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Gainesville Composts To Divert Waste

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Hauling an 800-pound load by bike seems like a superhuman feat. For Wesley Durrance, it’s just another Friday.

The 24-year-old is a member of Gainesville Compost’s five-man bike crew who can be seen roaming the city streets picking up buckets of kitchen scraps from local restaurants and residents, and pulling green, metal bike trailers plastered with logos of the business’ growing client base.

Burrito Brothers, Karma Cream and Satchel’s are just a few of the more than 20 businesses who have the joined the company since its founding in 2011 on a mission to divert waste from landfills and from it create valuable soil feed.

Chris Cano digs his hands into a bucket of finished compost. “It’s incredibly soft and fluffy, he said. “And this was once food waste. I’m still shocked to this day when I touch this and just think that this was bound for the garbage.”
Chris Cano digs his hands into a bucket of finished compost. “It’s incredibly soft and fluffy,” he said. “And this was once food waste. I’m still shocked to this day when I touch this and just think that this was bound for the garbage.  Taylor Widom/WUFT News

The company partnered with Sweetwater Organic Coffee last week in the hope of further expanding Gainesville’s community composting network.

Sweetwater’s existing bike-powered delivery system will now include pickup of used coffee grounds at places like Harvest Thyme and Pop-a-Top to be given to Gainesville Compost.

Already, 34 local residents have signed up for Gainesville Compost’s collection services, and two to three more are registering every week. In the same time frame, the company is routinely composting more than a combined ton of coffee grounds, eggshells, and fruit and vegetable scraps into a velvety, nutrient-rich substance at 10 locations across Gainesville.

“When the bike trailers are moving around town, people notice them,” said Chris Cano, the company’s compost experience officer or CEO.

And people outside the city are noticing, too.

Other small-scale, pedal-powered composting operations are cropping up around the United States, many inspired by the success in Gainesville: L.A. Compost in Los Angeles; East Side Compost Pedallers in Austin, Texas; Well FED Compost in Savannah, Georgia; Common Ground Compost in New York City; and Carter’s Compost in Traverse City, Michigan. Three composting groups have even purchased bike trailers from Gainesville Compost.

“The conventional waste-hauling model relies on large, expensive, fossil-fuel-powered vehicles,” Cano said. “But when you have a home that is going to be filling up half a bucket, for a huge truck to go and stop at each home when the biggest cost of operating the vehicle is to stop and start, and stop and start, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in terms of viability unless you have massive participation.”

A Gainesville Compost employee demonstrates how kitchen scraps are sifted into finished compost after sitting to break down for about two months at Porter’s Community Farm in the heart of downtown Gainesville. “We love how we can participate in this very urban space, and we can do something agricultural,” said CEO Chris.
Gainesville Compost employee Bryan Konrad demonstrates how kitchen scraps are sifted into finished compost after sitting to break down for about two months at Porter’s Community Farm in the heart of downtown Gainesville. “We love how we can participate in this very urban space, and we can do something agricultural,” said CEO Chris. Taylor Widom / WUFT News

Until then, there is community composting. Small-scale, decentralized initiatives are changing the way people think about waste diversion.

“It’s probably the fastest-growing sector of the composting industry,” said Nora Goldstein of Biocycle Magazine, which held the second annual Cultivating Community Composting Forum this October in Baltimore.

Since 2013, the number of participants representing community-based composting programs around the country grew from 40 to 60.

“What’s remarkable is that it’s really engaging households and residents in a behavior that is extremely impactful in terms of how you can work towards helping the climate,” she said.

In Traverse City, Michigan, residents leading the effort have not yet hit puberty – composting has no age restrictions.

Carter’s Compost is powered by 10-year-old Carter Schmidt, eight of his friends and the endless energy and enthusiasm found only in children. Moms and dads bring the muscle.

Since the company started in early 2012, interest has spread and demand has soared. Even after buying three trailers from Gainesville Compost to help scale the business, Schmidt and his son cannot keep up.

“I have to turn away people because we can only do so much,” said Ty Schmidt, Carter’s father and the “vice president of pile-turning and bucket-scrubbing” at Carter’s Compost. “But I feel like it’s something that people appreciate – it’s one less truck on the road and less rumbling down the streets. There are enough garbage trucks as it is.”

He said the confused stares of neighbors have turned into equal parts wonder and excitement.

“It’s certainly a trend,” Schmidt said. “This whole revolution is coming.”

About Taylor Widom

Taylor is a reporter for WUFT News who may be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news @wuft.org

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