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Want to know how your compost is faring? A local teen has created a device to do just that

A sensor sits on top of a compost box. Two wires extend from the sensor into decomposing leaves and food.
Angelina DiPaola
The Compai sensor tracks the moisture level and temperature of a compost pile.

A local high schooler’s science fair project turned into a nationally recognized innovation.

Recent Walnut Hills graduate Angelina DiPaola began experimenting with sensors and composting in eighth grade.

“I didn't have a very successful science fair,” DiPaola said. “All the bins turned out very smelly and made my basement completely uninhabitable. But I did come away with the idea that, 'Oh, I could use sensors to help people start composting.' ”

She’s since developed a smart home composting system with her dad and sister. They call it Compai. The device tracks the moisture levels and temperature of a compost pile — key indicators of its success.

“We can see how well our compost is doing based off of the temperature,” DiPaola said. “I think outside, it's like 90 degrees on a normal summer day. Our compost gets up to 120. So, it's really cooking through stuff.”

That information is then turned into advice on an app.

“Users are able to see the suggestions, but they're also able to ask questions in a community forum,” DiPaola said. “This will be connected with people’s ZIP codes. So, you're not going to get somebody in California who has completely different weather conditions, but you're going to get somebody in your local area that is able to explain and help you along through whatever composting problem that you might face.”

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DiPaola hopes her invention will empower more people to begin composting — something she grew up doing.

“When I would go to other people's houses when I was young for play dates or whatever, I would have a banana peel after eating a snack and I'd be like, ‘Where's your compost?’ ” DiPaola said. “And they would be like, ‘Just put it in the trash.’ That really pained me because I knew that compost could have so much benefit.”

The EPA calls composting “nature’s way of recycling.” Not only does it reduce food waste in landfills, composting also creates a nutrient-rich, fertilizing soil that can be used in gardens and yards.

DiPaola has been recognized by two national organizations for her compost monitoring device. In April she was named one of 25 Prudential Emerging Visionaries and recently, she won the Taco Bell Foundation Ambition Accelerator prize.

Locally, the Civic Garden Center and Gorman Heritage Farm use her technology.

DiPaola's ultimate goal with Compai is to get a million families to start composting. She is starting off by selling 100 of the devices.

Isabel joined WVXU in 2024 to cover the environment.