Wheels of com­post­ing are turn­ing

Com­pa­nies roll out new way to fill gaps in messy prob­lem

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Libby Rainey

It’s a steamy Fri­day morn­ing, and Christi Turner is el­bows-deep in com­post. Armed with yel­low gloves and an equally sunny smile, she is un­de­terred as flies buzz and a strong stench rises around the Dump­ster where she’s toss­ing an­i­mal skins, pizza dough and other heavy-duty food refuse.

Re­mov­ing straws and re­cy­clables from the fresh pile of waste, Turner cleans her gloves and the newly empty com­post bins. Job done, she hops on her bike and sets off for an­other pickup point.

This smelly op­er­a­tion is all part of a day’s work for Scraps, a small-scale, bike-based com­post­ing com­pany that Turner launched this year. She uses a bike with a trailer to col­lect com­post from restau­rants and apart­ment build­ings that oth­er­wise would throw their extra food in the garbage. Mul­ti­ple times a week, she takes to the side streets and thor­ough­fares of Den­ver to wheel or­ganic waste to a con­tainer in the heart of down­town.

Then it’s picked up by Alpine Waste & Re­cy­cling, which trans­ports the waste to a com­post pro­cess­ing fa­cil­ity where it’s turned into hearty soil to be resold. In her first month on the job, Turner com­posted 3,734 pounds of waste.

“We want to make com­post­ing cool and easy,” Turner says while ped­al­ing from RiNo, where she picked up the com­post, to the Dump­ster just off 16th Street. “We’re a last-mile so­lu­tion.”

Turner is part of a grow­ing move­ment to fill the gaps in Den­ver’s food waste man­age­ment us­ing bikes. Along with Den­ver Food Res­cue, a non­profit that saves food that would oth­er­wise be thrown away from gro­cery stores and takes it di­rectly to com­mu­ni­ties in need, Scraps of­fers hy­per­local so­lu­tions that the city and oth­ers may not pro­vide. Both groups do the bulk of their work from bikes, al­low­ing neigh­bor­hood-based pro­grams to of­fer im­me­di­ate de­liv­er­ies with­out a mid­dle­man.

“I want Scraps to be a model of

how bikes can get stuff done,” Turner said. “This is a way of mov­ing our­selves around that shouldn’t be looked at as some sort of pas­sion project. This is a means of mo­bil­ity that is more sus­tain­able.”

De­spite ex­pand­ing its com­post­ing ser­vices in re­cent years, Den­ver’s waste di­ver­sion rate is 20 per­cent, com­pared to the na­tional av­er­age of 34. Den­ver com­posted nearly 6,000 tons of or­ganic ma­te­rial in 2016, and this spring started two new com­post pick-up routes. The city will add four more this fall, aim­ing to ser­vice al­most all res­i­den­tial homes by the end of 2017. But Den­ver doesn’t of­fer com­post­ing to mul­ti­fam­ily homes with more than seven units, said Char­lotte Pitt, who man­ages re­cy­cling for the city.

Turner de­signed her busi­ness to fill this gap. Scraps started col­lect­ing com­post in June and so far has only four cus­tomers — restau­rants in the RiNo and High­land. She makes runs four times a week, sav­ing an av­er­age of 350 to 425 pounds of com­post on each trip. Soon, she’ll start ser­vic­ing apart­ment build­ings at a price of $10 a month and a $20 start-up fee for each unit.

“I don’t think we were even aware of how much trash we were pro­duc­ing un­til we started com­post­ing,” said Ta­batha Knop, a man­ager at RiNo restau­rant Work & Class, Scraps’ first cus­tomer. The restau­rant has re­duced its trash out­put by 75 per­cent.

Just a cou­ple of months into busi­ness, Turner is in­un­dated with re­quests for her ser­vices. More than a hun­dred in­di­vid­u­als have ex­pressed in­ter­est in us­ing Scraps, and the num­ber of restau­rants it serves is grow­ing, too.

“I think we’ll be­gin to see even more busi­nesses uti­liz­ing bikes for de­liv­ery,” said Dan Grunig, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Bi­cy­cle Colorado. “Bikes park right by the front door. Even though point to point, a car may be able to travel a dis­tance faster, when you fac­tor in the whole trip time door to door, bikes are a great op­tion.”

This model has proved true for Den­ver Food Res­cue, a non­profit that has been oper­at­ing since 2012. The pro­gram co­or­di­nates an ever-grow­ing net­work of vol­un­teers, who pedal be­tween food dis­trib­u­tors and neigh­bor­hood drop-offs to pro­vide fresh food for un­der­served com­mu­ni­ties.

Den­ver Food Res­cue tends to pick up food with a short shelf life, mean­ing there’s no time for the gro­ceries to sit in a ware­house await­ing dis­tri­bu­tion. That’s where the bikes come in handy: vol­un­teers wheel trail­ers packed with pro­duce and other food­stuffs straight from dis­trib­u­tors to 14 des­ig­nated “no-cost gro­cery pro­grams” through­out the city, lo­cated in Mont­bello, Chaf­fee Park, Elyria Swansea and else­where.

The im­me­di­ate de­liv­ery means pro­duce and other per­ish­able goods are still fresh upon ar­rival. Turner Wy­att, the Food Res­cue’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, said 80 to 90 per­cent of the food they save is pro­duce. And un­like many food pick-up pro­grams, they don’t have a min­i­mum pick-up re­quire­ment.

“We will go to a cor­ner store and pick up one bag of food,” Wy- att said.

The bike-based, hy­per-lo­cal model has proven so suc­cess­ful that Den­ver Food Res­cue re­cently part­nered with Den­ver Ur­ban Gar­dens and Ground­work Den­ver on a pro­gram called Fresh Food Con­nect, which al­lows peo­ple to do­nate extra pro­duce grown in home or com­mu­nity gar­dens. Youth em­ploy­ees use bikes and trail­ers to pick up the food di­rectly from donors’ homes.

Start­ing this week, the pro­duce will be sold at a pay-what-you-can farm stand on East 30th Av­enue and Richard Allen Court ev­ery Thurs­day.

Den­ver Food Res­cue saved more than 320,000 pounds of food in 2016 and is on track to res­cue 450,000 by the end of this year. Al­most all of that weight was hauled by in­di­vid­ual vol­un­teers, bik­ing across the city.

“A big truck can pull a lot more than a bike can, but (this) saves a lot of fos­sil fu­els,” said Sam Talar­czyk, a first-time vol­un­teer who helped de­liver 222 pounds of gro­ceries to the Cope Boys and Girls Club on Inca Street last month.

Passers-by cheered Talar­czyk and other vol­un­teers on as they whizzed down side streets from the Sprouts on East Col­fax Av­enue, trail­ers packed with food be­hind them.

“So many of our kids and par­ents are re­ally into not qual­ity — they’re into quan­tity,” said Julio Flores, the club’s site di­rec­tor. “They’re not think­ing about healthy — they’re think­ing about sur­vival. This is giv­ing them an op­por­tu­nity to start think­ing about other habits.”

Gabriel Scar­lett, The Den­ver Post

Joel Cruz, an in­tern for Scraps, a small-scale, bike-based com­post­ing com­pany, ped­als around the streets of Den­ver last month. He was col­lect­ing com­post from some of Scraps’ clients.

Gabriel Scar­lett, The Den­ver Post

Scraps founder Christi Turner pre­pares to col­lect com­post from some of her Den­ver clients.

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