Bin deep: Like many entrepreneurs, Danny Keaton started small, building his waste-hauling business one bin at a time and finding his niche — compostable food waste. photo by Derek Keaton
While some people start a business based on a long-time passion or interest, others recognize a need that’s not being met. Danny Keaton of Danny’s Dumpster falls into the latter category. In fact, you could say that Keaton has built his business by staying attuned to needs in the community — and taking advantage of a chain of lucky events.
The first event might not seem like much. Only five years ago, Keaton was a construction worker, using a small trailer to haul waste from building sites. “One day, a homeowner asked to put household trash on my trailer,” he says. “In Madison County, there was no household-trash collection.”
So Keaton began hauling residential trash and recycling in the back of his van. Danny’s Dumpster was born.
Then in 2008, the ABC Container Recycling Law went into effect, requiring restaurants and bars to recycle all beverage containers. Keaton jumped at the opportunity to reach a new market. He started offering dumpsters and building relationships with area businesses. Pickup service increased dramatically.
“But we were going head-to-head with very large garbage companies,” he explains, “and I knew it would be difficult to compete without a niche.” Keaton noticed that his clients — especially the restaurants — were throwing out a lot of food waste, so he expanded his services to include collecting compostables, which he transported to a nearby composting facility.
A loan from Mountain BizWorks enabled him to purchase additional equipment, increase efficiency and offer full waste-removal services to his clients.
The next “lucky event” didn’t seem so lucky at the time; in fact, initially it seemed like a disaster. After working hard to build up his composting route, Keaton learned that the local composting facility was going to shut down in April this year. “It was like the rug was pulled out from under our feet,” he says. “But people were depending on us; we had 25 tons of food waste coming in per week. So for four months I drove a dump truck three or four times per week to the nearest composting facility — in Gastonia, which is two hours each way — just to keep the business going.”
It was immediately clear that this was not a sustainable situation. So on land leased from the city of Asheville, Keaton created his own in-vessel composting facility. He says it’s the only one within 100 miles of town that accepts food waste. “At the time, that transition was a huge challenge. But looking back, we’re definitely in a better position now than we were before.”
Today, Danny’s Dumpster serves about 80 businesses, hospitals, schools and — mostly — restaurants “The Asheville-area restaurants have really embraced what we’re doing,” he says. The company also handles garbage, recycling and compostable collection for about 50 events and festivals throughout the year. It’s a fantastic example of local businesses working together for the common good.
As a result, Keaton gets calls from communities all over the country that want to learn how to do what he’s doing. “We didn’t invent the concept of hauling food waste. But most companies that do it are very large and have the ability to buy fancy equipment. We just have a few pickup trucks and trailers, so I think what’s attractive about our model is the idea that anyone can do this,” he says.
Of course, that’s not to say that everyone would want to do this type of work. As Keaton explains, “It’s not pretty. It’s not easy. On cold, rainy days like today, it’s hard. My feet are wet and my clothes are covered in mud and who-knows-what. But to see the impact that we have on the community, to hear the positive feedback from our clients, to know that I’m supporting my employees — that definitely fuels me to keep going.”
To learn more about Danny’s Dumpster services, or to purchase compost for your farm or garden, visit www.dannysdumpster.com or call 828-380-9094.
To learn about small business loans from Mountain BizWorks visit www.mountainbizworks.org/lending or call 828-253-2834.
Mountain BizWorks supports small businesses in Western North Carolina through lending, consulting and training. For more information, visit mountainbizworks.org.
Anna Raddatz is development and communications coordinator at Mountain BizWorks.