From Waste to Wealth, Rust Belt Riders Transforming Food

Organization helps businesses keep food out of landfills

We’ve all been there: the guilty twinge as we throw out leftovers we forgot to eat, the wilted lettuce we didn’t use for lunch. It turns out America leads the world in food waste, a fact Cleveland-based Rust Belt Riders hopes to change for the better. By helping companies and individuals repurpose their food scraps, this organization aims to revolutionize the “throw it away” mentality to compostable future.

“In the United States, about 40 percent of all the food that’s grown ends up in landfills,” said Dan Brown, co-founder. “We spend roughly $218 billion annually on transportation, processing and disposal of food that’s never consumed. When 40 percent of the food that we grow ends up wasted, it makes hunger a little bit harder to stomach. From an environmental standpoint, there are also a lot of harmful methane emissions that result from food going to landfills.”

For Dan and the Rust Belt Riders team, these staggering numbers aren’t daunting—they’re motivating. Clients receive containers and receptacles to make collecting food waste easy and  provide a viable alternative to landfills. The team then transforms this waste into soil blends and other agricultural products.

“We’re working on a paradigm shift so people start thinking about things in a regenerative, cyclical way,” said Michael Robinson, co-founder. “We’re interested in finding ways to avoid creating waste in the first place. To make it easy for companies, we mimic a lot of the systems they’re used to, like recycling or collection services. Once we get our hands on the material, instead of burying it in a landfill, we transform it into something new, like our soil blend tilth.”

As recent recipients of the Echoing Green Fellowship, Rust Belt Riders is even closer to realizing their goal of creating comprehensive programs that will transform the disposal habits of not only organizations, but individual households.

“It’s hard to understate just how humbling and significant the Echoing Green Fellowship is,” said Brown. “There were around 3,000 applicants from all over the world, and 34 individuals were selected. We’re the only ones from Ohio in this cohort, and we’re proud to put a spotlight on the tremendous work that’s taking place in Cleveland. We know that this city could be a global leader for solving systemic issues that we’re trying to address.”

Before Rust Belt Riders was making waves with Echoing Green, they turned to JumpStart, a partner of Ohio Third Frontier, to help build the foundation for their business. They also were supported by the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.

“The community and support from JumpStart have been instrumental for us as humanities majors,” said Brown, laughing. “They helped us wrap our heads around the language of business and made introductions to industry leaders, so we really got to know and understand what we’re bringing to the table.”

Rust Belt Riders’ vision for a sustainable future is one that they’re hoping will soon expand throughout Ohio, continuing to challenge and change consumers’ conceptions of food.

“There’s a lot of work to be done, but it’s very fulfilling to be part of this effort toward building the world that we want to see,” said Robinson. “It’s amazing to watch this system create jobs in our communities and to see people being impacted by the way we’re reprioritizing the roles that food plays in our lives.”

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