Compost Pedallers turns food waste into a boon for local communities

Here's the problem: Around the world, 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted each year — an estimated one third of the world's food supply, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

This not only causes significant economic losses, but also has detrimental impacts on the environment. Food waste occurs not only on the industrial level, but also at restaurants and households every single day. A significant amount of food waste finds its way into landfills, producing vast amounts of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Meanwhile, there is growing demand for organic compost from community gardens and urban farms. It's a complex, global challenge. How can we address it on the local level?

 Activating the Urban Commons

Here's how one organization is working on the problem: Compost Pedallers is tackling the problem head-on by taking discarded food and turning it into a beneficial resource for local communities. Compost Pedallers is a 100 percent bike-powered compost recycling enterprise in Austin, Texas, that collects compostable organic waste from homes and businesses and takes it to local urban farms and community gardens. This integrated approach reduces food waste and creates compost for urban agriculture, which strengthens local food systems and fosters social connectedness at the neighborhood level.

The group's fleet of cargo bikes are outfitted with three 32-gallon bins. Each bike can carry 500-800 pounds of food waste. Pedallers engage the community by polling neighborhood residents to determine which areas they should serve. The organization also has a rewards program called "The Loop," which lets composters earn points that can be redeemed at local businesses for seasonal produce, drinks, and yoga classes. 

Results:

  • In 2012, Compost Pedallers started its inaugural compost collection from just over 30 residential homes in Austin's Cherrywood neighborhood. According to chief executive officer and founder Dustin Fedako, Compost Pedallers now serves more than 600 residential members and 30 commercial members, and has turned over 700,000 pounds of organic waste into compost. Residential members pay $16 per month and commercial members pay between $30- $200 each month.
  • According to the organization's website, "biking keeps the resources local, creates local jobs, eliminates fossil fuels and maximizes efficiency." By using the cargo bikes, the group has saved more than 55,000 gallons of fuel since 2012 and over 4 million calories have been expended from pedallers creating healthy citizens and environment.
  • Grassroots solutions can be very context-specific; just because a solution works in one community doesn't mean it will be applicable in another. While Compost Pedallers cargo bikes have successfully diverted nearly 1 million pounds of organics, one should take into account the density of pickup and drop-off points, terrain, bike lane infrastructure, and cultural perception of cycling before implementing a bicycle-based service. 

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This case study is adapted from our latest book, "Sharing Cities: Activating the Urban Commons." Get a copy today.

Header image of Madeleine Froncek with compost trailer provided by Compost Pedallers.
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