In 2014, Joseph McMillin and Gary Nihart — both from the Upstate and educated at Wofford College and Clemson University, respectively — met. McMillin had overseen a waste collection service in college while Nihart had previously been involved in composting. Their combination of skills formed the basis of what was to become Spartanburg’s Atlas Organics in 2015.
They saw a need for organic collection and a diversion of food waste as more organic farms popped up across the Upstate that were looking for organic material for their farming soil. Local municipalities provide composting in some parts of the U.S., but that isn’t the case in South Carolina. By 2016, they had partnered with Greenville County and had opened the Atlas Organics facility at Twin Chimneys.
The public-private model is how Atlas Organics has grown from one to three facilities in three states, where the company brings its collected organic waste to make compost. Since opening the first facility in Greenville, Atlas Organics has opened a facility in Durham, North Carolina, in 2018 and one in Indian River County, Florida, in January 2020.
Leslie Rodgers, the company’s director of business development, says they used to apply for these partnerships, but now municipalities want to see what composting services Atlas Organics can offer.
Composting, Rodgers says, is “the natural breakdown of organic matter in the presence of oxygen.”
“We’re here to be a solution for municipalities in recycling and utilizing their local streams of organic waste,” Rodgers says.
Atlas Organics says it can help communities in a couple of ways. Composting gets rid of the burden of landfills, says Rodgers, which can decrease air quality and cost a lot to maintain. It also helps to enrich soil.
The company offers several services for collecting organic waste material. Its 60 clients include businesses, hospitals and schools. Through its Compost House, the company offers a subscription-based service and has almost 500 residential clients. Atlas Organics is also a wholesaler, selling its final compost product to farms as well as landscapers and retail supply yards.
While some of its clients have closed down due to the pandemic, the company has seen other services increase since people are staying at home and may have started on that garden they’ve always wanted to plant. The increase in finished compost product sales is “significant,” says Rodgers. People have even begun gifting compost to others.
“Plants keep going,” she says. “Even though everything is out of whack in our world right now, the seasons, the seed, the seedling, the plant, the fruit, it all continues even though we feel like our world isn’t normal right now.”