At lunchtime, the trade show element of the conference takes over, and companies making, or trying to make, money from other people’s garbage display their wares. John Motta is the operation manager for PF Trading of East Freetown, Massachusetts. The company provides a large stand-up bin to restaurants and other entities for their food scraps. The bins are collected for a fee of $20, and Rhode Island customers include GTECH and BlueCross BlueShield. The program reduces trash removal costs, and “it looks good for a restaurant to be green,” says Motta. Working on a larger scale is SCS Engineers, a California-based company with offices in 30 states, including Rhode Island. Their goal is to partner with municipalities in running food composting and other waste disposal programs.

You expect composters to be (literally) down-to-earth folks, and they are — none moreso than the Worm Ladies of Charlestown. “Dead worms smell terrible,” say Worm Lady-in-Chief Nancy Warner. She was explaining what happens if you bring frozen worms in the house to thaw and find you have corpses on your hands. Warner sells worms, and over the years she has barnstormed the state, visiting more than 100 schools to promote the gospel of worm farming, or vermiculture. Warner is joined by an apprentice worm lady, RISD professor Chris Bertoni, in leading, “Worm Systems for Institutions,” a workshop aimed at getting schools to use worms to compost food scraps.

There are also students at Compost Con, including Lauren Behgam, a junior at Brown, and founding member of the university’s Food Recovery Network chapter, which takes leftovers from campus and distributes them to local shelters. Aidan Huber, 15, is one of a group of tenth graders from the Greene School in West Greenwich, which has its own composting program.

Huber’s take on food scraps? “We shouldn’t be calling it waste.”

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