Meet a Changemaker: Compost Culture's Liam de Villa Bourke

Meet a changemaker

  • by Grace Connery
  • 4 min read

Composting is one of the easiest ways that individuals can reduce their food waste and help the environment. Just ask Liam de Villa Bourke, co-founder of Compost Culture, a youth led organization launched in 2021 to provide compost disposal and education on why composting is so important. Recently, sk*p caught up with Liam to learn more about his mission.

As the co-founder of Compost Culture, what first inspired you to create the organization?

Compost Culture was formed because my co-founder and I wanted to tackle the environmental issues we kept seeing in Southern California. We decided to focus on sustainability, specifically composting, because our area was lacking the awareness on how to reduce its food waste. Inappropriate disposal of food waste is a problem in the United States, accounting for 15-18% of our methane emissions. We also noticed that, although many people wanted to help the environment, they didn't have the knowledge or resources to do so. We set out to bridge that disconnect.

Can you walk us through what it was like in the early days and how you established yourself?

We first started as a project under the Dragon Kim Foundation, receiving fiscal sponsorship and a total of $10,000 in grant funding from them. It was initially a passion project run by inspired teens, but we established ourselves by networking with other nonprofits, working with the Huntington Gardens, and becoming an official 501(c)(3). It was challenging, as we had to maintain relationships with cities, ensure we were being noticed, and compost a heck of a lot of organic waste.

Composting in action

Compost culture was founded one year ago, what has been the most challenging aspect thus far? The most rewarding?

Honestly, the most challenging aspect has been learning how to run a non-profit. We're teens! We have to go to school and manage our home and social lives, all while maintaining this organization. We've definitely had to quickly learn the ins and outs of managing people, finances, and proper scheduling. But, this can be extremely rewarding. When you can see that you have a tangible impact on your community and people thank you for the work you do, it makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Compost Culture is a youth led organization. How does this emphasis on youth leadership affect the culture of the organization?

The prominent youth leadership in Compost Culture makes it extremely unique. Rather than being a mostly top-down organization, it’s a very cooperative environment where each student can share their ideas on a decision that has a real-life impact. We can empower teens as changemakers. Because of this, I think we can define our organization culture as one of determination, cooperation, and sustainability.

In what ways do you hope to expand Compost Culture? Do you see yourself expanding the services you provide to other locations?

Ultimately, we would like to serve the entire San Gabriel Valley. We want to see a Compost Culture in each city, like a franchise model of sorts. We hope to always provide a leadership opportunity for older students so we can continue having a community impact. In regards to services, we want to become more focused on education. We hope to teach kids across the board about composting and what they can do to help. We also want to diversify ourselves, transitioning from a solely curbside pickup service to also offering composting consulting services.

Award Ceremony for Compost Culture

What are some common misconceptions about composting? Why do you think many people don’t compost?

I think the biggest deterrent in relation to composting is the hassle and the smell. The truth is that if composting is done right, the smell won't be an issue. In the beginning it may seem like a complex task, but it’s really just harnessing nature's process of decomposition. People have this misconception that if you leave some food scraps out in your backyard, there will eventually be a humus by-product. While somewhat valid, composting is really using the right elements and processes to get a no-smell and hassle-free fertilizer.

You recently hosted a gala on June 18th to celebrate the one year anniversary since Compost Culture launched. Can you tell us how people can still support the fundraiser?

We wanted to celebrate our first year and had food, live music, a keynote speaker, and a raffle! We are still trying to meet our goal of raising $10,000, and a foundation is offering to match donations of up to $5,000 dollars. We really hope to continue expanding the organization to help create a culture of sustainability in our community, so donations are incredibly important. You can still support the event here by making a donation.

How can people get involved with your organization? Do you have any resources to provide more info on composting?

If students want to get involved, they can always reach out to us via email or social media to volunteer. You can find more information about us on our website and sign up for our services there. We always respond to and enjoy answering emails and calls regarding questions about composting, what you can compost, and how to get started. Feel free to reach out!