Casella Buys Grow Compost Of Moretown, Expanding Its Control Over Vermont’s Waste Stream
Rutland-based Casella Waste Systems is expanding its reach into the compost industry.
The waste management giant purchased Moretown-based Grow Compost on Sept. 1. Neither company would disclose the purchase price.
The acquisition could raise concerns about consolidation in Vermont’s nascent compost industry. Grow and Casella were the only two companies that offered compost hauling services to most of the state, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation.
The deal gives Casella further control over an aspect of the waste stream in Vermont it was initially slow to adapt to. Since July 2020, Vermont has banned food scraps from landfills and has, with some exceptions, required trash haulers to offer compost pickup service to nonresidential customers and larger rental units.
Casella, a $3.8 billion company that owns the state’s only landfill, sought to delay the implementation of that law last spring, citing challenges stemming from the pandemic. They were ultimately unsuccessful.
Grow Compost, on the other hand, spent years preparing for the new law, investing in infrastructure to collect organic waste from around the state.
“We've been having these conversations with a lot of different companies for a long time, and this is the one that just fell into place.”
But Lisa Ransom, co-founder of Grow, said their aspirations to serve the entire state outgrew their capacity.
“It had to be an effort by a larger group of people, and we've talked for a long time with our fellow composters and other haulers about how we were going to do that,” Ransom said. “We've been having these conversations with a lot of different companies for a long time, and this is the one that just fell into place.”
For Casella, a publicly-traded company that brought in over $774 million in gross revenue last year, the purchase is a direct response to Vermont’s composting mandate, according to company vice president Joseph Fusco.
“This is us building our ability to meet the mandates of public policy, and to provide the service that public policy is asking Vermonters to do,” Fusco said.
Fusco said all of Grow’s employees will be offered positions with Casella.
Ransom founded Grow Compost with her husband Scott Baughman in 2008. The couple operated a small farm, but had trouble finding quality compost to grow their crops, so they decided to make their own, Ransom said. Soon, they were inviting their neighbors to deposit food scraps on their land.
The company grew from there to sell bulk compost and mulch, and to haul food scraps across the state. By the time of their sale last week, Grow had five trucks and employed between eight and 12 people, Ransom said, with more than 500 accounts across Vermont as well as parts of New Hampshire and New York.
“I just think it is possible for a company to own too much for it to be a benefit to the public, and I think we're certainly getting to that stage with Casella."
Casella already offers compost hauling, but its expansion with this acquisition gives it more control over the sector. That doesn’t sit well with Paul Burns, the director of the consumer and environmental advocacy organization Vermont Public Interest Research Group.
“I fear that that's not in the best interest of consumers in the state. That may not be the best thing for our environment as well,” Burns said. “It's important to keep in mind that Casella is not so interested in composting or recycling or the environment. Casella is interested in maximizing its profit.”
Casella completed five acquisitions earlier this year, with total annual revenues of about $67 million, according to the company’s second quarter earnings report.
Burns said Casella’s continued expansion could be bad for consumers.
“I just think it is possible for a company to own too much for it to be a benefit to the public, and I think we're certainly getting to that stage with Casella,” Burns said.
Fusco brushed off those concerns. He said Casella has a 20-year history of working with organics and is not opposed to composting, and he argued the acquisition of Grow will not squelch competition.
“I don’t think there’s any barriers whatsoever to people starting a compost collection business or compost processing business," he said. "So we certainly encourage entrepreneurs of every stripe to start the kind of business that we’re in as well."
“I don’t think there’s any barriers whatsoever to people starting a compost collection business or compost processing business."
As for Ransom, she has plenty of other endeavors: She’s a vicar with the Episcopal Diocese, and she’s also the director of the church’s Mission Farm in Killington. She said she hopes Grow Compost has left a lasting impact.
“We just feel like if we had any part in sort of moving the norm of how we all live on this earth, for Vermonters at all, we feel like it's been a success,” Ransom said.
How Casella carries forward that legacy will play out in the coming months, as the corporation takes control of the small business Ransom and her husband started on their farm.
Disclosure: Casella is a VPR underwriter.