Erlene Howard, Evanston

Erlene Howard
Owner, Collective Resource

Where most people see trash, Erlene Howard sees life. “I was seeing all this beautiful garbage,” she says of the food scraps that were leftover from her mostly vegan, mostly raw diet.

Her love of raw vegetables and organics led the part-time independent bookkeeper and human resource administrator to discover her related passion for composting, which she expresses through Collective Resource, the compost pickup business she started in 2010. In less than a year, she has kept four tons of food scraps out of landfills.

It all started in 2009, when Erlene, a condo dweller, was teaching a friend about raw food, and her friend, in turn, was composting Erlene’s food scraps. “One day, I couldn’t connect with her, so I was throwing my scraps in the trash, and that’s when the light bulb went off,” Erlene says. She realized: People who care about composting do it as a hobby, making time for it, but more people would compost if it were easy—if the passionate people would take care of it for them.

“You could compost everything that was once alive,” Erlene says—and now lots of people do, with her help. Last year, she started hauling buckets of compost from clients in Evanston, Skokie and Chicago’s North Side for as little as $10 per week. With the help of her 21-year-old son, Kevin Macica, she loads the buckets into her Toyota Camry and delivers them to a commercial composting site. Commercial composting means her clients can compost not only fruits and vegetables, but also meat, bones, dairy products and oils.

Now, Erlene hauls compost from 30 residential clients and the Unitarian Church of Evanston. She piloted a program composting food scraps for the Evanston restaurant Tweet Let’s Eat. And she’s spreading the word through events such as the Andersonville Farmers Market and the Midwest Real Food Summit, and partnerships with local organizations like Go Green Wilmette.

“I really want to do this well, so it’s a resource for a long time,” Erlene says.

She even loves the physical nature of the work. “It gets me outside for a couple of hours midday, and even though I’m at a compost heap, I love the sunlight and the fresh air,” she says. “I get lost in my life. I guess that means I’m enjoying it.”

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