Compost conveyors

Bike-powered recycling launched

Reno Rot Riders founder Kyle Chandler-Isacksen pedals a load of food waste through downtown Reno.

Reno Rot Riders founder Kyle Chandler-Isacksen pedals a load of food waste through downtown Reno.


Each Wednesday, Kyle Chandler-Isacksen travels the streets of Reno on a black mountain bike, towing behind him two 21-gallon green bins of food waste in a yellow wooden wagon. His mission? To turn Reno’s food waste into garden soil via the Reno Rot Riders, the city’s first bicycle-powered compost recycling program.

Chandler-Isacksen launched Rot Riders in early October, under the umbrella of Be The Change, a non-profit group he and his wife Katy founded in 2011. He is currently the only Rot Rider with his feet on the pedals, but he hopes to see the program grow into a workers cooperative.

Initially, Chandler-Isacksen has focused his efforts on composting waste from downtown restaurants. Grateful Gardens, Campo and Reno Provisions were quick to sign up for his service—a once-weekly pickup of their food waste, in bins that weigh approximately 70 pounds when full. “I’m getting a workout. I’m staying really healthy,” Chandler-Isacksen said.

The idea behind the Reno Rot Riders goes beyond physical fitness, Chandler-Isacksen said. When compostable waste ends up in landfills, it releases methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Composting this waste provides layers of benefits to people and the planet.

“By picking up green waste and turning it into compost, we’re thereby enriching soil, promoting soil health and the health of the carbon cycle, sequestering carbon, improving water filtration, improving drought tolerance of soils, and supporting local agriculture,” Chandler-Isacksen said. “To top it off, we said we should do it by bike, because that’s enhancing bike culture, it’s decreasing carbon emissions, and it’s really kind of challenging the paradigms that we have.”

At present, Chandler-Isacksen processes some of the compost at his personal property, and the rest at Paradise Park Community Garden. Eventually, he envisions having a network of compost operations at decentralized locations all over the city. He would like to expand his services to include residential pickup, and is looking for landowners willing to host compost bins. “It doesn’t take a whole lot of space to have a vibrant compost operation in effect. It doesn’t smell, it doesn’t attract critters—this is all just vegetable matter,” Chandler-Isacksen said.

The legality of this program may create some bumps in the road for the Rot Riders. On Nov. 7, 2012, the City of Reno entered a franchise agreement with Waste Management, providing the Texas-based company with exclusive rights to the hauling and disposal of Reno’s solid waste and recyclable materials through 2029. There is similar language in a Sparks ordinance.

“That could be an issue, but I also understand what [the Rot Riders] are trying to do,” said John Flansberg, Director of Public Works for the City of Reno. “That’s going to be a topic for me to have a discussion with Waste Management regarding the franchise on, obviously looking at scale and what’s trying to be accomplished.”

Chandler-Isacksen sees the Reno Rot Riders as a way to help combat climate change on a local scale by establishing Reno as a city of bicycle-peddling climate innovators.

“Our vision is to start small, figure it out, do it right, have a good service, and then grow it into a workers’ cooperative, hopefully with help from the city.” he said.