Moving on Two Wheels

What drew me into bicycle powered compost collection was its simplicity. I also really like riding my bicycle! A bike, a trailer, some buckets, and some bins. Those were the big ticket items to start this business. It also helps that Richmond isn’t too big (roughly 6 x 8 miles) that I could do this by bicycle.

Bicycles also have hidden cost savings that are hard to pass up (when compared to doing this with a bigger truck): (the list below is mostly taken from Pedal People who made this point years ago)

  • Clean air: Diesel exhaust particles can cause or exacerbate many health problems, including asthma and other respiratory illnesses, and have been linked to cancer and premature death [1].
  • No pavement damage: Trucks cause nearly all of the load-related damage to pavement. A vehicle weighing five tons causes over 100 times as much damage as a vehicle weighing one ton [2]. Getting trucks off the residential streets means the pavement lasts longer, saving the city and its taxpayers money.
  • Quiet: There’s no engine or compactor noise with bicycles.
  • Local economy: A greater percentage of the money you pay for this type of service stays in the local economy instead of getting spent on foreign oil.
  • Less waste: Trucks are most efficient at transporting large quantities long distances. Picking up residential compost/recycling/trash requires many stops and starts. Every time a truck accelerates from a stop, it emits soot and smog-forming pollution.
  • Community Building: On my bike I get to interact with lots of different people that I wouldn’t get to while driving a vehicle. This can be a better way to build bonds with various people in different neighborhoods.
  • Health Care: Getting exercise increases my overall health and can result in lower health care costs on my part.

With all this in mind I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to operate this business by using a bicycle as my main mode of transportation. Are there times that I am unable to use my bike to collect food scraps? Yes it has happened 2 or 3 times in the 2+ years I have been doing this. Every other time I am out on my bike making my rounds.

It’s also worth pointing out the cost effectiveness of using a bicycle for transportation. The money spent on maintenance is slim compared to a vehicle and zero money is spent on gas. Even using an electric assist bicycle is more cost effective than a vehicle though the up front price is higher than for a regular bicycle. The electricity used to recharge the battery is very minimal, so money spent on “refueling” is still going to be way less than money spend on refueling a vehicle.

I have had to get used to people giving me weird looks while I am out doing my runs. I also know there are pictures of me out there somewhere on the internet making fun of me. It is probably weird for a lot of people to see someone riding a bicycle around town in not-so-great weather collecting what is essentially “garbage” to them. I hope that when people see me out making my pick ups that they realize that things don’t have to be done a certain way just because it has been for a long time. We can look at how we do the things we do and see if there is a better way.

Why Do This?

This is a particular question I have been asking myself here lately. To be honest there are others who have been asking me this same question. It’s a good question to ask because the way Rose City Compost runs is different than what we have come to expect here in the US. We have grown accustom to big corporations doing/making most everything for us: entertainment, food, transportation, banking, and many other goods and services we consume. So, having some local person ride a bicycle around a Midwestern city pulling a trailer full of food scraps will make anyone question why that person is doing it they way they are.

I started thinking more about my life and what I was doing when I found out I was going to be a father. Questions started arising around what values and ethics my wife and I wanted to instill in our new addition to our family. Those questions led to changing our actions in certain areas of our life. We started questioning why we were buying certain things, why we were throwing certain things away, why were we driving everywhere when we could ride or walk, where things we bought were coming from, what affects were our actions having on others, etc. (Keeping in mind we are far from perfect, but it is a good thing to always be questioning why we do what we do and what affects we have on others we do/do not meet.)

During this time of questioning I came across a couple of different groups that were doing things differently and making a positive impact where they lived. Pedal to Petal from up in Canada and Compost Pedallers in Texas. I have always liked riding my bicycle and I never imagined that riding my bike could be used as a part of a business. Not a business that was only in it to make money, but to have a good lasting impact on a local community. It wasn’t only that particular aspect that caught my attention, but the simpleness of their respective businesses that was inspiring. All they need to start is a bicycle, a trailer and a place to compost their food scraps. Getting started did not require a huge investment.

They were completing the part of the food cycle that we have glossed over in our food industry. Taking our leftover food scraps and returning it back into the cycle of food production, but they were using simple tools and methods to provide a service for their communities.  After a lot of thinking/dreaming/planning this was something I wanted to be a part of!

There are many other benefits that come with doing this particular type of business this way (which will be topics of later posts), but what has stayed with me is its simpleness in doing an important work. We do not need to have someone else with a huge startup investment to get the ball rolling in our local communities to try and make them better. A little creative thinking, a few friends, a few dollars, and some luck can go a long way.