Rubber City Reuse finds 'black gold' in Akron's waste

by Colleen Hanke

Most of us don’t think twice about throwing away food, like that half of an avocado that’s been sitting in your fridge for a week. But what happens to our food waste? It goes to landfills — unless we compost it.

Siblings Benjamin McMillan and Hailey Michael started Rubber City Reuse in 2019, in an effort to better the environment and reduce landfill waste. They want to make composting more convenient. 

Rubber City Reuse provides compost bins and compost pick-up services to residential and commercial clients for a monthly fee. They pick up customers’ food waste and, when the compost is ready, provide it to local food growers.

“Landfills create large amounts of air and water and ground pollution,” Benjamin says. “The more that we can keep out of landfills and the more that we can reuse, the better for everything.”

“[Composting] reduces methane into the environment,” adds Hailey, “so it really creates a more sustainable future.” 

Benjamin explains composting as a two-ingredient process that requires a wet product, like food waste, and a dry product, like leaves. You cover the whole thing in dirt and wait a few weeks. At the end of the process, you’re the proud parent of a bin of compost.

“The microorganisms in our food waste… start to consume that food waste and leaves and things like that,” Benjamin explains. “And then they give off gases, such as methane and things like that, that help raise the temperature and decompose that food waste and make the compost. That’s the beauty of it: It’s a 100% natural process.”

Rubber City Reuse collects compost from their clients and puts it back into the local food cycle. This means the compost is being used to support local produce.

“We donate that compost to local nonprofits and community gardens, like Akron Cooperative Farms or Let’s Grow Akron,” says Benjamin.

Benjamin says compost is the best thing you can put in your garden.

“They call it ‘black gold,’ because it is pretty much like the best soil you can get. Everything from your potted plants to your veggie garden to your flowers around your house. Compost is super rich in nutrients and nitrogen,” Benjamin says. “It’s also a lot better than buying, let’s say, potting soil from your local hardware store that’s been treated with a lot of chemical fertilizers and things like that. Compost is essentially a super naturally fertilized soil.”

Foods you can compost include fruits and vegetables, eggshells and coffee grounds. You shouldn’t compost meats, dairy, or fats because they can attract pests.

Using compost in community gardens is good for the environment and the people of the community, Benjamin says.

“One of our biggest users of the compost is Akron Cooperative Farms, and they deal with Nepali refugees in North Hill,” Benjamin says. “All of the food they produce, none of it is sold. It’s all taken home and consumed.”

A large amount of food waste comes from grocery stores and restaurants. If the food goes bad, it goes in the trash. Rarely do these businesses compost their food waste. 

“I would like to see more grocery stores involved in this,” says Benjamin, “because they are the source of food that we eat. And for them to just send it to landfills, I always thought it was just kind of silly, to be honest. They could do so much more with that.”

Rubber City Reuse’s goal for 2020 is to raise awareness about the accessibility of composting. 

“Our goal is to really raise awareness and get the word out that, ‘Hey, you can compost your food here in Akron now.’ Not just your food, [but also] your yard waste or any compostable materials. That service is finally available here.”

Find out more about Rubber City Reuse at their website:

Colleen Hanke is a senior at The University of Akron.