I’m helping make Austin Net-Zero by: running a 100% bike-powered composting company.
Austin is green and we all want to keep it that way! As a community, we’re committed to reaching the target of Net-Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, which will ensure a safe, healthy, vibrant Austin for many years to come. Here’s the story of how one person can make a difference.
Meet Dustin Fedako, co-founder and CEO of the Compost Pedallers — an organics collection business with roots in Austin. Compost Pedallers uses bicycles to collect organic waste from member’s homes and pedals it to nearby urban farms and community gardens. In addition to helping Austin reach our Net-Zero goal through his business, Dustin is also an avid cyclist and chairs the Food Recovery Working Group for Austin’s Food Policy Board. There, he coordinates a dynamic collection of public and private stakeholders — all working to find ways to get previously wasted food in the hands of hungry Austinites.
We spoke with Dustin on how he did it, what his toughest challenges have been, and what advice he has for others looking to live Net-Zero. Read more below.
Eric Goff and I founded Compost Pedallers back in 2012 to divert organics away from Austin landfills, and to make our collections in the most sustainable way possible. Our fleet of cargo bikes collects your food scraps and shuttles them to a network of nearby farms and gardens to support Austin's local food system.
Since we make all of our collections by bike, and compost is known to pull carbon out of the atmosphere in a process called sequestration, we are actually a Net-NEGATIVE company! To date, our cyclists have burned 4,700,000 calories. We like to joke that we run on fat, not fossil fuels.
Fresh out of college, I took a door-to-door job that essentially had me talking to thousands of strangers about their waste. I quickly came face-to-face with the sheer magnitude of the problem. In Austin alone, the equivalent of 15 garbage trucks carrying roughly $38,000 worth of food is going to the landfill every single day! I also had the chance to speak with all kinds of Austinites who were just as repulsed by this reality as I was — good people who didn't want to be making all this trash, but didn't feel like they had another option. That experience inspired me to search for solutions that could bridge the divide between people's values and their actions.
You could say I started by changing the way I related to waste. Sure, you could think of the amount of waste we create as this giant crushing problem. But once I realized that pretty much all the stuff we throw away is basically just a resource that's in the wrong place, I began to reframe the problem as an opportunity. If we could design ways to capture these previously wasted resources and put them to use, imagine all the good we could do! With that mindset, I began to build a new kind of recycling program, one that separated organics like food scraps and coffee grounds from homes and businesses, and connected them with nearby farmers ready to break them down into compost for their gardens. You can think of Compost Pedallers like the dot connectors — kind of like OkCupid for your food scraps. In this way, we make it easy for our customers to reduce their trash by about a third!
Running a bike-powered organization is not for the weak minded — or weak-legged! Little things like rain and hills can become enormous logistical challenges. But perhaps the toughest part has been the ongoing battle with our biggest competitor: the trash can. Simply put, humans make trash because it's easy. By externalizing many of the real costs associated with making garbage, our society has made it very cheap and incredibly convenient to throw stuff away. The real work lies in educating people about the true cost of making trash, and providing compelling alternatives.
Our intention behind Compost Pedallers has always been to help grow a greener, more connected Austin, and I'm proud of the fact that our bikes have diverted nearly a million pounds away from the landfill and into our local food system. To date, we have donated about $23,000 worth of organics to over 30 farms and gardens in central Austin, and our bikes have saved nearly 60,000 gallons of diesel from being burned during collections. That said, more than the numbers, the most gratifying part for me is the community of composters we have helped bring together. None of this would be possible without our amazing members.
Another fun and unexpected part of this journey has been all the interest we've received from all over the globe. I never thought I would be consulting with and supporting other recycling entrepreneurs from as far as Cape Town, South Africa and as close as San Antonio.
If you are looking to make your lifestyle more sustainable, start simply with one small step. Bike to work once a week, try out meatless Mondays, or take up composting. Through the simple act of tossing organics into their green bin, our composters reduce their waste stream by an average of 450 pounds a year! Once you have taken that first small step and built it into your everyday routine, start thinking about what other small steps you can take. And repeat.
For those of you interested in starting or growing a business, remember that waste is just a resource in the wrong place. Wherever you find waste, what you're really looking at is a big fat opportunity, waiting for you to do something about it.
To learn more about Austin's Net-Zero Goal, view the Community Climate Plan.
Share your Net-Zero contributions with us on Twitter or Facebook and use #NetZeroHero. If you know a Net-Zero Hero who should be recognized for their efforts, send your nomination to firstname.lastname@example.org.