Does the job of a New York bicycle messenger or New Delhi rickshaw driver sound too cushy for you? Want something more challenging? Do we have a job for you!
Take out the trash, one bike ride at a time, for Compost Pedallers in Austin, Texas. Is it challenging? You bet it is. Twenty-seven-year-old Dustin Fedako started the business of delivering household food scraps to willing composters three years ago, and since then it has taken off.
"We are the largest bicycle composter," he told me. "We currently have six bikes and 16 routes a week. There are seven full-time equivalent drivers, three full-time staff on customer support and operations, and six or so part-time cyclists — they're very dedicated people."
They'd have to be. Fedako says pedicab operators only carry cargo when they have fares aboard, while his compost drivers are constantly moving under full load. "At the moment we’re limiting them to 25 hours a week, because this is very physically demanding work," he said. "There's no breaks in between, just a lot of carrying loads of up to 500 pounds each. You hit a brick wall eventually."
No wonder the American-made, front-loading bikes are very low-geared. They're adapted from a Dutch design, serving a European market that's going nuts for cargo bikes.
Compost Pedallers is a successful business, scoring high on the virtuous scale. Since its first collection in 2012, it has diverted 500,000 pounds of waste from landfills and avoided emission of 70 tons of methane. Some 600 members pay $16 a month to have their organics collected by the cargo bikes, and the aromatic goods are delivered to a network of 22 urban farms that turn this free windfall (with a street value of $13,000) into homemade compost. There's a waiting list of 1,200 potential members waiting for the Pedallers to expand.
A study by the city of Austin says that 46 percent of its residential trash stream could be composted. Austin hasn't reached that lofty goal yet, but it's lucky it has any — only 3 percent of Americans are served by existing pick-up composting services.
"Urban solutions make sense to us," Fedako says, "because we're adding 120,000 people to the planet every day, and 80 percent of us will end up in cities. "We're throwing out organic materials that could be used to build a greener city — instead of throwing it into landfills where it creates the methane that aggravates global warming."
Yeah, yeah, but biking 500-pound loads up Austin's hills? Are there more relaxing solutions? Did Thoreau do it this way?
Funny you should ask. Compost Pedallers is launching an Indiegogo campaign on Nov. 10 to raise what seems a modest amount — $35,000 — to buy Trek electric bikes with custom-made trailers. Each one of those rigs, while making the drivers' lives much easier, should be able to divert 200,000 pounds of organic material from the landfill annually.
I know, you'd expect to see this business in Portland, home of the bicycle movers and "Portlandia." But it's pure Lone Star State, and it's inspiring not just other American cities, but the entire globe.
"It's really exciting," Fedako says. "Over the last three years we've gotten inquiries from 120 different cities and seven countries. They like the model and want to imitate it — Mexico, Canada, Spain, France. We had another five inquiries in just the last 10 days."
Want to pedal for a living, while saving the planet? A job awaits — today, in Austin; tomorrow the world. Here's a look at the Compost Pedallers on video: