For most city residents, curbside recycling and large recycling trucks tend to go hand-in-hand. But the Pedal Co-Op is changing all that in Philadelphia by meeting the recycling and composting needs of more than 30 businesses by bicycle.
Founded by a group of college students in 2007, Pedal Co-Op is a worker-run organization that sends a small fleet of trailer-towing bicycles out onto the busy city streets. Riders stop by participating businesses, load their recyclables into the trailers and ride on to the next stop. A single rider often hauls hundreds of pounds through crowded neighborhoods.
It’s tough work, but for retired Marine Jack Fisher, doing a good deed while getting a great workout makes this job a win-win.
“I started with Pedal Co-Op because I was trying to get some extra training for a marathon,” says Fisher, 51. “The founder actually tried to talk me out of it. I was a little older than the rest of their riders. But as soon as I started, I really enjoyed it. It’s the best work-out ever.”
After the marathon, Fisher stuck with the Co-Op, sometimes carrying the majority of the route himself when other riders were unavailable due to school commitments.
“It’s hard work, but we’re providing a service,” Fisher says. “If one of our businesses needs something picked up, we have to be there.”
Recyclable items are delivered to Blue Mountain Recycling, the only single-stream recycling center in the city, and compost is transported to community gardens throughout Philadelphia.
So, what’s the benefit of recycling and composting by bicycle when a larger load can be carried by truck? For Pedal Co-Op, there are many.
First, there is currently no curbside composting program in place in Philadelphia, and Pedal Co-Op allows many business owners to compost their organics when they never had the resources to do it before.
Perhaps more importantly, the organization is on a mission to prove that industrial trucks don’t have to be commonplace in urban areas when there are more environmentally friendly ways to do the same job.
Philadelphia currently uses a 200-diesel-truck fleet for waste removal, leading to pollution and smog, potential health risks and heavy damage to city streets.
Studies show that fumes and toxic particulate emissions from diesel trucks can account for 60 to 90 percent of urban pollution, a figure that shocked Pedal Co-Op founders. And with Philadelphia ranking in the top 25 most polluted cities by the American Lung Association, members felt they had to do something to improve the quality of life and air in the city.
“Our mission is to promote bicycling and provide recycling and composting services to businesses and residents,” says Fisher. “We’re one of the greenest businesses there is. All we use is oxygen, and we never have to throw anything out.”
Pedal Co-Op also provides delivery services, including daily morning bagel deliveries to Four Worlds Bakery in West Philadelphia. Pedal Co-Op lent a helping hand in moving Four Worlds to its current location in 2008. The Co-Op also picks up recyclables and compost for several residents in the city.
Lately, the Co-Op has encountered a snag of too much business and not enough riders.
“We’ve had to give up some business because we don’t have enough riders to do it,” says Fisher. “We’re very well-loved by the community […] when people hear about us, they want our service, too.”
While it’s not all a smooth ride for Pedal Co-Op, too much business isn’t the worst problem to have, and as long as riders are strapping up their trailers every day, the Co-Op’s mission is sure to pedal on.