Kyle Winkler and his compost-hauling box truck. Photo courtesy of Harvie Farms Pittsburgh.

Growing up in New Jersey, Kyle Winkler was tasked with cleaning up his family’s yard. Rather than bagging or burning the hedge trimmings and branches, he took the Earth-conscious route. “It was a way to harness the power of nature,” he says.

Today, sporting a cowboy hat and a smile, Winkler is the Zero Waste Wrangler, helping local businesses round up compostable materials to create rich, fertilized soil. That includes everything from food to paper products to weeds and organic matter.

Food waste is the single largest component going into municipal landfills, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. The discarded scraps generate methane gas, the main contributor to global warming. Composting, on the other hand, turns food waste into nutrient-rich soil, an agricultural treasure.

Winkler, a North Side resident, works with area restaurants, food trucks, coffee shops, grocery stores and gyms to formulate composting plans.

One of his customers, Trace Brewing, isn’t open yet but the owners have a plan in place.

Trace Brewing is already composting spent grains (which feed local livestock) and plans on composting everything from coffee and espresso grounds to World Centric to-go cups, straws, stirrers and carrying trays.

Winkler picks up the refuse, which businesses store in bright green 35- or 64-gallon receptacles, and delivers it to bins owned by AgRecycle, the largest commercial composting business in Greater Pittsburgh.

Pennsylvania Resources Council (PRC) subsidizes AgRecycle’s dumpster for certain materials collected by Zero Waste Wrangler as a cost-effective way to manage items. They include degradable polymeric cutlery and cups that are not acceptable for farm-based composting operations.

“PRC would typically use this AgRecycle dumpster for compostable materials collected through our Zero Waste PA event services program, but this is a great alternative use for it as Covid has restricted large-scale events for the time being,” says Stacy Albin, PRC’s environmental program coordinator. “Kyle is a great partner to the organization and he continues to refer his clients to PRC whenever they have questions on recycling or other waste minimization and diversion strategies.”

Winkler started Zero Waste Wrangler nearly two years ago and goes on pickup runs three times a week. In 2019 alone, he hauled more than 115 tons of waste in his box truck.

Although most of his clients are business owners looking to do their part for Mother Nature, Winkler assists residents with composting at University Square Apartments, a 125-unit building on Fifth Avenue in Oakland.

In 2013, the residents formed an environmental committee. Over the years, they built a rain garden on the property and installed LED lighting in the hallways and garages. Last December they initiated a building-wide composting and recycling program with help from Winkler and the PRC.

Photo courtesy of Zero Waste Wrangler.

Some tenants worried about the smell factor, but Winkler picks up the compost twice a week before it generates an offensive odor. People report their weekly garbage output has been cut in half.

“All that glass and food waste are getting a second life,” says apartment resident Mary Ann Steiner. “Kyle has taken the time to make suggestions, try new liners, respond to our questions and visit extra times when, for instance, our bin was inundated with weeds from the rain garden. Change can be rewarding and with the great service Zero Waste Wrangler provides, it can become a norm, even in city life.”

Interested in how to start composting on your own? Check out this resource for more info.

Kristy Locklin

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.