Compost is more than just a green initiative to Francisco “Paco” De Lozanne, it’s a way of life.
“I didn’t even realize that not everyone did it until a few years ago when my cousin asked me, ‘What is compost?’ ” De Lozanne said. “I was like, ‘Woah! People don’t already know what this is.’ So that was pretty eye-opening.”
He spends four days a week biking through Austin picking up compost for Compost Pedallers, a bike-powered company that started in 2012 and has composted 250,000 pounds since then.
“This will be the third summer I’ve completed,” De Lozanne said. “I kind of measure it in summers because this is the hardest time to do it.”
Perched on top of his electric bicycle, De Lozanne powers through the streets of Austin towing a custom-made trailer that can haul nearly 400 pounds.
“I’d say the bike is 50-50. You definitely feel it when the battery is low,” he said. “When I try to bike without a battery, even when the trailer is empty, it just sucks.”
A typical stop for De Lozanne means pulling up to the location, replacing a dirty bin with a clean one, dumping the contents into bigger trash carts, and hauling it all back to a community garden to be broken down into compost.
“I’ve got a spray bottle of vinegar here, and this helps remove any oily residue and smell,” he said as he cleaned a bin once full of coffee grounds. “You wouldn’t want to eat out of this even after I wash it out, but it handles the smell.”
The smell, the one you’re imagining right now, is something that De Lozanne says is so natural to him that he doesn’t even smell it anymore.
“I noticed that a lot of stuff smells like Italian food, tomato sauce,” he said. “I don’t know why that is. I guess slightly fermented vegetables, it gets a lot of umami in there.”
Today, his route takes him across the the river and through West Campus. Interaction with clients isn’t a big part of his job, but some go out of their way to help make it a bit easier.
“There are some people who are really involved with us pedallers and some people who you never see,” De Lozanne said. “I have had people leave out cold drinks. I even had one house that left out a thermos and tea bags during the winter. That was awesome.”
Now with three years of experience under his belt, he’s learned more about compost than he ever imagined, De Lozanne said.
“You learn what people are eating. That’s fun. In summer, you see a big rise in watermelon,” he said. “It’s easier to identify people who are juicers because you see a lot of dried fiber.”
Though the job has been far more physically demanding than he initially expected, he finds ways to make the most of his time on two wheels.
“Something I really like about it is that I have complete freedom of mind while I’m working,” De Lozanne said. “You don’t have to think too hard to do this, so I just think about whatever I want during the day.”