Diverting waste from landfills without emissions.
Composting is mandatory in a growing number of cities and states across the U.S. BioCycle magazine estimates that roughly 200 communities now offer curbside pickup for organic waste. While many of these operations use gas-guzzling trucks to transport compost, an Austin startup is cutting emissions out of the process completely—with bikes.
For $4 a week, Compost Pedallers will pick up food scraps from your home by bike and drop the waste off at local farms and gardens. Since launching in December 2012, the company has covered most of central Austin, signed up about 600 members (including households and small businesses), and diverted more than 500,000 pounds of organic waste from landfills. Now, with the support of Indiegogo donors, they’re investing in a new fleet of e-bikes to bring that total to 1 million pounds.
With the built-in electric assist, these cargo bikes will allow Compost Pedallers to enter neighborhoods that were previously too hilly to manage. But CEO Dustin Fedako also wants to make sure that each additional neighborhood has the green infrastructure to support service. Prospective members are asked to join a waiting list to indicate local demand. “We are dependent on the landscape, density, and urban farms and community gardens that we can partner with,” says Fedako. “We try to take an ultralocal approach. We treat each neighborhood as its own service area with its own profile.” The company will focus on covering central Austin rather than the entire city footprint; in the sprawling suburbs, it makes less sense to haul compost by bike.
Compost Pedallers isn’t unique in relying on foot power; similar bike-powered programs have cropped up in Cleveland, Traverse City, Northampton, and other communities around the country. But Fedako believes that Compost Pedallers is the largest program of its kind, with some 20 farms and gardens in the network. The company also introduced a membership rewards program to “expand beyond our die-hard users to a larger demographic,” Fedako tells CityLab. The more you compost, the more points you earn toward freebies and deals at local businesses. One new perk the company is offering with the Indiegogo campaign: the option to donate composting service to a qualifying low-income family within the service area.
It’s all part of a larger effort to grow the idea of community composting as a pillar of urban sustainability. Compost Pedallers works with the city of Austin to develop comprehensive organic waste management policies—similar to New York City’s composting initiative, which operates at the municipal and at the grassroots level. Austin is currently in the process of implementing a mandatory composting program for all businesses with a food permit.
Since Compost Pedallers took off, Fedako has received many inquiries from people around the world hoping to emulate the bike-powered model. He’s already consulted with community composters in Houston, New Orleans, Olympia, and other cities in the U.S., and hopes to share the company’s insights more widely with a free ebook. “We’re trying to build a solution that works for the core of the city of Austin and other urban cores,” Fedako says.