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Northeast Ohio is full of creative people following their dreams while trying to make a living. From jewelry crafted out of broken street glass to sound equipment engineered for rock stars, see what people are "making" in the community.

Making It: Rust Belt Riders Transform Food Waste

Michael Robinson, co-founder of Rust Belt Riders [Jeff Haynes / ideastream]

MAKERS: Daniel Brown & Michael Robinson

BUSINESS: Rust Belt Riders collect food waste and reprocess it into compost and animal feed.

DISCARDED FOOD AS RESOURCE: Michael Robinson says that the inspiration for Rust Belt Riders came in the kitchen of a west side restaurant. Dan and I were working at Spice Kitchen and Bar,” he recalls. “And we saw the amount of food that was coming out of the kitchen from the prep process -- the part of the food that you don’t eat.  With Cleveland’s burgeoning food scene there was an opportunity to be able to help restaurants get rid of this waste material that we saw as a resource.”         

WHERE THE NAME COMES FROM?  “We were all bike riders and so it was practical,” Dan Brown says. “But it also seemed functional, because we didn’t need to raise a ton of money in order to get going and see if there was any interest in this to begin with.  And within nine months, we quickly outgrew our bicycle capacity and got into a cargo van.  Now, we have a service area of about 30 square miles.”

KEEPING BUSY WITH FOOD WASTE: “We’re past our third year of operation, right now,” Robinson says. “And we haul about 25,000 pounds of food material from all across the Greater Cleveland area: about 60 accounts and quickly growing past that.”           

CLOSING THE LOOP: “In the marketplace, if a business is looking at just a bottom line perspective, then they’re always going to choose to throw that material in the landfill, because it’s less expensive here,” says Robinson.

“The waste streams can become input streams,” Brown notes.  “So, we’re able to close the loop on a resource that keeps our dollars here locally and supports our community and environment.”

David C. Barnett was a senior arts & culture reporter for Ideastream Public Media. He retired in October 2022.