Zero Waste in Spartanburg and Beyond

According to the EPA, up to twenty percent of the garbage that ends up in U.S. landfills is food waste, which, when it decomposes, converts to methane—a potent greenhouse gas. Until recently, upstate restaurants and businesses had no means of doing anything but send their waste to the landfill, but 2013 Wofford grad Joseph McMillin has stepped in to offer an alternative.

While he was still a student, McMillin was working on creating his business, Junk Matters, and in the spring of 2013, his business plan was the Launch winner in Wofford’s Impact & Launch competition. That win provided him with $5,000 and a year of rent-free office space at the Spartanburg Iron Yard location.

“I’ve always been interested in the concept of a recycling business,” McMillin says. “My dad’s college roommate owned a facility in Charleston, so I talked to him. I’m particularly interested in diverting food waste from landfills.”

Popular Spartanburg restaurant Willy Taco and the Little River Coffee Bar were early adopters of the zero waste program offered by Junk Matters. Eric Holman, one of the owners of Willy Taco, says, “When we were planning the restaurant in the fall of 2013 and thinking about waste matters, we came across Junk Matters—Joseph was still a student at Wofford but had started his business.”

At Willy Taco, the zero waste concept was there from the beginning, so all of the staff were trained to separate the organics from the recyclables. “Once everybody is trained,” Holman says, “it becomes second nature. And if we do something wrong, Joseph lets us know.”

In the prep area, there are different cans for glass, plastic, and cans, and regular trash cans for organics (cardboard can go in either). In the dish area, too, food waste is separated from recyclables. Once it’s separated, it goes into two separate dumpsters—organics and recyclables. Junk Matters comes four times a week to pick up the dumpsters and replace them.

Junk Matters, with a small staff of six people, have moved from the Iron Yard to office space on Morgan Square, and they currently have three trucks to service their clients. They are the only hauler of food waste in the Upstate, and since no one is doing it in the Midlands area either, McMillin says they will begin service in Columbia, with another truck, in July.

Although the company has been offering recycling services in addition to the composting, McMillin says they will be transitioning towards food waste only, with the goal of opening their own processing facility in Greenville County. Currently, the commercial composting facility that receives the organic waste is in the Charleston area, and it’s the only one in the state.

“There is a lot of interest around zero waste—around food waste in general—especially at the corporate level,” McMillin says. Not only is it good for the public image and a great thing to do for the environment, but it saves money, too. “Food waste is heaviest,” he says, “and they pay by the ton to haul their waste. It’s cheaper for us to do it, and it doesn’t go to the landfill.”

Rather than rotting in a landfill and producing methane, the food waste gets ground into a substance that resembles coffee grounds (see banner photo) that has a variety of agricultural and commercial uses. As a soil additive used in farming, it can decrease the use of herbicides and pesticides by up to 50% and increase crop yield. The substance also increases water retention, so in addition to agricultural uses, it is used by DOT for erosion control.

Junk Matters’ clients include Wofford College, Converse College, Greenville Hospital System, Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System, Michelin North America, Milliken, and twelve Upstate Publix stores. For information about becoming a Junk Matters customer, visit their web site, call 864-278-2322, or contact Kate Conner.


Banner photo from Spartanburg Citizens for Recycling

Sharon Purvis is a freelance writer and editor who makes her home with her husband in Duncan, South Carolina. You can find more of her work at