Chris Cano’s great aunt in Puerto Rico often tosses her food scraps around her banana tree to fertilize it. She doesn’t think Cano’s bicycle-powered composting business is interesting, because to her, composting is obvious.
“I think that there’s just this intuitive sense that composting makes sense,” Cano said. “And now we’re starting to remember it again.”
In 2011, Cano started Gainesville Compost, a community compost business that diverts food waste from Gainesville residents and restaurants to local composting sites that partner with his business.
“People want to separate their food waste and give it to a guy on a bike more than one of the titans of trash in Florida waste management,” Brenda Platt said, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
Cano, 27, designed a bicycle-trailer model that attaches bikes together, which helps haul his pickups around town. His design doesn’t require fossil fuels like the trucks used for commercial composting.
Platt said the bicycles make food-waste pickup more personal for locals, and it helps pique their interest in local composting over commercial composting, which ships the waste to compost in places outside the community.
She said when people see Cano’s trailer coming through town, they are more motivated to separate their food scraps and give them to him because they know they will serve a new purpose locally.
Cano said he has seen a dramatic growth in distributed community composting nationwide in the last five years, like the Super Bowl, which participated in composting for the first time in 2014. He said he agrees with a friend who runs Compost Cab in Washington, D.C. who told him he believes “food waste is sexy right now.”
Cano sold his trailer model to help entrepreneurs who are looking to get their own communities involved.
Platt said the trend in bicycle-powered composting is expanding nationwide as Cano helps usher in new methods for interested entrepreneurs.
Cano said he has developed ways to expand his support for compost entrepreneurs looking to start similar programs.
After reading an article about Cano in BioCycle, an online organic industry magazine, Jonathan Scheffel reached out to the Gainesville entrepreneur for inspiration about starting his own compost business. Scheffel was a farm director for a restaurant in Chicago and had been looking for ways to generate revenue year-round.
With Cano’s help, Scheffel adopted the bicycle-powered compost method – using a trailer engineered by Cano – and opened his business in July.
“Being on bikes is a real powerful way to communicate and connect with people,” Scheffel said.
He said through social media, community-compost companies worldwide are able to communicate and support each other while checking out each other’s business platforms.
“I’ve found myself in the middle of something that I feel like I have a real influence and stake in,” Cano said. “This has been a really amazing journey of entrepreneurship for me to start this quirky, odd, struggling thing and see it take off really as an idea and to be recognized for it and to be invited to speak and things like that.”
In January, Cano will be a part of the Cultivating Community Composting Forum at the COMPOST 2016
conference, which will feature worldwide composting and organics management industry leaders.
Cano will be able to help motivate and educate entrepreneurs who are interested in developing similar bike-powered composting programs.
“I think Chris, with his social media, his communication tools, the way he’s advertising, the equipment he’s designed— he’s one of the leaders in this movement on all those levels,” Platt said.
She said the forum will offer guidance, from outreach-communication strategies to the logistics of an effective route.
“This is where folks like Chris are absolutely key to share their lessons learned, so others can piggyback on their experience and do it as well,” Platt said.
Cano said he wants Gainesville to be the flagship example of teaching and coaching other compost businesses – resources his company provides.
“He’s really the new face for a lot of the composting activities taking place,” Platt said. “For somebody like me who’s been working this field for 30 years, I find him truly inspiring.”