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Pedal People Put the Cycling in Recycling

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Alex Jarrett, 33, has never owned a car. Around town, he gets almost everywhere he needs to go by the power of his own two feet—walking or biking. So it seems only natural that Jarrett’s business, which he started with Ruthy Woodring in 2002, is bicycle-based.

Jarrett and Woodring are the founders of Pedal People Cooperative Inc., which they describe as “a human-powered delivery and hauling service” for the Northampton, Mass. area. In all types of weather, Pedal People’s staff of 12 can be found hauling up to 300 pounds of trash, recycling and compost on trailers hitched to the back of their bikes. The business also offers a compost service, a yard care service, grocery and diaper delivery, and even a pedicab service for special events.

Pedal People co-founders Alex Jarrett and Ruty Woodring. Photo courtesty of Pedal People, Derek Goodwin
Pedal People co-founders Alex Jarrett and Ruthy Woodring. Photo courtesy of Pedal People (Derek Goodwin)

Unlike many cities, Northampton has no municipal curbside pickup for trash and recycling. Residents haul their trash and recycling to the transfer center or contract with a private service. Jarrett and Woodring saw this as an opportunity to begin a bicycle-based business. Jarrett had been using his bicycle trailer, which is made by the company Bikes at Work Inc., to bring his own recycling to the transfer center. “Ruthy and I thought, ‘Let’s give this a shot. This sounds like a crazy idea, but let’s see if we can haul other people’s [trash and recycling] and if they’ll pay us for it.’”

Pedal People has been growing steadily ever since. The business now has nearly 400 clients signed up for residential curbside pickup—it even counts the city of Northampton as one of its customers. Each day Pedal People empties 70 of the city's barrels downtown.

Pedal People staff member Ben Winter hauls a load in the winter. Photo courtesty of Pedal People, Lisa Healey
Pedal People's Ben Winter hauls a load in the rain. Photo courtesy of Pedal People (Lisa Healey)

Northampton Parking Director Bill Letendre says hiring Pedal People was one of the best things he did. “They do a great job, everyone loves them, they care about the city," Letendre says. "It was a win-win situation all around.”

One of the biggest draws for customers is that Pedal People’s service is a much greener, quieter alternative to garbage trucks, which waste fuel with frequent stops and starts. Bicycles can also maneuver easily around the city streets, unlike the large trucks.

For some customers, watching the Pedal People haul large trailers of trash is also a deterrent to producing copious amounts. “We try and help people reduce the amount of trash that they make,” Jarrett says. “That’s definitely one of our big goals, is trying to encourage recycling, and just encourage reusing and reducing what people think they need to live on.”

Lisa DePiano, 31, has been working at Pedal People for three years. She holds a master’s degree in regional planning and joined the staff because it’s an “amazing way to actually work on a solution to a problem.” She says: “I wanted to be on the ground doing it rather than creating policy around how trash was to be dealt with.”

The staff members of Pedal People. Photo courtesy of Pedal People, Derek Goodwin
The staff of Pedal People. Photo courtesy of Pedal People (Derek Goodwin)

Run as a workers' cooperative, Pedal People is owned by all 12 staff members, who make decisions collectively. New staff members begin with an apprenticeship of nine months, including three months in the winter, so “everyone knows what they are getting into.”

Jarrett says the business is “about meeting [the staff's] needs holistically.” They get exercise, get to meet their clients face-to-face and get to live a much simpler lifestyle.

But it’s not all work.

“It’s really fun to ride your bike for a living—in kind of a no pressure way too.” Jarrett says. “We can really take our time and bike around and talk to people and take breaks and try to slow down a bit and not have it be busy busy busy.”


Laura Kaliebe wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Laura is Online Editorial Intern at YES!

Photo of Laura KaliebeInterested? Find out more at pedalpeople.com, including gear tips, photos and ways to reduce trash.

Photo of Laura Kaliebe

 

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