Update: The company has come a long way since this interview! You can learn more about how the device works and how to use it in 7 Ways to Use Compost Technology to Speed Up Your Compost.
There’s no point in aiming for total accuracy when it comes to composting.
Unless you are a commercial operation with access to a lab, it’s better to try and get things about right rather than exactly right. There’s simply no way that the home composter can get C:N ratios and moisture levels exactly right.
Or is there?
Monty Compost combines technology with an app to provide home composters with the information they need to produce better, faster compost. We caught up with CEO Ashley Baxter to find out more…
Can you tell me a bit about your background, and how you became interested in composting?
My background surprisingly has nothing to do with compost – I studied Business Management and IT at university and was working in everything from programming to project management at a bank. I had always been environmentally conscious however, so when I came across the issues of organic waste and soil degradation in 2018 and learnt about the potential positive impact of compost, I just became obsessed with it.
What inspired you to create a compost monitoring tool?
When I first started researching compost, it seemed like an absolute miracle cure – it recycles waste, restores our soil, can reduce chemical fertilisers and sequesters carbon! If it was so great though, I kept wondering why we didn’t all do it!
What I found was that there are three reasons why not everyone composts – it can be confusing, inefficient and unappealing. From my education and experience, I saw that technology could provide a solution to these.
Can you explain what data the system collects?
The Monty Monitoring device currently uses off-the-shelf, gas-based sensors to collect what we like to call “decomposition data”. These are readings that are relevant to the health of any type of compost pile. Right now, we use temperature, humidity and volatile organic compounds but in future we plan on integrating various others such as oxygen.
How can composters use the data to improve their compost process? Can you include some examples?
Compost can be extremely mysterious sometimes and it can be hard to know what’s going on under the surface with just one look. By collecting data from your compost continuously, you can better understand exactly what’s going on with it.
For example, increases in methane readings at particular times usually indicate an unhealthy pile, whether due to its nutrient profile, higher microbial activity or other environmental conditions.
In your FAQs, you talk about controlling critters that get out of control. Could you give some examples of which creatures can get out of control, how the tool lets you know and what you can do about it?
With compost, insects and other macro-decomposers are essential to the process of breaking down organic waste however unhealthy piles can build imbalanced species populations and attract unhelpful pests such as rodents. Controlling this simply means creating and maintaining a healthy compost pile which is what we do with Monty.
How have you been trialling the tool?
Yep – we’ve rolled out a limited first release of the Monty Monitor and the MVP Mobile app is currently available in the app store for download. The trial and test process has been pretty intense, as we quickly found out that not one single compost pile is ever the same as another. Catering to each unique set-up has been a big challenge which is why we’re so grateful to all our users.
Are there plans for a more advanced version in the future, and if so what will that look like?
As mentioned, we plan to add different kinds of environmental sensors to the monitor as we progress, for even broader insights about your compost. We’re also continuously adding different features to the mobile app, as our aim with the platform is to really make it the one-stop-shop for everything related to compost.
GetMonty be commercially available?
We’re actually opening our website for pre-orders next month and are super keen to get the word out there for anyone who wants to support us, join our community and be part of the future of composting. With these orders we’re pushing to have stock available by November this year however it may be up to Jan-Feb 2022 by the time they’re all shipped out.
How can composters get involved in the meantime?
As mentioned, our MVP mobile app is currently available with heaps of features for composters to help track their compost, even without the monitor! Our socials and website are also updated super often with awesome compost and technology content.
Looking at Monty from an environmental and social perspective, what impact do you hope it will have?
We believe everyone, everywhere should be composting – after all, we all produce organic waste! With Monty, we’re trying to make this a reality by creating a tool that can help them, no matter what kind of composting they want to do. Compost is an amazing solution for so many environmental issues and builds incredible communities but there are a lot of barriers for people to start. We want to tear those barriers down.
It’s a long hard slog creating a start-up. What keeps you motivated?
I couldn’t agree more with that, especially right now with so much that’s going on in the company! In all honesty, there are times that I feel so overwhelmed and on the edge of giving up but every time I feel that way I just remind myself of why we’re doing this and how compost can change the world.