social challenges at the local, regional, national, and global level.
“CERO’s mission to build stronger and more sustainable communities, while proving the efficacy of a business model that values diversity and local community empowerment, is directly aligned with Ropes & Gray’s core values and our pro bono practice. We are proud to have worked with CERO and its inspiring leadership through this pivotal period.”
- Andrew Glantz, Associate Attorney
Morgan Lewis is recognized for exceptional client service, legal innovation, and commitment to its communities. Our global depth reaches across North America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East with the collaboration of more than 2,200 lawyers and specialists who provide elite legal services across industry sectors for multinational corporations to startups around the world. Morgan Lewis is committed to serving the public good. Each year, our award-winning pro bono practice provides more than 1,800 pro bono clients with the highest possible level of service. In fiscal year 2019, 100% of our eligible lawyers met our 20-hour Pro Bono Challenge, contributing more than 132,000 hours to pro bono representations.
Cumsky & Levin represented The Cooperative Fund of New England in connection with these transactions.
Composting is an essential service! We are on the front lines collecting organic waste throughout the city of Boston and its surrounding areas. With the spread of this new COVID19 virus, different branches of society have collectively been working together from afar to support different members of the community. Through the lens of solidarity, we are inspired to see this happening in Boston. While this pandemic has caused us to retreat into our homes in order to help stop the spread, in a way, it has brought to light the importance of community and connection. The virtual community we are creating is full of information, encouragement, resources and we wanted to do our part to share the compost-friendly cleaning practices we are doing during this time with all of you.
One way everyone can take action during this time is through extra hygiene and cleanliness in the workplace. Sanitation and cleanliness has always been at the center of CERO’s operation when collecting organic material. Now more than ever, it is crucial to pay extra attention to the details. Our truck drivers who pick up organic waste around the Boston area are taking all necessary precautions to keep themselves safe while doing a thorough sanitation of each tote that is picked up. Since our beginnings, we have always made sure cleanliness was a top priority for our composting clients so, after each pickup, the totes would be returned sparkling clean. Now, we are adding even more sanitation measures to ensure that all surfaces are free of unwanted bacteria. As seen in the recent picture taken below, masks, and protective gear are being worn and an anti-virus cleaner is being used to spray each tote after food is brought to local farms for composting.
CERO Worker Sanitizing CERO Totes
Along with essential workers taking extra precautions to keep sanitation a top priority, we know people at home are also looking to find the best practices to keep themselves safe. While there are a lot of resources available online for information, here is a list of five home cleaning practices, along with products that can be used to disinfect different areas in the home that are also safe for composting. We believe knowledge combined with action is the true ingredient for transformative change, especially in a time like this.
5 HOME CLEANING PRACTICES THAT ARE SAFE FOR HOME COMPOST:
For more information, we have listed some helpful articles below:
6 All-Natural Cleaning Products You Can Make At Home
Cleaning and Hygiene Tips to Keep COVID out of Home
SELF CARE TIPS TO KEEP SPIRITS LIFTED DURING THIS HEAVY TIME:
For more information on self-care activities: we have listed some helpful articles below:
Self-care for Social Workers
Take Care of Yourself During Pandemic
Protect Mental Health During COVID 19
Originally written and published In EdibleBoston by Michael Floreak.
Photos by Michael Piazza
At 5:30 on a Friday morning the Southeast Expressway is still dark, quiet and mostly empty of cars. A half mile away, the warehouse-filled triangle where South Boston, Dorchester and Roxbury converge is already buzzing, rumbling and beeping. Tractor trailers are busy delivering produce, seafood, meat and other provisions that will be distributed to Boston-area grocery stores, restaurants and institutions after the sun comes up.
Tucked into an annex next to a Southampton Street warehouse, workers at food composting cooperative CERO (for Cooperative Energy, Recycling and Organics) are firing up their own small fleet of trucks. They too will soon set out across the region, visiting many of those same businesses. CERO will be there to pick up the food waste that’s left behind—about 8 million pounds a year—and haul it to area farms where it will be turned into compost rather than rot in landfills.
“Every day we are here doing it, even Saturday,” says Josefina Luna, a worker-owner of the Dorchester-based company. Like everyone at CERO, Luna wears many hats. She is co-founder, the chief financial officer and chief operating officer. At 5:30 in the morning, she is also making sure everything is operating as it should be as drivers begin taking to their trucks.
“When we started, we had nothing. Today we have four vehicles and 13 employees who make a decent salary,” she says.
Working hard and creating good jobs for a diverse group of employees has been at the heart of CERO’s business from the beginning. As Luna tells it, the idea for CERO began years ago. The effects of the 2008 recession still lingered and unemployment in the Dorchester area was a problem. As a group of community leaders gathered to consider solutions, a need for jobs met the realization that food waste was not yet a big part of the growing, but still under-realized, green economy.
“So, they thought, ‘Well, why can’t we create jobs for ourselves and also help our community by being a champion for recycling?’” says CERO Sales Director Maya Gaul. A feasibility study showed there was indeed a market for commercial composting. That market received a big boost with implementation of a statewide food waste ban that required large producers of food waste to find alternatives to sending it to the landfill.
As the food waste ban took effect in 2014, CERO signed up its first customer: American Food Basket, a Latin American supermarket with multiple locations in and around Boston. They also put their first (and, for a time, only) truck on the road. Luna shows that truck as she gives a pre-dawn tour. It’s been joined by others: a small truck that handles food waste pickups in narrow New England streets and pair of larger trucks that can haul more than 14 tons at a time. The large trucks can handle up to 30 barrels of food waste collected by clients in green CERO-branded bins.
The composting company’s first customers were most interested in creating jobs and spurring economic development, Luna says. With education offered through CERO, they also strongly embraced the environmental benefits.
“But first was community,” Luna says.
Early supporters of CERO included nonprofits such as the food retailer Daily Table and the food business incubator Commonwealth Kitchen, both located in Dorchester. Today, CERO serves a diverse set of clients throughout the Boston metro area, from Wellesley to Westwood to Lawrence.
Sales director Gaul says that commercial grocery stores like American Food Basket and Wegmans were early to adopt composting for handling food waste as part of the 2014 ban, followed by microbreweries and large restaurants. Real estate companies that operate buildings where food service is part of the offering are a growing client group for CERO, as are large institutions like MIT and Northeastern University.
CERO’s single largest client is DiSilva Fruit, the biggest wholesaler and re-packager of citrus in New England. DiSilva sends upwards of eight tons of waste a week to CERO.
“They’re repackaging all of these potatoes and onions and lemons and limes and oranges, and sometimes some of them don’t come in well,” Gaul says.
Keeping things clean is one of the most important factors for many CERO clients, according to Gaul. Unlike dumpsters that mix food and other waste, CERO’s bins are regularly cleaned, which clients see as added value. Dozens of collection bins at CERO’s warehouse attest to a commitment to cleanliness. Bins are returned periodically to the warehouse for a thorough cleaning. As Luna gives her tour, she notes that each truck includes water hoses that allow CERO drivers to clean bins on-site.
Client pickups can happen as often as three times a week, or just once, as at Home.stead Café, a client located in the same Fields Corner building as CERO’s administrative office. Home.stead produces two barrels of compost— mostly coffee grounds and waste from food prep—and just one barrel of trash each week.
Their waste falls below the threshold required under the food waste ban, but Home.stead co-owner Vivian Girard says reducing waste and composting are important to him and his wife/business partner, Elisa, who live also in the historic Dorchester neighborhood.
“We’re small, but it’s a meaningful amount,” Girard says.
“Spaces like this are really important,” Gaul notes. “Your staff is directly participating in this culture.”
“We’re trying to think a little beyond the cash register,” Girard adds.
Gaul hopes that a wider swath of businesses will come to share this commitment to the environment and thinking about the future.
“I want to popularize sustainability. I want to popularize recycling,” she says.
There are signs that word is getting out. Gaul notes that when she joined CERO in 2015, only a few potential clients contacted her via the website. Most of her work was reaching out to companies to make them aware of the advantages of using a composting service. (The advantages are both environmental and financial. Composting services generally cost less than sending waste to the landfill.) Now, as many as 10 businesses a week contact CERO to find out about composting.
“I think it has to do with the attention that climate change is getting right now as a topic. People are realizing how much our world is changing,” Gaul says.
A desire to help make change happen and be part of something bigger is what brought Gaul to CERO from her previous job at WGBH. Gaul grew up in Egleston Square and wanted to return to Boston after graduating from college. She was working on public relations for a documentary on the Civil Rights movement when she realized that she wanted to be part of making change, not writing about it.
“I thought, ‘Maybe there’s something I can be doing that’s more pressing to frontline issues,’” Gaul remembers. In 2015, a business acquaintance introduced Gaul to Luna. CERO was looking for someone to head up sales and join the co-op as an owner-worker. Gaul decided it was just the sort of frontline opportunity she was looking for. Soon she found herself a part of a small organization with a big mandate. Under CERO’s unique co-op structure, she learned what it meant to be both an owner and worker.
“When I first started, we were so strapped that I was on the trucks. I was cleaning the totes. I was doing all that, and just the act of it was very humbling. But also, I realized what goes into the operations here, how much care we put into it, how much thought goes into that. I think a lot of our clients, they put that same level of detail and care into their own operations,” Gaul says.
Gaul and Luna are among the three current employee-owners of the firm. There are also two emeritus owners and three people on track to become owners. Employees from throughout the company are able to move into an owner track in the small, tight-knit organization.
“We’re not just a business and we’re not a family, but we’re a cooperative business. And that’s very interesting, but also very challenging,” Gaul says. She notes that taking on the challenges of running a business doesn’t appeal to everyone. Some workers decide to move on rather than pursuing ownership. According to Gaul, everyone at the company—owner or not—is paid the same modest salary. She has heard back from some colleagues who have moved on to other jobs saying, “Oh, I didn’t understand the culture of dignity here.”
With its recycling business established and growing, CERO has set its sights next on something bigger: a cooperatively owned facility that generates green energy in Boston. CERO recently submitted a proposal to the Commonwealth to develop the former Boston State Hospital parcel as an anaerobic digester that will convert food into renewable energy in the form of natural gas and electricity. CERO’s proposal is one of several now being considered by the state.
Gaul sees a highly visible green project like this as one more step on the way to meaningful changes in the community, and beyond. “To me it’s like an echo of the soul. You see these things and you say, ‘This is what I should be doing.’”
This story appeared in the Winter 2020 issue.
Michael Floreak is a food writer who lives and often eats in Cambridge. His interviews with authors, chefs, writers, food policy experts and other characters from the food world have appeared regularly in the Boston Globe and To Market magazine. Michael holds a Master of Arts in Professional Writing from Carnegie Mellon University and recently completed a Master’s of Liberal Arts in Gastronomy from Boston University. In addition to writing about food, Michael works as a brand strategist and writer. You reach him by email at Michael.Floreak@gmail.com or follow on Twitter: @floreak.
CERO started with a mission to provide a high-quality composting service to the local community and to be part of an equitable employee-owned business that cares deeply for its clients. We are proud to say we now have over 70 customers that are dedicated to helping the planet and their business by being sustainable with their food waste. CERO was founded on a simple mission that adhered to this triple bottom line: people, planet and profit. We are lucky to have influential companies partnering with us and joining us in the movement for a sustainable world and economy.
One of the companies that CERO is lucky to work with is Spaulding Hospital in Cambridge. Spaulding Hospital offers the “unique ability to meet the complex needs of you, our patients, through medical and rehabilitative care”. With their rehabilitation program, they are committed to giving people hope and care throughout their individual journey. As can be imagined, hospitals tend to generate a large portion of food waste which has traditionally been mixed in with the rest of the trash for incineration. Spaulding Hospital has been composting for a few years now and decided to work with CERO to not only meet their composting needs but also continue giving the community at large hope through environmental stewardship. We wanted to see how their experience with CERO has been, so we decided to interview Thomas Cappuccio, Senior Director of Support Services at Spaulding Hospital in Cambridge.
How did you hear about CERO?
CERO was not a partner’s approved vendor at first but we were contacted by Maya Gaul, the sales team leader at CERO. One on one marketing from Maya made the deal happen.
Also, freshly cleaned bins were a plus. Maya met with us in January 2017 and the first bins went out shortly after to implement the program.
How were you disposing of food waste before you started working with CERO?
Spaulding Cambridge Hospital had been composting for a while. They had already composted for 5 years but had a different system set up. We worked with Save That Stuff for a few years, but more in the summertime. On a number of occasions with composting at STS, sanitation issues became an issue (pests, odor, food being left out, etc.). We think CERO is more sanitary and hands-on [for prevention] which provides a better service. They are great when it comes to cleaning, washing bins and other services they commit to. Maya has been great training the staff to compost. I think it’s a good partnership.
*CERO provides free, multilingual employee training for your whole team, so things run smoothly from Day 1.*
How much food waste does the hospital generate per week? Where does it come from - cafeteria, shops, etc?
Food waste is cafeteria food waste such as scraps, leftovers, etc. There is a 50/50 percentage between patient food and cafeteria food. On average, it is 3,000 pounds a month. The patient’s food needs to fit into their particular diet but at the end of the day it all goes to the same place: compost at local farms.
Has working with CERO positively impacted your budget? Why?
We think CERO is a little less expensive; budget-neutral. It is cheaper than not composting at all, since then food waste would be going out with the regular trash, which is more expensive to dispose of.
Have you made other efforts to increase sustainable practices in your business?
Spaulding hospital does single-stream recycling throughout the hospital. Cans, bottles, cardboard, paper, grease, batteries, ink cartridges are all included. We are proud to have eliminated styrofoam from the cafeteria for the past year now. Also, we have a partnership with MassRIDES to promote more biking and commuting options.
What areas have you found it difficult to be environmentally sustainable?
It’s an older building, so systems aren’t as efficient but sustainable appliances have been worked on such as lighting and heating/cooling modifications.
What do you like most about working with CERO? What do you wish could be different?
The service is pretty standard and I’m happy with it.I haven’t had an issue at all. There is never any surprises that comes across my desk or that my employees bring up to me. In that way, it’s great. It’s pretty seamless. Maya’s been great to work with. I haven’t had any kind of issue with CERO not showing up.
One initial issue was the Spaulding staff was overfilling the totes too much, and Maya asked if they could fill it up ¾ of the way. Quick communication helped to solve that problem and it never happened again.
Has working with CERO caused any changes at the hospital that you wouldn't have expected?
Not at all, but not in a bad way. Again, it’s pretty seamless.
Introduction and editing by: Karen Urdaneta
Interview by: Olivia Hart
environmental leadership through composting
Mei Mei is a sibling owned restaurant and food catering business in Boston that promises their food to be 'Locally Sourced and Made With Love'.
CERO has the privilege of working with many great businesses in the Boston area; one of those businesses being Mei Mei. Mei Mei is both a hip restaurant and food truck catering business serving Chinese- American cuisine made with locally and sustainably sourced produce. Mei Mei, which means little sister in Chinese, is inspired by the business’ sibling story: a big brother and two little sisters decided to start a business together that allowed them to share their love of food with the world! I had the honor of meeting and interviewing one of the sisters, Irene Li, to learn about Mei Mei’s composting experience with CERO.
When entering the restaurant on Park Drive, guests are greeted by the contemporary design, kind staff, and relaxed aura. This is definitely a place to enjoy lunch with some friends— the morning sunlight was shining through the windows and reflected beautifully on the yellow seats, high ceilings, wooden floors and tables, exposed brick wall, fun chalkboard drawings and cute succulent plants. All the small details really contributed to the space’s bright atmosphere.
Already an impressive environment, Irene, one of the owners, is delightful to meet. She is energetic and enthusiastic about Mei Mei’s composting experience. She truly had very thoughtful things to say about CERO’s service; here is what she had to share!
How much food waste do you estimate that your business produces each month?
We have one plastic tote that gets picked up once per week, it is 60 gallons, so 200-300 gallons each month!
What made you consider using a composting program?
Well, we definitely knew we wanted to compost. I have some background with living on a farm, and know that composting is really important for maintaining a healthy ecosystem. We wanted to make sure our food scraps were going towards a good cause. We started using Save that Stuff, but we weren't too fond of using their service. They are a little more corporate, and it seemed that a smaller local business would be more within our values. I met with Jon to see how we could make the pricing work for us, and they were willing to reduce the pick-up pricing in order to help us make the switch.
What were any hurdles that you faced while instituting a composting program and how did you overcome them?
We have composted since the beginning, so it wasn’t really an issue off implementing. I guess one hurdle would be affording and finding compostable products like utensils. When people get take out, they typically bring it home and the products end up in the trash. However, we think that it is the right thing to do no matter what. Biodegradable plastic is technically compostable and biodegradable, but it is not beneficial to the soil, so we switched from compostable cups to recyclable cups, because the biodegradable plastic cups were not helpful to the farmers that CERO works with.
What were you excited or surprised to learn was compostable?
I guess I already knew a lot about composting as a farm nerd, but hair and any kind of paper kind of struck me as interesting. However, we don’t compost all of the paper as the farmers CERO works with already have enough carbon based products.
How did you hear about CERO? What do you like about the CERO service?
I first heard about CERO when they were in the start up phase, we met at a business pitch event, so we met about five or six years ago. Someone at a local cafe also mentioned how much they enjoyed working with CERO. I really like the level of customer service and I think that has a lot to do with their being a cooperative. Also, they use a plastic biodegradable bag in their totes, and I think that its great that they keep the totes clean, as if they weren't kept clean they could get really gross!
What does CERO’s cooperative business format mean to you as a customer of CERO’s services?
To me, it means that I know that their staff care about the success and the quality of their work in a way that employees of other companies don’t. I think the format of the workers being able to profit and be a part of the local economy is really great. Our company has an open-book financial model, essentially we show all of our financial information to our staff and we try to include our staff in our decision making, so in this way our business is very similar to a cooperative and reflects a lot of the same values as CERO.
Interviewer: aURORA GoodlaNd
CERO partner since
Which is equal to taking
After twelve years of growth, opening their doors at 40 locations (including one in Switzerland) and garnering dozens of awards and accolades, here are some of the ways b.good is setting the new standard for successful, community-focused business.
Can you turn your mistakes into opportunities? How about into a farm, on an island? After making a mistake on a catering order for a large summer camp located on Long Island in Boston Harbor, b.good visited the camp to make amends in person. In talking with the camp staff, a vision was formed to use abandoned land on the island to grow food. Just a few months later, b.good is running Hannah Farm on the property and donating 75% of what they grow back to the summer camp and to communities in need. The rest goes back to b.good's restaurants and prep kitchens, where the scraps are picked up to be composted. The finished soil is then delivered back out to Hannah Farm, completing the food loop.
Instead, b.good affectionately refers to their staff and patrons as "family." And it's not just talk. The healthy fast-food pioneer treats its family like family should, with surprise gifts of free food through their mobile app, even allowing family to donate gifts to local charities or share with friends.
CERO has diverted
Which is equal to taking
When food breaks down under natural conditions, the nutrients are returned to the soil to be used by future plants. This creates a sustainable cycling of nutrients, which is what CERO strives to do. This is in direct opposition to landfilling, which leaves these nutrients stranded and sealed underground, never to be returned to the natural environment or cycled into new plants.
CERO started as a collaboration between Boston’s Black and Latino members of Mass Coalition for Occupational Safety & Health (MassCOSH) and The Boston Worker’s Alliance (BWA) to form a green business that takes into account the needs of our diverse communities, while providing a level of service that is unmatched in the composting and waste hauling space. CERO worker-owners organized around cooperatives, worker’s rights, and spread knowledge about composting in Roxbury and Dorchester as a cost-saving and sustainable alternative to the status quo.