A student challenge to design a solution to improve sustainability in a community, using data visualizations and social media, led to Andrew Miller ('11,'14 M.S.) and Thomas Wild's ('10) launch of Compost Denton in August.
The business works with nonprofit organizations, urban farms and community residents to help build sustainable waste management in Denton and support local food infrastructure. The Compost Denton team picks up compostable waste from its members and places it in a compost pile for a fee, then offers the compost back to the community.
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Miller started Compost Denton five months after he and an interdisciplinary team of students won the Social Media Expo for the 2014 iConference -- an annual gathering of university academic programs, schools and colleges that advance information technology, library science and other programs in the information field. Faculty and students from UNT's College of Information have participated since the conferences started in 2005. The Social Media Expos have been offered during the past two conferences.
During the 2013 fall semester, Miller, then a master's student in learning technologies, teamed up with fellow students Laura Pasquini ('14 Ph.D.) in applied technology and performance improvement, Patrick McLeod ('97) in information science and Fiachra Moynihan ('14 M.B.A.) in decision sciences. For their winning project, the students created a prototype map of areas of Denton that compost, indicating which areas compost the most and the least, and suggested technology to monitor compost piles' and compost bins' moisture levels, methane output, weight and other factors. Miller says that if the data is shared through social media, Denton residents are able to see the larger picture of the ecological impact of composting.
Miller and the other students were among eight teams selected to present the video and paper for their project at the 2014 iConference in Berlin in March. The UNT students received $5,000 from the Social Media Expo's sponsor, Microsoft.
"Receiving the award was a huge milestone and gave us a lot of confidence," Miller says, adding that 23 households signed up for Compost Denton during its first month.
He and Wild, who was in the midst of developing a business plan for a compost pick up service, decided to team up for this business. They are now developing a reward system for members based on how much waste the members contribute toward the compost pile. They also plan to use data on areas of Denton that compost the most and the least to determine where to publicize Compost Denton.