Washougal’s VermiTek takes composting to a new level

Downtown Vancouver business Niche Wine & Art

VermiTek founder Steve Chen
VermiTek founder Steve Chen says his unique products reduce the composting process from 6-12 months to 6-7 weeks. Photo: Buck Heidrick
Problems resulting from current waste management practices were a major reason the environmental engineer created these speedy systems.

“After food waste goes to a landfill, it emits all kinds of greenhouse gases,” Chen explained. “All this has a negative impact on the environment. If we can recycle our food scraps – and not just recycle, but convert them into organic fertilizer – it has two benefits.”

Chen believes he is part of a larger trend toward environmental consciousness, and chose to locate his business in the Pacific Northwest because it is known as a leader of this movement.

“People here are very conscious of being green,” he said. “Because people have this environmental ideal, it helps our business.”

Environmental trends aren’t the only factor driving business for VermiTek, though. Chen added that economic factors have also played a major part
in his success.

“Since the slowdown of the economy, more and more people are trying to start their own gardens,” he remarked. “Lots of my customers have told me that. That helps drive business.”

These factors have given VermiTek’s products international appeal, and the founder can name more than 10 countries in which his compost bins are sold. The company has grown about 25 to 30 percent per year since its establishment, and Chen said that online sales are the biggest contributor to that growth. To capitalize on this potential, Chen enlisted the help of his daughter, Minerva, to create a more polished website for the company.

“I’m trying to create an attractive display of all the products with nice pictures, so if someone wants to check out VermiTek, they can buy directly from my dad – or, my boss,” she added with a laugh.

The college sophomore expects to complete the website in a few weeks.

With just two full-time employees in addition to the part-time help he receives from his daughter, Chen is looking to hire another employee to manage VermiTek’s retail
buyers. He also plans to add more products to satisfy his expanding customer base.

“Every year we are trying to add at least one product,” he said. “We have already designed a product we call a raised garden bed. We made a plastic one that is more durable and the design is much nicer looking. We plan to bring it here next spring.”

Chen hopes the future holds more than just new products for VermiTek. No matter how large his company becomes, the founder wants to continue a collective effort toward a greener environment.

“If every family digs through their garbage, each year you could send 180 pounds of food scraps to the landfill – and that’s just one family,” he said. “How many families are there? If you can recover that waste and make it into organic fertilizer, what is the benefit? This is our vision. We want the whole society to participate.”