This is: Groundcycle
t the beginning of 2020, New York City's zero-waste programs were in full force; council speaker Corey Johnson pledged to make composting a compulsory method of waste disposal, and many other politicians noted that combating climate change would be top of mind for them. But after the COVID-19 shutdown, extensive budget cuts led the New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY) to put the program on an extended hiatus. Environmentalists like Vivian Lin immediately stepped up to "close the loop." She connected with a number of local farmers that were struggling to sell their produce due to the shutdown of restaurants and farmer’s markets, and decided to help them by creating a door-to-door delivery/collection service that is now called Groundcycle.
Groundcycle’s business model is simple, yet effective - the team delivers fresh produce from local farms directly to the doors of their customers, provides them with a bin to collect the scraps in, collects the bin two weeks after, and drops it off at composting sites. People who aren’t interested in the produce options can also elect to only get their scraps picked up.
Vivian hopes to make Groundcycle a one-stop-shop for all things sustainable and local. “Take baby steps to live more sustainably—we’ll never be perfect and shouldn’t beat ourselves up but it’s always worth the effort. There are so many resources out there now and once you understand why you’re doing it, you’ll never look back,” she says. Vivian has since been featured by a number of major channels, such as ABC News, the New York Times, and more.
Check out Myth’s interview with Vivian below, and be sure to support Groundcycle by signing up at groundcycle.org. Our collaboration capsule with Groundcycle will also be open for pre-order until June 27th at 11:59pm, and proceeds will be donated to their organization.
How did you come up with the idea for Groundcycle?
At the beginning of the pandemic when we were all stuck at home, I was looking for ways to be more sustainable in my own life. I was inspired by listening to a lot of Earth Day virtual talks and was looking to compost my own food scraps. It was the same time that I learned NYC would be suspending the brown bin program and all food scrap drop-offs were also closed. That’s when I decided to come up with my own solution.
When I ran out of options in the city, I thought to connect with local farms who already compost. At the time, farmers were struggling to get their produce to people because restaurants were closed and people weren’t coming to the markets. I thought to myself… why not close this gap? I can collect food scraps to bring to farms and bring back produce to deliver it to people. All you have to do at home is collect your scraps and wait for us to bring you farm-fresh produce. What could be better than that?
How does the “cycle” work?
The cycle goes: food is grown by farmers, then distributed for people to cook at home, people collect the scraps they’re making, farmer’s process the food scraps and then use the finished compost on their crops. We connect New Yorker’s with their local farmers to keep this cycle going—there doesn’t have to be any waste involved. Groundcycle does the heavy lifting so people can eat healthy, locally grown organic produce at home and dispose of their food scraps responsibly.
What sparked your passion for sustainability?
Anybody who has been to NYC has walked on a sidewalk where there’s trash piled taller than they are. Growing up here, that fascinated me and the more I learned, the more important it became for me to tackle this problem. I think the climate crisis is the biggest obstacle our generation faces… and knowing this, I can’t just sit around and do nothing. When I started Groundcycle, I really just needed to divert my own waste from landfill and knowing that so many people align with our mission is extremely special. That pushes me to work harder every day.
A look at some of the compost Groundcycle collects and what it turns into
Can you explain a few of the different types of composting, and the why it's good for the environment?
Yes, I try to tell people that there’s a composting solution for you no matter your situation. If you feel intimidated by it, you can just find a place to drop off your food scraps and have someone else process it. But for those of you who want to do it yourself, there’s vermicomposting—where you feed your scraps for worms to break down.
There’s the Bokashi method—where you ferment your food scraps with an inoculant and then trench it into the ground. There’s various forms of pile composting—where you mix browns (leaves, wood shavings, paper, cardboard) with greens (your scraps), add water and let it heat up and decompose naturally. You just have to make sure to aerate it every once in a while. You can use a tumbler for this as well. As long as you’re saving your food scraps from landfill, it doesn’t matter how you do it. Just start! It’s easy.
How do the farms you work with leverage the compost that you drop off every week?
The farmers are the experts who process the food scraps for us. They keep an eye on the pile and monitor the temperatures to make sure the scraps have the right environment to break down. It can take up to 6 months for it to fully process but afterwards, the farmer can use the finished compost to fertilize their crops.
How does compost affect the health of their crops and the general environment?
The finished compost is extremely nutrient-dense and helps crops grow better, faster, stronger. Besides this, it improves overall soil quality and has the ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere. It’s a win, win, win.
Vivian gathering compost in Groundcycle's distinctive black buckets
A lot of our readers live in dense cities or other urban areas that don't have services like Groundcycle. How can they get started with composting at home?
The easiest way is to find a local drop-off if there’s one available to you. Look for a community garden or you can even find a neighbor to process your scraps through this site called ShareWaste. And if you have a backyard, getting a tumbler is great! All you need to do is add your browns, greens and water and spin it so it gets some air. The Bokashi method is also great because it fast-forwards the breakdown through fermentation.
Besides composting, how can people engage in environmentalism in their day-to-day lives?
My biggest tip is just to be a conscious consumer. Don’t buy what you don’t need. If you need something, try to buy it used. Buy local. Take baby steps to live more sustainably—we’ll never be perfect and shouldn’t beat ourselves up but it’s always worth the effort. There are so many resources out there now and once you understand why you’re doing it, you’ll never look back.
What are your future ambitions for Groundcycle?
I want Groundcycle to be a one-stop-shop for all things sustainable and local. We have a lot in store for the summer… so make sure to stay connected with us!
Stay up to date with Vivian and Groundcycle at @_groundcycle
or visit groundcycle.org to learn more