At Closed Loop Systems, cofounder and CEO Jacob Fox ’16 is turning organic waste into a regenerative solution.
“Not many people know this but we have degraded over 60 percent of our global topsoil and there are not a lot of ways of replenishing that,” says Jacob Fox ’16. “Soil provides so many ecosystem services that we don’t even consider” — from regulating the climate and sequestering carbon, to filtering air and water, to growing food, fiber and fuel.
With the opening of the Geneva Resource Recovery Park this spring, Fox and Closed Loop Systems (CLS), a renewable waste solutions company based in Geneva, are inviting the community to join the “closed loop” process of turning organic waste into compost. For a small annual fee, city and town residents can bring food and yard waste to the new facility, where the materials undergo vermicomposting, in which worms and microbes break down the waste into rich, fertile humus.
Fox, who is cofounder and CEO of CLS, says the challenge that comes with many sustainable solutions “is that they are only partial solutions.” But “imagine if one day you threw 100 percent of your garbage in one bin, and that bin was taken to a local composting facility and turned into soil that could then be used in the community to help retain stormwater (green infrastructure) and grow food (farm-to-table-to-farm), and also for bioremediation (cleaning up superfund and brown-fields with microbes and plants).”
This is the “closed loop” Fox imagined when he realized that food waste is not only “the single largest piece of the municipal waste stream” but “a very valuable resource.”
A public policy major and sociology minor, Fox developed an interest in repurposing waste when he was a student at HWS. He connected with John Hicks ’59, who owns Organix Green Industries, a large-scale vermiculture facility in nearby Seneca Castle, N.Y. After playing soccer in Germany following graduation, Fox joined the company, which processes only vegetable waste from local farms. But he soon realized how easy it would be to apply the vermicomposting model to any food waste and “tie it all together in a holistic ‘closed loop system.’”
In 2017, Fox pitched the City of Geneva on a facility to solve food waste challenges and help divert waste from landfills. By late 2018, he had founded CLS with Hicks and Jim and Mike Nardozzi, who own Nardozzi Paving and Construction in Geneva and have experience with vermicomposting as well as “extensive construction knowledge and logistical capabilities,” Fox says.
After securing approximately $460,000 through state and county grants on behalf of the city, CLS opened the Geneva Resource Recovery Park in 2021. Soon the company will expand its services with a recycling and disposal drop-off area for metal, construction and demolition debris, bottles and cans, cardboard, zero sort recycling and landfill materials. Using a “pay-as-you-throw” system, where residents only pay for the garbage they produce, Fox wants to offer customers “waste diversion incentives,” giving Genevans “the opportunity to save money and divert their waste.”
He sees Geneva as an ideal location to “disrupt” the waste management industry. Between the abundance of local farms and the large landfills within a 30-minute drive, CLS can offer soil and liquid amendments to farmers, mitigate the environmental impact of landfills, and work with local researchers to study healthy soil, soil carbon sequestration, bioremediation and Soil Food Web research, among other applications.
With an eye toward statewide growth, the company has already secured a grant to build a facility in Cortland, and Fox says they plan to build seven facilities in the next three years.
In addition to replicating the Geneva Resource Recovery Park model in other communities, CLS plans to build an agricultural facility model in the next two years, which would “handle manure and other farm waste, while also providing soil regeneration for the farm,” Fox explains. Similar facilities are planned for industrial clients with large waste streams, such as food processors, breweries and livestock operations. CLS also plans to design closed loop systems for institutions like colleges and universities to handle all the biodegradable waste from dining facilities and grounds maintenance.