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Darren Douglas works for reCyclists, a company that collects organic waste weekly from Victoria businesses via bicycles. (Deddeda Stemler for The Globe and Mail)
Darren Douglas works for reCyclists, a company that collects organic waste weekly from Victoria businesses via bicycles. (Deddeda Stemler for The Globe and Mail)

Waste-collecting cyclists put a new spin on recycling Add to ...

A street peddler of a different kind, Darren Douglas rides a $4,000, custom-built tricycle through the city's downtown, picking up odour-emitting organic waste from businesses that is later converted into compost.

The zero-emission service, called reCYCLISTS, is the ultimate in green recycling.

At a recent stop, the 48-litre green bin he carried out was heavy and "nasty-smelling." That was now behind him as he once again headed out on the road, deftly and quietly navigating Government Street. In front of him though, he faced diesel fumes from trucks and the rumble of other motor vehicles.

ReCYCLISTS is the green vision of two trash-talking men, Aaron Bichard, 34, and Jason Adams, 36.

For Mr. Bichard, a committed cyclist who grew up in a funky Okanagan home where he "ate carob instead of chocolate," nimble bikes are the answer to downtown waste collection for small businesses.

So three years ago in Duncan, B.C., he started a business where traditional recyclable materials are picked up by bike.

Looking to Victoria's dense downtown, he realized the capital could be well-served by bikes that can wheel into spots unsuited to bigger vehicles.

Mr. Adams approached garbage from another angle.

While a University of Victoria student, he worked for a garbage-collection company that "made good money at the expense of the landfill."

With three trips a day, Mr. Adams saw how quickly the dump was being filled, even with material that had value.

"There were commodities worth chasing," he said.

So in 2002, the Ontario native started reFUSE in Victoria, using trucks to pick up organic waste and recyclables.

Since the launch of reCYCLISTS two weeks ago, seven businesses are paying for the service, which starts at $40 a month for pickup once a week.

But the two owners expect hundreds in a city known as Canada's cycling capital.

Also boding well is a proposed ban of all food waste, effective May, 2012, at Victoria's Hartland Landfill.

To prod businesses toward the low-emission mission, the Downtown Victoria Business Association partnered with reCYCLISTS.

Mr. Douglas is paid $11 an hour by the DVBA to collect the waste.

Cycling isn't new to Mr. Douglas. After a 20-minute bike ride from home to work, the 49-year-old swaps his two-wheeler for the three-wheeler with attached box that can hold up to 136 kilograms.

Helmeted, cautious and mighty appreciative of Victoria's downtown bike lanes, he didn't take the bait when a Kabuki Cab tricyclist challenged him to a race.

Road rage by vehicle drivers, happily, has been absent. Instead, Mr. Douglas and his green rig elicit thumbs-up and smiles.

At Dig This, a store that sells gardening goods, manager Rachelle Westman said it was only natural that her compost-touting business would be a client.

She's smitten with the fact that reCYCLISTS is "green all the way across." She's also amazed by the amount of waste that's generated at the six-employee shop.

Dumped into the bin are dead flowers, bulb skins, paper cups, towels and food waste.

At Silk Road Tea, owner Daniela Cubelic has promoted sustainability since starting her business 18 years ago, so anything carbon neutral appeals to her.

She's noticed that old, simple ways of doing things, like using bikes, are once again being embraced, a sign that the swing from a disposable, fuel-dependent culture to greener, basic methods is catching on.

"This is an idea that will take off," she said, adding that there are many environmentally conscious businesses in Victoria. "This tiny program has the potential to create massive change in waste disposal in the downtown."

Back at the collection depot, with incense burning to mask the stink, waste is dumped into larger bins. The material is trucked to a facility about a half hour north of Victoria to be transformed into compost, sold as reSOIL.

Touting the merits of the final product, Mr. Adams said reSOIL reduces the need for pesticides and retains water so less water is needed. And with food waste eating up 30 per cent of Victoria's dump, reducing that component lowers methane production, a potent greenhouse gas.

Once a chainsaw-toting West Coast logger until a log crushed him, Mr. Douglas noted, "It's kind of ironic. I used to cut trees. Now I'm putting back what I took out."

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