When Brett Bloom founded Dirt Wain composting service in 2019, it was a community-led effort, largely run by him, on a bike, picking up compost buckets from his neighbors.
Within a matter of years, Dirt Wain has grown to a team of five people, established an official compost site in Fort Wayne, and expanded its services, safely processing more than 250 tons of yard waste and other compostable materials to date. In doing so, it’s expanded from one neighborhood to more than 10 local municipalities, including Fort Wayne, Huntertown, Leo, Columbia City, South Whitley, North Manchester, Wabash, Huntington, Roanoke, and New Haven.
Now, in 2022, as city-wide delays on trash and recycling services reach a fever pitch during the pandemic, Dirt Wain is educating consumers on our poorly designed waste systems and what we can do to change them. As part of that effort, it’s launching an Indiegogo campaign called “Give A Truck!”
seeking to raise $55,000 in the next month to purchase what might be the nation’s first community-funded compost truck.
We caught up with Dirt Wain’s Founder Brett Bloom to learn more about his team’s work, their new campaign, and their mission to move Fort Wayne toward a carbon-neutral future.
Dirt Wain’s Founder Brett Bloom.
IFW: Give us a quick overview of your services at Dirt Wain and how the conversation around composting has shifted in Northeast Indiana since you started in 2019.
At Dirt Wain, we offer multiple service subscriptions on our website
for everything from individual household food scrap and yard waste pickup to pet waste pickup and commercial-grade composting service.
Our entry-level subscription for annual food scrap and yard waste pick up includes 12 months of service for $180, or you can pay monthly for $21 per month. You have the one-time fee of a $70 bin, which holds 32 gallons of combined food scraps and yard waste, and we pick up this bin weekly, preventing these organic materials from going to the landfill where they contribute to methane gas and toxic leachate that gets into our groundwater.
Organic materials going into the landfill contribute to methane gas and toxic leachate that gets into our groundwater.
We currently offer this service to the greater Fort Wayne area and are seeking to add other municipalities when there is a critical mass of people who understand the importance of composting. (See a full list of services on our website.
Since we started in 2019, there is definitely greater awareness of the importance of composting. I constantly run into folks who have heard about Dirt Wain and what we do. They usually have not taken the step of composting themselves. This is a big challenge that we are constantly trying to address. It is culturally acceptable to throw your food scraps in the trash. Until this shifts, we will not have a critical mass of people advocating for and actively engaged in composting.
Dirt Wain compost bins come in a variety of sizes.
IFW: Why is now the perfect time to rethink solid waste collection?
Our household recycling has not been picked up in six or seven weeks; I have lost track of how long it has been. And even if it gets picked up, I know that only plastics one, two, and five actually get recycled. Nearly 70 percent of what people think they are recycling goes to landfills—local sustainability guru Jodi Leamon refers to this as "wish cycling." This is horrendous.
We need to rethink recycling, and make all its inner workings transparent. There are so many ways we could invest in and run things differently. The current businesses involved with recycling and waste need to be replaced.
We are also suffering from the adverse effects of hard-right ideology impacting our ability to make decisions on the municipal level about how the City hires trash haulers. The state of Indiana forces local municipalities to take the lowest bid. We see how disastrous choosing Red River has been! (A bill aimed at improving this situation, authored by House Rep. Martin Carbaugh (R), is being sent to Governor Eric Holcomb’s desk
Dirt Wain’s Founder Brett Bloom loads compost bins into a pickup truck.
Add to this that more than half of what goes to the landfill is actually compostable. There are more than 59 million pounds of compostable materials, just from households, going to the landfill each year. All of this material is left to turn into massive amounts of methane and carbon dioxide.
Indiana's air quality is already 48th in the U.S.
This situation has got to change. I am shocked some mornings when I leave my house about how bad the air is and that we let others pollute our bodies and those of our kids.
Dirt Wain currently uses pickup trucks for its compost routes.
IFW: Your “Give a Truck!” campaign seeks $55,000 to purchase a used garbage truck for community-scale composting. Why is this truck, in particular, important to the growth of your work?
In the past, we’ve used a bicycle and cart, a minivan, and pick-up trucks, one with two different sizes of trailers. We have had to upgrade as the demand for our services has increased. We are on the verge of increasing exponentially, and our current equipment will not allow us to handle it. Having a larger garbage truck would allow us to process multiple tons of material a day. The truck can lift large bins, which can weigh between 300 and 400 pounds. After gathering a day’s worth of materials, the truck can then dump them at our compost site. This will take a lot of strain off the bodies of our composters. We have needed this truck for several months. The sooner we can use this tool, the faster we get to building other composting infrastructure—there is an enormous amount to do!
The support you give to this effort will mean so much to us beyond having a piece of equipment to sustain our work. It will help in the challenging task of building capacity for getting every last food scrap in our region composted and shifting attitudes about food waste where we live. This is important to everyone’s health and the liveability of Northeast Indiana in the coming decades as we see massive ecological changes in our region and planet.
Dirt Wain is hosting a “Give A Truck” campaign to raise money to purchase a used garbage truck for compost collection.
IFW: Tell us about making the decision to have a compost truck that’s funded by the community, as opposed to another funding strategy.
The simple answer is: We believe in our community. We know we're not a start-up; we've started, and we want to keep going, and we need your help to continue the momentum. This funding will allow us to focus on providing good service, making composting accessible, and building a movement and compost culture instead of worrying about taking on business loan debt.
Business loans can sink a new business faster than anything else, and we see them as too great a risk to what we are trying to build. Government grants are not available to small businesses for ecological work like ours. What we do is provide a community service that should be available to everyone, especially folks who do not have extra income to pay for composting.
These are the big reasons we need your support. Not only do we have to run a business and make money, but also we have to do an enormous amount of education, outreach, and fundraising to support those who cannot afford our services and more. We cannot act as a traditional business if we want to succeed. We are a hybrid of community organizing and small business.
Dirt Wain’s Founder Brett Bloom loads compost bins into a pickup truck.
IFW: Part of your “Give A Truck!” Campaign promises donors that their names will be printed on the side of the truck. How much do you have to donate to get your name on the truck?
Those who donate between $10-$25 will get their names etched on a metal plaque with others who have donated at this level.
Above this level, individuals, families, businesses, teams, organizations, clubs, etc. will have their names hand-painted on by sign painter Justin Lim.
Dirt Wain's “Give A Truck” campaign is a community-funded effort.
IFW: Outside of financial support, how can citizens support your initiatives?
Please write to the City Council and Mayor's office, and ask for composting to be a part of the new City waste plan. If folks are involved at their children's schools, ask that their schools start composting. Start composting at work. Compost in your backyard, and ask your neighbors to join you. Reducing methane emissions is a key goal of the federal government over the coming years to combat climate breakdown. We are all able to work together to address this.
IFW: What is your favorite compostable product that eliminates single-use plastic?
I would prefer to see a massive rebirth of reusable items as COVID, hopefully, becomes endemic. It would be incredible if a place decided that everyone had to bring all their own containers for food, drinks, etc. to carry stuff home. I know that won't happen any time soon, but I prefer paper-based and bamboo or sugarcane items to corn starch bioplastics. And, that is the ones that are free of PFAs, carcinogenic forever chemicals that seem to be everywhere now.