Happy Trash Can Curbside Composting: Connecting community through food waste

Happy Trash Can Curbside Composting: Connecting community through food waste

Epic is the only word that seems appropriate to describe the operation that is Happy Trash Can Curbside Composting (HTCCC). From the 10 some-odd tons of food they haul each week, ranging in origin from local residential developments to commercial operations like Costco & regional colleges, offices, commercial kitchens, and their growing web of drop-off opportunities, they are truly dedicated to their craft. And, as their compost empire continues to spread its well-nurtured roots throughout the region they are making it incredibly difficult for any local to have an excuse when asked why they aren’t composting - we can relate. 

If you’ve never seen a few hundred tons of discarded food, all piled in one place, it’s really a sight to behold and one that can’t be properly understood without seeing it yourself. We’ve all probably, at some point, dreamt as a child of mountains made of ice cream, or being able to swim in a pool of our favorite snack food (a thought that’s admittedly less appealing as an adult) but the reality of this dream is something that’s more nightmare than a daydream. This is particularly true when equipped with the knowledge that each of those 20,000 lbs of food is producing 3.8 lbs of C02 - an impressive 76k lbs of C02 diverted each week by just Happy Trash Can alone (and of course their customers). 

The long haul

In speaking with Happy Trash Can, particularly as a budding brand in the composting space, the most humbling & encouraging aspect of their ethos was their dedication to not just their craft, but their patience in building towards a better future. While, as the composting leaders in their region, it may seem as though their seemingly effortless operation was always the giant that it is today, they recognize in both practice & communication that you have to start somewhere. As they say on their website, they are working towards, “Closing the loop one bucket at a time!” 

This is such a powerful message, both from a hauler perspective, and from that of the home composter because the practice can - at times - seem insurmountable. But in reality, good habits are incremental. We often borrow from the adage that “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.” and apply that same wisdom to composting, a message, and sentiment we share directly with Ryan & Adrienne — the husband & wife cofounders of Happy Trash Can. 

While they do stand as leaders in their field today, their status as such was built upon years of previous experience working in high-density composting, the arts, and agriculture, and returning to Adrienne’s roots in the Gallatin Valley to bring their knowledge and expertise to the region & help to educate those who live there. They embody the spirit of realistic, incremental, and sustainable growth in the name of building better habits by working to make composting accessible to as many people as possible and educating along the way. 

It takes a village (or 3)

Beyond the incredible work that they do on any given day with their composting business, the work that the team at Happy Trach Can perform within the community is both admirable and necessary to their vision of a future where composting is the norm. They embody the spirit of community development in always showing up to help support, nurture, and educate in order to help others to begin or continue their composting journey and further the farm-to-fork movement through their work. 

When not on-site churning their piles, or out on their route picking up from their various clients, they’re enjoying a croissant and speaking with people at their table at the Bozeman Winter Farmers’ Market - they’re wonderful table neighbors - engaging folks at the upcoming Local Food Advocate Dinner at Bodhi Farms, sharing their wisdom at Recycle Montana events, or participating in the numerous other community driven events & engagements in order to help further their efforts and encourage more people to adopt the practice of composting. 

Doing the heavy lifting

The immense volume of food waste that Happy Trash Can encounter, collect, and process on any given day is almost unfathomable. In speaking with Ryan & Adrienne, hearing them remark about the influx of food waste that they experience was equal parts alarming and admirable. As we spoke, and they casually dropped numbers such as the 5 million pounds of pumpkins that they processed during the fall season alone, the thought of being tasked with just transporting that amount of food waste was overwhelming — and yet for them, it’s just another day. 

It should come as no surprise that they not only don’t do this alone, but also have to enlist the assistance of some heavy machinery to aid in their ability to churn piles, make their pick-ups, and otherwise perform their daily routines as the food saviors of the Gallatin Valley. 

It should come as no surprise then that the work of the crew at Happy Trash Can enlists more than just the handful of gardening tools that you may find at your local community garden or farmers market drop-off site. In fact, the entire operation is substantial — far beyond what most people might imagine. 

Visiting the site, and seeing their massive backhoe lifting and tossing hefty sums of steaming food waste was equal parts awe-inspiring and disconcerting as the industrial piece of machinery performed the heavy lifting — only to then be reminded that the large quantities of matter it was moving was - in fact - food. 

Paired with the beautifully branded box truck that they’ve wrapped and enlisted in their pickup operation, a dutiful pickup truck that shares in their residential pickup program, and a smaller excavator for aiding in the handling of what would sometimes be unmanageable waste bins, all came together in a beautiful, yet cautionary, choreography of composting. 

Down and dirty

The work done on-site, however, isn’t entirely composed of the realized childhood dreams of playing with construction equipment with the neighboring mountain ranges as its backdrop. While it is all - absolutely - an incredible undertaking and one that absolutely is warranting of work attire that is designed for dirt work, the sorting of contaminants is the granular part of the process that does call for getting up close and personal with the food waste that comes through Happy Trash Can’s gates on any given day. 

As the bins roll in and are dumped into fresh piles, there are unfortunately - and inevitably - bits of waste that get mixed in, either intentionally or mistakenly, to the piles. And while it’s not humanly possible to sort through the tens of thousands of pounds of food waste each week that they are tasked with processing, the Happy Trash Can crew is there to make sure that no bin goes unturned and to minimize contaminants as best they can — by hand. 

Aside from the finished product being sent and reintegrated into local food programs to support the farm-to-fork movement, this process is arguably the biggest contribution to keeping that effort alive. Ryan & Adrienne are known for saying, “If you don’t want it in your soil, don’t put it in your compost.” And they fully stand behind this sentiment as they sort through the incoming bins to remove contaminants. 

While on-site together, numerous bits of plastic, fruit stickers, stapled tea bags, and even a phone case, were unceremoniously found mixed into the piles, and manually removed as a part of the sorting process before integrating the newly acquired food into their larger piles. This not only reinforced Happy Trash Can’s tireless dedication to compost education - as it would be unfair to assume that all contaminants that were found were put into the bins maliciously - but their dedication to their cause & the future that they imagine for not just the Gallatin Valley, but for the country & the world. 

Despite having to sit and sort through these piles, and despite the less-than-ideal quality control practices that some of their clients may exhibit at times, their general sentiment was entirely on-brand in that they were truly & genuinely Happy just for the fact that others were supporting their cause and making the effort to compost. 

Nurturing the seeds for the soil

Happy Trash Can Curbside Composting exemplifies community in every sense of the word. As we set out on our own journey, we count ourselves thankful for having them as partners, mentors, and friends as we help connect our community and theirs & combine the two for the greater good of our planet. For their knowledge, expertise, and experience out in the field, we are gracious to be their counterpart in your home to help break down barriers to composting & make the experience of doing so in your home something that we all can enjoy — and even look forward to. 

If you’re in the Gallatin Valley region and are compost-curious, or even a veteran who is looking for a new solution, we can’t recommend Ryan & Adrienne enough. And if you’re already supporting their business, we can’t thank you enough and would be beyond humbled to be welcomed into your home as a part of your composting journey. 

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