Cleveland picks Rust Belt Riders, others to compost or reuse leftover West Side Market food

 Customers browse a pastry stand at the West Side Market.
Customers browse a pastry stand at the West Side Market. [Nick Castele / Ideastream Public Media]

Cleveland has selected a team led by local composting business Rust Belt Riders to find a second life for food waste produced by the West Side Market.

Vendors’ still-edible leftover food will be redistributed by the Hunger Network, according to Rust Belt Riders founders Daniel Brown and Michael Robinson. Food waste will go to Rid-All Green Partnership in the Kinsman neighborhood for composting, they said.

Another partner, the Center for EcoTechnology, will help the team process data on the program and draw up a “roadmap for residential composting,” Robinson said.

“These kinds of practices of municipalities leading the charge to prioritize the highest and best use of food are totally consistent with improved public health [and] ambitious climate goals,” Brown said.

The city’s board of control voted on Wednesday to accept the Rust Belt Riders bid for a six-month pilot program at the market. Cleveland will pay for the project with $60,000 from a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant, Public Works Director Frank Williams told board members.

Mayor Justin Bibb’s administration requested proposals for a market composting program in May. An agreement between the partners and the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and Climate Justice has yet to be finalized.

“The City of Cleveland recognizes that to meet its waste management and climate action goals, large shifts are needed in economic and waste systems at both the municipal and national level to move us to a more circular economy, which values waste as a resource, rather than rubbish to be discarded,” city officials wrote in the request for proposals.

The work will start with an audit of the West Side Market’s refuse. Robinson and Brown estimate that the market produces 100 cubic yards of food waste each month, or tens of thousands of pounds.

The team plans to help vendors understand how to incorporate composting into their daily work. Even market staples like pastries and meat would be eligible.

“We’re able to maintain higher temperatures that are required to compost harder-to-compost materials like meat, bones, dairy, baked goods and prepared items,” Brown said. “So it isn’t just limited to fruits and vegetables but can encompass all food.”

Cleveland has also asked the team to evaluate whether the city itself can make use of the soil that is the end product of the composting process, Brown and Robinson said.

“Not only is diverting the food scraps, the wasted food, from the landfill a good thing from an environmental and ecological perspective, but there’s a good argument for how it can actually help the city save money as well,” Robinson said.

The composting program is the latest change proposed by the new Bibb administration at the West Side Market. Last month, the mayor announced plans to form a nonprofit to take over market management.

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