Student environmentalist urges: Don’t trash your apple cores, banana peels and cafecito grounds!


Starting a compost pile helps save the planet

Ugo Angeletti likes to get his hands on the grimy stuff.

The freshman marketing major with a minor in agroecology started rummaging through his neighbors’ trash, with permission, for a high school assignment to determine what and how much people get rid of. Surprised by the amount of organic material in a typical family’s weekly haul—including such things as fruit rinds, egg shells and coffee grounds—Angeletti alighted on a quest: to keep food waste out of landfills.

His Advanced Placement environmental studies class had taught him that such discards decompose very slowly when covered by other types of garbage and in the process create methane gas that contributes to global warming. (Other negative consequences include the build up of toxic sludge that contaminates groundwater.)

Twelve years after moving to South Florida with his family from their native France, the transplant wanted to coalesce the community around a solution to help ensure the region’s future. “Miami is sitting on the frontline of climate change,” Angeletti said, conscious of threatening sea level rise, “and very few people are doing anything concrete to fight against it.”

Along with his three younger sisters, Angeletti developed the nonprofit back2earth. The organization provides high-grade plastic buckets with heavy lids in which homeowners collect food scraps. In just the first three months of operation, he and volunteers picked up 50,000 pounds of waste from participating families. The group is turning the refuse into compost that will be sold locally to backyard gardeners, professional landscapers and others to enrich soil.

Now expanding into Miami’s Coconut Grove neighborhood, Angeletti has refined the process with a central drop-off location. And his business model has also shifted. What he now actively encourages—by making presentations to area middle schools in hopes of growing a groundswell of support—is that individuals do their own composting at home, thereby negating the need for energy-intensive transporting of waste.

“When you think about it, [our] service is not really the solution. It’s a fix,” he says. “Educating the world is really the best tool.”