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Local program diverts thousands of pounds of trash away from landfills

Posted at 4:39 PM, Dec 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-05 16:39:37-05

CLEVELAND — The average American wastes one pound every single day, which means about 20% of the food we buy ends up in the trash.

Five years ago, a pair of guys from Cleveland set out on their bicycles to try and divert that mounting waste away from landfills.

"We just don't think very much about our garbage," said Michael Robinson. "We put it into a container, it goes to the curb and poof it's gone."

Robinson and his buddy Daniel found themselves asking complete strangers to give them their trash and started cruising around town on two wheels, with the hopes of collecting fresh food scraps from nearby restaurants and coffee houses.

The eggshells, orange rinds, coffee grounds they collected found their way into compost piles.

"They are a living, breathing, organism in themselves," said Zoe Apisdorf, Rust Belt Riders.

The decomposing trash inside over time transforms into nutrients to help grow new locally produced food.

The Rust Belt Riders started small, with a handful of businesses initially on board.

"We were in a community that already saw the value," said Robinson.

It didn't take long for their operation to quickly blossom, forcing the guys to trade in their two wheels for four.

"We did have a dream when we were on bicycles of having a fleet that was able to handle a lot more material," said Robinson.

Every week, Robinson and his team collect 50,000 pounds of food waste.

"A big leap from 300 lbs. at a time on the back of a bicycle," said Robinson.

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History is among 150 schools, restaurants and grocery stores now diverting their food scraps.

"We find more that people are coming to us," said Apisdorf.

Recently, Rust Belt Riders launched a new residential service in Shaker Heights to get their hands on even more trash.

"A huge chunk of it is generated at the individual level at home," said Robinson.

Robinson said all the recent chatter about climate change has helped more people realize the importance of their work.

"There's something bad that happens when food waste goes to a landfill," said Robinson.

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