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Dirty in Detroit

Two companies, Detroit Dirt and Shinola, share a hometown and a dream for better waste management

Standing above a landfill as a little girl with her father, Pashon Murray was perplexed by the amount of waste being poured into the ground. 

“Going to those landfills, it never made sense to me how we were burying waste,” she says. “I just used to look at that stuff and go ‘How are they going to do this?’”

Little did Murray know that just a few years into her adulthood, she would become a pioneer in waste management by establishing her own company dedicated to sustainability, Detroit Dirt. When she returned to her home in Michigan after college, Murray was inspired by the growing urban farming movement and created the model for Detroit Dirt. 

With a concept and process in the works, she began searching for corporations that might support her. In just two years, she harnessed the help of big companies like General Motors and the nonprofit, Detroit Zoological Society, and officially established Detroit Dirt. Today, General Motors donates its food waste to Detroit Dirt, and the Detroit Zoological Society donates herbivore manure.

Image: Anastasia McKendrick

Both types of remains are picked up from their respective locations and taken to Detroit Dirt, where they are mixed in with piles of compost on the site. In many ways the composting process, which allows waste piles to decompose between 5 months and 5 years, could be compared to producing a fine wine—if slightly smellier.

Detroit Dirt’s most recent effort to get the word out about waste management has been a partnership with another Detroit-born company, Shinola. The luxury watch purveyor produced a short film with Vice Media showing Murray in her everyday life as a Detroit native, doing the good work of Detroit Dirt, all while wearing Shinola’s watches.

Image: Courtesy

“I want to work with those who have showed me the most support,” she says. “From day one, Shinola was always helping to tell my story—even though I didn’t have a product or anything to share at that moment. They weren’t trying to make me be exclusive with them; they wanted to help me get something off the ground and that was very important to me. It was a no-brainer for me to work with them. I love their concept, I love the ethics behind what they’re doing.”

Detroit Dirt’s current product is an earthworm casting—or earthworm waste—often used by gardeners as fertilizer. At a net weight of five pounds, the casting is a natural organic soil enricher and can be used on all plant types. Detroit Dirt, through a partnership with Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit, is now for sale in Shinola stores in the US. One of Murray’s favorite things about gifting dirt is the nostalgia that comes with it. 

“It brings people back to the Earth,” she says. “In our day-to-day lives we get disconnected from agriculture and soil. That used to be part of all of our lives. I just want to connect people with the simple resource that gave us life.”

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