Many cities throughout the Midwest enjoy the benefit of curbside recycling in their towns. But for some areas curbside recycling just hasn’t taken root. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Julia King says those towns might want to follow the lead of two creative bicyclists from her city. Are they nuts? Or are they on to something?:
Many cities throughout the Midwest/Great Lakes States enjoy the benefit of curbside recycling in
their towns. But for some areas, curbside recycling just hasn’t taken root. Great Lakes Radio
Consortium commentator Julia King says those towns might want to follow the lead of two creative
bicyclists from her city. Are they nuts? Or are they on to something?
According to a U.S. Department of Transportation Study, nearly a quarter of all Americans rode a
bike at least once during the past year. Most of the nearly 21 million people in this country who
hopped on a bike did so for fun. In other words, we view our bikes more like toys than tools.
But two guys in Northern Indiana are trying to change that. Some people are locking up their
bicycles for the season, tucking them away in garages and sheds. Tom Benevento and Brian
Krushwitz are pumping up their tires and oiling their chains, preparing to put their bikes to use.
Borrowing from a project in Ames, Iowa, called “Bikes at Work,” the men will twice a month lead
a small crew of cyclists through a Goshen, Indiana neighborhood collecting recyclables. But these
are no ordinary bikes. These are bikes equipped with trailers that can pull up to three hundred
pounds of material. And these guys aren’t just recycling – they’re also providing paid work for a
couple of financially struggling residents.
Here’s how it works: In a town with no curbside recycling, volunteer organizers Benevento and
Krushwitz easily found twenty families to pay $5 a month each for the no diesel pick-up service.
The families put their stuff in a container, the crew comes by and straps all the full containers on
the bike trailer, leaves empties in their place, then deposits the glass-plastic-paper-etc. at the nearest
According to Krushwitz, it only takes about 2 1/2 hours each month. It’s not a lot of work, but the
work pays twice the hourly minimum wage. With expansion and tweaking, this could bring real
salaries to people who need them. And those salaries would be generated with a positive
Benevento started the project because he wanted to demonstrate that old problems can be solved in
new ways. His passion is bikes, but he also relished the opportunity to create work for the poor in
his small community. He wanted to tangibly express his belief that social justice is a key
component of sustainability.
Ultimately, these are the sorts of innovations that stretch the imagination. Some will no doubt laugh
at using so much human power when a big truck would do. Others will say riding a bike in January
doesn’t sound innovative; it sounds crazy.
But naysayers should remember that every solution doesn’t work in every community. Bike-
powered recycling might not work in Anchorage Alaska, but it just might in any number of other
cities across the country. Every good problem-solver knows all ideas are with exploring.
Moving the bicycle beyond a recreational toy is an idea worth exploring.
Julia King lives, writes, and watches from her window as her
recycling gets picked up in Goshen, Indiana. She comes to us by way of the
Great Lakes Radio Consortium.