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'The Rot Riders' Bike for Compost

On Sunday afternoons in Kirskville, Mo., a group of trailer-towing bike riders collect local food waste and turn it into compost.

On Sunday afternoons, a handful of trailer-towing bike riders pedal through the neighborhoods of Kirksville, Missouri, stopping at select lawns and porches to collect buckets brimming with food waste. The unwanted contents are raw material for compost piles, which any green thumb in the community can use to nourish her garden. The environmentally-minded two-wheeler crew called “The Rot Riders” has made weekly rounds since spring 2010, collecting from more than 40 houses and apartments within striking distance of downtown Kirksville. The number of food waste donors is growing fast, and the program is earning more recognition—it finished as the runner-up in GOOD Maker's recent GOOD Citizenship challenge.

Inspired by a Northampton, Massachusetts waste collection company called “Pedal People,” cofounders Jonathan Lessing, Rodery Riney, and Allison Sissom developed the idea for Rot Riders as a project for a student-led grassroots environmentalism course at the local college, Truman State University. Now a community-centered group, Rot Riders involves a pack of five core riders, plus or minus a few volunteers, who break up into pairs, divide the route, and collect buckets of compost left on porches. The rotting goods are taken to Truman’s University Farm compost pile, where they're mixed with other ingredients like campus food waste, leaves, straw, sawdust and manure. The resulting compost takes roughly three months to break down and is made available to all local gardeners.

Crew member Kyle LaVelle says getting involved in Rot Riders is easy—all that's needed is an ice cream bucket or other container to hold the organic waste. “I was initially drawn to the idea of the Rot Riders [as] community action to close the broken nutrient cycle in our soil,” he says. “I've stayed motivated because we keep things fun. My hope is that more people will get involved, with our project or in their own.” And the concept serves as a model for smaller communities where public works may not yet have gotten on board with municipal composting.

Though most of the riders are Truman State students, the team is looking for volunteers to expand the group. Bikers, organic waste collectors, and composters are all welcome—all you need to do is send an email to

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