Caitlyn Lewis tows a sleek aluminum trailer behind her Raleigh bike, which is outfitted for the icy February streets with studded tires. One of her friends used to use the trailer to move his dogs around, but instead of pet crates, Lewis pulls two large garbage cans on her rounds collecting compost. Her Missoula business, Soilcycle, is a human-powered, bike-enabled compost-pick-up service.
Lewis came to Missoula from Idaho Falls to attend graduate school and wanted to start a business after graduation. Now she’s working hard on her start-up while also tutoring and teaching a developmental writing course on campus. Last summer, Lewis brainstormed the idea for Soilcycle with a friend she had met when the two were both Missoula Bicycle Ambassadors, but the friend wasn’t able to go full time as a partner when it came time to launch. “So it fell into my hands,” Lewis says. “I’ve taken it and literally rolled with it.”
Customers pay a monthly fee of $10 for monthly pickup or $24 for weekly pickup. Lewis is also working to establish drop-off locations so customers who live outside of her collection areas can drop their buckets of compostables at a central location. For now, she divides the city into different zones. Each pickup takes her about 10 minutes as she parks, empties her customer’s food scraps and other organic waste from the containers she supplies (reused five-gallon food buckets donated by local businesses), wipes out the bucket and puts it back on their porch or driveway. At the end of the week, Lewis hauls all the compost she’s collected to Garden City Compost for processing.
There are now two compost pick-up services in Missoula. There were none just six months ago. Soilcycle and Missoula Compost Collection both began compost pickup in the fall of 2017. “I actually met with Sean [Doty, owner of MCC]. We were bouncing ideas off each other, and so I think it’s really great that there’s more than one service,” Lewis says. “It was hard at first to launch at the same time, but now that we both have our own separate missions and ideas, I think the more the better.”
Lewis stands out just by making her rounds. “It’s kind of this spectacle. I’ve had people take pictures of me, so that’s good,” Lewis says. “I’ve also had people stop me in the middle of the street. They roll down their window and yell at me, which is kind of fun.”