Bicycle-Based Compost Collection Turns Town Toward Smarter Sanitation

compost sign photo

photo by kirstyhall via Flickr CC

Composting is catching on nationwide as more cities provide services to residents for collecting food, landscape clippings and other compostable separate from recylables and landfill waste. But to test out if the St. Paul, Minn.'s Macalester-Groveland neighborhood is ready for such a program, Sonya Ewert is hopping on a 27-gear bike with a custom-made trailer and going door to door to collect compostables from residents. The bike-powered composting service is part of an experiment -- if enough residents like having their food waste collected, the city may move forward in providing the service on a large scale through their waste and recycling collection services. For Ewert, helping to get the new component added to the sanitation service is truly a (smelly) labor of love. The Star Tribune writes That the project is a three-month long experiment to see if the residents are keen to compost, and if so, Eureka Recycling may take on collecting food waste separately as part of their service. For the area, food waste represents about 12% of the waste stream, and food-contaminated paper another 10%, so the potential for waste diversion from landfills is huge.

More towns and cities are adopting composting as the benefits are made clear. In San Francisco, for example, composting is mandatory and through it and other recycling efforts the city has an over 70% waste diversion rate, and growing. The composted material goes to local farms and vineyards, so the city's waste is literally helping to grow the food it eats.

The new bike collection service is for people who want to reduce their waste stream but not manage their own compost piles or worm bins. It includes the things that aren't easy to compost and are usually better handled by municipal facilities, like dairy and oils.

"It's been a bit smellier than I anticipated, but in general if I get paid to bike around, I can't complain about that," Ewert said.

"We'd like to move towards a zero-waste city by 2020," said Tim Brownell, Eureka's CEO. Eureka will collect data on homeowner participation, the amount of food waste composted, the economics of different collection methods, and what people learned about composting from fliers and workshops last spring. Collections began last month and will continue until mid-September.

Even if the bike-powered composting service is a success, the area still needs to be granted permits and enact a revision of solid-waste rules that allow for commercial composting. But if the interest is clearly demonstrated, that could be a lot easier to accomplish. And it'd be amazing if somehow they keep bikes as the low-carbon collection vehicles of choice!

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