Urban composting — by bike!

Guest Blogger : Guy Schaffer

BK ROT is a composting service and youth employment project in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Each week, youth workers pick up food scraps on bike from 47 households and 5 businesses, and turn them into compost that will get sold or donated to local gardening and urban agriculture projects. Since Spring of 2016, all three of our bikers have sported Nutcase Helmets whenever they’re out on the road.

When Sandy Nurse came up with the idea for BK ROT in 2011, she wanted to address two big issues: one was the need for composting infrastructure that could allow urban dwellers to do something productive with their food scraps while keeping them local. The other was the need for good jobs for Black and Brown youth, working class youth, and immigrant youth in the growing green economy of New York City.

Sandy explains that BK ROT is “trying to find ways to put value on the ecological work that needs to happen in Bushwick, and to create opportunities for the people who don’t get to get that kind of work or who are usually less considered for it.” BK ROT is building a new kind of recycling system, one that doesn’t just turn trash into value: it turns trash into good jobs, green space, and community.

Alongside co-facilitator Renee Peperone, Sandy helps to coordinate the week-to-week activities of BK ROT. But most of the work is done by the project’s youth, who communicate with customers, manage payments, pick up food scraps, turn them into compost, distribute finished product, and represent the project at public events.

The youth aren’t just hauling waste, they are becoming experts at running a compost system, and it shows when you talk to them: they know what’s going on at the microbial level in a compost pile, how to tell if a pile needs more browns or more water, when the compost is ready to sift and sell.

As BK ROT has grown (we now compost 4300 pounds of organic material every month!) the youth workers have spent more of their time on bike, collecting food scraps from our expanding customer base. This means bike safety has become more important than ever for BK ROT, and the helmets donated by Nutcase keep our riders safe and visible as they navigate the streets of Bushwick and Bed-Stuy.

With help from Nutcase and other generous donors, BK ROT has been able to grow and implement a project that keeps food scraps local and creates good jobs for youth. If you’d like to get involved in BK ROT, or to become a member, please visit bkrot.org, or follow us on Instagram (@bk_rot) or on Facebook.
Guy Schaffer
PhD Candidate, Science and Technology Studies
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute