Rust Belt Riders Composting Becomes Worker-Owned Co-Op


A leafy, intimate portrait of RBR co-founder Dan Brown. - PHOTO BY PETER LARSON
  • Photo by Peter Larson
  • A leafy, intimate portrait of RBR co-founder Dan Brown.
Rust Belt Riders, the local composting and soil company founded in 2014, has become a worker-owned co-op.

The Land reported Tuesday that the organization finalized its transition this month, meaning that any worker who has logged more than 3,000 hours with the company—that's 75 40-hour weeks—can become a part-owner, eligible to earn a share of the profits and to participate in decision-making.

RBR currently employs 20 and has added a number of high-profile commercial clients, including the local grocery chain Heinen's, which has allowed it to expand during the pandemic, when many small businesses were forced to contract or close. All employees are paid the same hourly wage.

Beginning as a bicycle compost hauler and courier service with almost exclusively residential clients, RBR is now a "circular economy success story," composting thousands of pounds of scraps at local hospitals, restaurants and grocery stores with the goal of preventing food waste from ending up in landfills. Though composting tends to be a more expensive endeavor than conventional municipal trash pickup, the companies that partner with RBR do so because they're conscious of their environmental footprint.

Founders of RBR told The Land that they've been operating with a co-op mentality for years, and that the transition is a natural byproduct of wanting to treat workers fairly and pay them a living wage. As of late last year, there were only five registered co-ops in Cleveland. Phoenix Coffee, an RBR client, converted to an employee-owned co-op structure in 2020 as a "Hail Mary" to survive the contractions of the pandemic. 

RBR co-founder Dan Brown was recently one of five people named to Mayor Elect Justin Bibb's transition committee on the environment.

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