"For a long time, I had been extremely concerned about the destruction of the natural world. Industrial society viewed the world not as an interconnected whole, but as a commodity to be developed and thrown away.” That’s Tim McCullough, executive director of the Pedal Cooperative, a West Philly-based nonprofit that provides bicycle-based waste-hauling services five days a week. When McCullough, 24, joined the co-op two and a half years ago as a hauler, he wanted to “get people to re-recognize the importance of cycles in the natural world.” Now, as executive director, that’s the South Philly resident’s primary goal.
Founded by John Macduffie Woodburn in 2007, Pedal Co-op promotes waste reduction and responsible disposal with just a few bicycles and human energy. On any given weekday, one or two riders from its four-member staff are on the streets collecting recycling from Center City, Fairmount and West Philly businesses—which can reach 8,000 gallons a month on average—or compost from West Philly residents. All recycling is transported to South Philly’s Blue Mountain Recycling Center, while compost is brought to community gardens and private landowners.
As for cost, the rate for recycling is 21 cents a gallon, which some businesses say is more cost-effective for them. Composting services cost $10 a month for weekly or bi-weekly pickups.
What’s the weirdest item you’ve hauled?
I hauled a mattress and box spring from South Philly over to West Philly over the Grays Ferry Bridge and the thing was just falling. At one point, one of our clients in a downtown office building were clearing out all these old tax books—the client takes up about eight floors of this large downtown office building—and we filled up all the barrels full of books and it was heavy as shit.
Was that your most difficult haul?
Books are definitely the heaviest. At one point, just by sheer accident, we were at one of the Bike Philly events—we collect recycling at the end of them, too—[and] we left our barrels out for people who were there at night. [The barrels] have small holes at the bottom of them so stuff drains out … this one didn’t and it filled up halfway with water. We didn’t notice until we emptied it out but it took two of us just to put it on the trailer. That might have been one of the heaviest things.
How do drivers or pedestrians usually respond to a Pedal Co-op haul?
[Laughs] There are lots of different people out there. One time or another, you’re gonna have a confrontation with a driver but more often than not, we get people who stop to say, “Oh, that’s awesome, that’s cool.” And sometimes you’ll get a jerk that’ll yell at you or hassle you. But most people react positively.
What’s your response to critics who feel this is an inefficient way to haul trash?
Being efficient isn’t our primary goal. We’re trying to make the city a more livable place. We want to increase the livability of downtown areas and bringing a garbage truck through the city during the day is just a nuisance to everyone. It pollutes the air. I’d say we are probably more efficient in certain circumstances than any of these large hauls, but that’s not our goal. We don’t strive to get the most done. We want to change people’s ideas about what’s important rather than being able to get the most recycling. We want to change [people’s] priorities and we try to encourage [our clients] to actually recycle less—and by that I don’t mean throw more stuff in the trash, but just produce less waste that needs to be picked up. We like to encourage people to be more conscious of their resources. Once we start doing that, we can start to see that it’s not as necessary to have giant garbage trucks going through downtown streets.
For more information on Pedal Co-Op or to schedule services, visit pedalcoop.org.