Carolyn Pace traded in pageant dresses and tiaras for Patagonia coveralls and a Ford F250 pickup truck last year, after moving to Aurora and starting her own composting business, called Wompost.
In just a year, the 30-year-old former Miss Boise has gained nearly 200 clients around Aurora, where there used to be few options for compost pick up.
The road from preening on a pageant runway to making warm muck from garbage full-time has actually been a logical journey, she says.
In 2013, Pace, who had just graduated from Tufts University in Boston, returned to her home state of Idaho and decided to give pageantry a try.
“Well I have always been kind of like this outdoorsy-no-makeup-running-around-talking-about-climate-change kind of a pain,” Pace said from behind a coffee mug at Jubilee in January. Sitting at a small table in the middle of the cafe she stopped mid-sentence regularly to acknowledge everybody she knew with a smile and a slight nod. Jubilee composts their coffee grounds with Pace. She lives nearby in north Aurora. Her husband is a local teacher.
“My friend who had done a bunch of pageants showed me that it was a platform for her to talk about what she cared about. For her it was domestic abuse and being able to have a platform to really speak to that, and I thought this would be such an interesting thing to talk about sustainability through the lens into a completely different audience than talking about it in the echo chamber of the same people,” she said.
The dresses, the makeup, the entire lifestyle of a pageant queen was foreign to Pace, but she couldn’t resist the opportunity to talk to more people about sustainability. Most of the young women around her were 19, just graduating high school and there for completely different reasons.
“It was such an interesting year. My platform was sustainable consumerism and this whole wrap around idea that your dollars are votes and they’re more powerful because you can cast a ballot for the world you want to see through purchasing local and refusing certain packaging that you don’t want.”
The mostly-conservative Boise community responded with confusion to Pace’s platform, she said with a laugh. Pace was keenly aware that without her Miss Boise sash and the matching ensemble she wouldn’t have the same audience. She recalls people striking up a conversation with her because she was Miss Boise and looked the part. Then, she’d hit them with her pitch: “Have you ever thought about your dollars as votes for changing the world?”
A lot of them hadn’t.
“Heels, makeup, hair spray, crown. Yeah, I did all of that, and what I learned from that is how it’s a tool that I could use if I wanted to really get attention,” she said. “Even though it feels a little icky, and it can feel a little objectifying, I learned that that’s a tool that I can decide to use or not use.”
Pace has always worked in jobs where sustainability was key. So founding Wompost after she moved to Aurora felt right, she said. She’s also passionate about business that has a triple bottom line: good for the planet, good for people and good for a financial reason. Pace envisions her company hiring people who might otherwise not have a lot of job opportunities.
This month she hired her first employee, Taylor Best-Anderson, who also works to pick up the 10-gallon compost buckets along the routes.
Few people look at trash the way Pace does. A lot of it doesn’t belong in a landfill, she said, and in a perfect world Pace said there would be less recycling and more composting. Ideally plastics would be made out of biodegradable products and composting could be done locally.
“It’s a lot less questions. There’s a lot less confusion. It’s concrete. It’s like, it’s biodegradable. OK. It’s compostable.”
For more than a decade, city lawmakers have inquired how the system in Aurora could be different. On one end of the spectrum, the city could municipalize trash services, like Denver. Residents wouldn’t have a choice in haulers. If the city were to go that route, they could add recycling services and compost services, too. Municipalization would mean the city would have to take on startup costs, operate its own service, and pay for additional environmental insurance.
Currently the city sits at the other end of the spectrum. About 15 hauling companies operate throughout Aurora, zig-zagging across the city, picking up thousands of pounds of trash each week. Residents can choose any service.
While municipalization may hurt Wompost, Pace said she’s not opposed to it and believes it’d be good for the city and better for residents. She’s been working with the city to do some composting events, like hosting leaf drop-offs in the fall.
It’s more likely that Aurora, if it were to change its trash system at all, would land somewhere in between. At a city meeting earlier this month lawmakers were presented with other options. One would assign haulers to different parts of the city. Neighboring municipalities such as Lone Tree, Lakewood, Golden and Commerce City operate this way. City staff say it’s possible that this option could mean increased fees that get passed onto residents, who are required to have a trash service.
Other options would increase regulation or require haulers to cooperate in ways that would
reduce traffic, like arranging pick ups on the same day.
City lawmakers are also looking at fees for each truck that utilizes Aurora roads.
“There were 453 active waste hauling trucks in Aurora in 2019. Based on a 2014 report, one waste truck trip equates to 1,000 car trips, and causes $20-$40/household per year in roadway damage,” according to city documents. “Based on a count of 142,000 (2019) households in the city, the damage done equates from $2.8 million to $5.7 million annually. Under this rationale, a fee between $6,300-$12,700 per truck would be needed for waste haulers to ‘pay their own way.’”
Haulers would likely pass that cost onto consumers, city staff said. But the regulatory framework that would come along with the fee could also mean the city could mandate recycling and composting be provided at a uniform cost to all residents.
About 27 million tons of “municipal solid waste” was composted across the U.S. in 2017, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Most of that was lawn clippings. Comparatively, municipalities generated 267.8 million tons of waste. 67 million tons of that was recycled.
Pace estimates that the average household in her clientele accumulates about 20 pounds of compost materials per week.
For Pace, the idea for Wompost was a no-brainer. Nobody was offering the service to her in Aurora, and it’s really good for the environment.
Most notably, it keeps organic substances out of landfills that might not properly decompose otherwise (no oxygen in a landfill pit means no composting). Some researchers estimate that more than half of what people toss out each week is food and yard waste, which would be better suited for a compost pile.
Good composting requires an environment where microorganisms thrive. They need oxygen, nutrients and warm temperatures. It’s a hard thing to get just right if you’re going the composting route alone.
Martha Lugo, a client of Pace’s, said before Wompost started offering services in her area she tried to make her own compost pit.
“For me that was really challenging,” said Lugo, who lives in a townhome and has more balcony than yard.
Compost also works to organically prevent production of greenhouse gasses, like methane, from the atmosphere.
Composting is also best done locally, so unlike recycling, there’s a lot less resources used to move materials around.
“It’s good all the way through the system and it doesn’t have to get shipped into this global system,” Pace said. “I still think recycling is really important, but I think it’s really important for people to understand what is composting, why do it and why it’s a lot simpler.”