The man on the trike hauling a trailer loaded with buckets of food scraps is on a mission. Mark Sturdevant is Dirty Sturdy’s Mountain Compost, and he’s putting everything he’s got into reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
So what do buckets of household food waste have to do with greenhouse gases? Plenty. Food waste is responsible for 6 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and humans, as it turns out, throw away a lot of food. According to Our World in Data, “Around one-quarter of the calories the world produces are thrown away; they’re spoiled or spilled in supply chains; or are wasted by retailers, restaurants and consumers.”
Sturdevant had an ah-haa moment when he was 27 and first witnessed the transformation of a messy, seemingly useless pile of food waste transform into clean, nutrient-rich soil.
“I had never seen such magic happen, and my mind was so blown,” he said.
That eye-opening observation became what he calls a “passion project.”
“I have to show people what I’ve learned,” he said. “It’s such a valuable thing and so easy.”
Composting, according to How Stuff Works, is a method for treating solid waste in which organic material is broken down by microorganisms in the presence of oxygen to a point where it can be safely stored, handled and applied to the environment. Organic waste for composting includes materials such as newspaper, leaves, grass, kitchen waste (fruits, vegetables), and woody materials.
The process of breaking down the materials is further explained by How Stuff Works: During composting, microorganisms from the soil eat the organic (carbon containing) waste and break it down into its simplest parts. This produces a fiber-rich, carbon-containing humus with inorganic nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. The microorganisms break the material down through aerobic respiration, and require oxygen that they get from the air you introduce when you turn the material in the compost bin. The microorganisms also require water to live and multiply. Through the respiration process, the microorganisms give off carbon dioxide and heat — temperatures within compost piles can rise as high as 100 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. If the compost pile or bin is actively managed by turning and watering it regularly, the process of decomposing into finished compost can happen in as little as two to three weeks (otherwise, it may take months).
Sturdevant has a pile that is “cooking” right now.
“The pile cooks hot all winter long,” he said. “Food scraps and paper are a good mix.”
It’s a process stoked by the food waste he collects from his clients, which now number, he reckons, between 50 and 60 households. He makes 42 stops in Telluride, another 10 to 12 in the Ridgway-Ouray region and a handful of others in places like Lawson Hill.
Here’s how it works: Dirty Sturdy’s supplies your household with a painted bucket (it’s a cool graffiti stencil) with a sticker explaining what materials are acceptable for composting. When the bucket is full, call him and he collects it. From there, he takes it to a site where he adds the waste to the ever-growing pile where the chemical process does its thing. Eventually, he’ll have clean compost to sell back to the market, but for now, his primary goal is to educate.
“I want to meet never-evers and walk them through the process,” Sturdevant said. “I want to show folks one-on-one.”
The tricked-out trike he pedals through town accomplishes numerous outcomes, he said. Parking is never an issue, it is an Earth-friendly means of transportation, and because he’s not encased in a truck cab, it’s easy for people to approach him to find out what he’s up to.
“I love talking to customers,” he said.
One of his customers, Vicki Phelps, who with her husband Dean Rolley, puts all their household waste into a Dirty Sturdy bucket, attests to Sturdevant’s approachability.
“He is extremely personable,” Phelps said. “He’s responsive when you’re ready to have your bucket picked up.”
Phelps and Rolley are firm believers in the benefits of reduce-reuse-recycle.
“Composting is important for reducing waste,” Phelps said. “We recycle everything we can, so our waste is probably less than that of most folks.”
And supporting Dirty Sturdy’s makes sense to the Lawson Hill couple.
“He’s making a difference in our community,” Phelps said. “What he’s doing is awesome.”
Sturdevant would like to do more. Restaurants, he said, account for the bulk of food waste, locally and nationally. He has had restaurant clients but saw them fall away with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some, like The Butcher and The Baker, take care of all their own food waste, but many do not have the space.
He dreams big. Right now, perhaps 1 percent of food waste in the region is being diverted from landfills. He’d like to see that number increase to 100 percent.
“I need the restaurants to achieve that kind of volume,” he said.
Sturdevant, who works full-time for the Town of Telluride, helps fund his fledgling business with grants and has earned funding from Eco-Action Partners, whose mission dovetails with his — reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
For now, he’s doing his part, one bucket at a time.
“I’m just one guy trying to do the right thing,” he said.
For more information contact Sturdevant at 970-317-3121. He also has a Facebook page, Dirty Sturdy’s Mountain Compost. He encourages anyone interested in learning more to hit the internet where there is a wealth of information on composting.