The Magnificent 3-Wheeled Composters
October 6, 2011
Groundwork Somerville (GWS), a Massachusetts organization that promotes sustainable community development, launched an innovative program called “SoilCycle” in the mid-2000s. The organization enabled residents of Somerville, an urban area where no municipal organic waste pickup exists, to recycle their food scraps, and better yet, reap some of the value from those food scraps.
To get the program off the ground, GWS employed local youths to retrieve organic waste in a specially modified bike-cart built by students at Somerville High School. For a small fee, subscribers helped fund green jobs and divert organic waste from landfills, and they received high quality organic soil in return. Rather than dumping food scraps at a large composting facility outside the city, Groundwork processed the organics on-site, enabling the organization to produce soil made out of its customers’ very own food scraps.
Though initially successful, in 2010 SoilCycle seemed destined to be a short-lived program as funding issues at GWS forced the organization to cut its fledgling compost pickup program. But just as SoilCycle was on its last legs, Metro Pedal Power stepped in to save it.
Metro Pedal Power, a startup that partnered with GWS early in the SoilCycle program, rescued SoilCycle before it could be shut down. The company, which bills itself as “Boston’s Human Powered Delivery Service,” does a lot of business delivering Community Supported Agriculture farm shares by bicycle to hundreds of residents throughout greater Boston. Metro Pedal Power already had the equipment, and its headquarters was already located in Somerville, so taking over SoilCycle was a perfect fit.
Metro Pedal Power’s drivers picked up where the youth workers of GWS left off and started composting in the yard behind their offices. The organization uses pedal trucks – large tricycles with cargo boxes on the back – to pick up organic materials from subscribers each week. Metro Pedal Power has even devised a way to ease its pickup process by issuing compostable food scrap bags. These bags, which are a great item for any SSO superhero to have in his or her toolkit, enable drivers to easily move organic waste from their trikes to compost bins, with no unpacking, shoveling, or mess.
Once the food scraps are inside the barrels, they get chopped up, mixed with sawdust, and periodically turned on rollers. This simple, effective system allows SoilCycle to deliver a nutrient-rich soil product back to the same folks who provided the feedstock.
Soil Cycle Today
Metro Pedal Power has steadily grown SoilCycle to include about 50 subscribers. The team expects the program to continue growing as the word spreads, especially now that the organization has expanded SoilCycle to include nearby Cambridge, MA. Today customers have pickup options ranging from $25 to $50 per month with the higher-paying customers receiving greater amounts of compost for their gardens. Moving forward, the Metro Pedal Power team is working with a group of students from MIT on a design for a waste pulper that will help expedite the composting process as the number of subscribers continues to swell.
From using unusual pickup vehicles to innovating home composting techniques, the SoilCycle story shows that even urban dwellers can use their creativity to become SSO Superheroes!