Happy Trash Can: Waste Reduction in the Gallatin Valley

By Taylor Barrett and Max Wellman

When deciding to start a business, Ryan Green and Adrienne Huckabone knew there was no place better than Bozeman, Montana. They came here with a love for the environment, a love for Montana, and, well, a love for turning rotten food waste into nutrient rich soil amendment. With no existing compost service in town, they had found their niche in the local market. 

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Starting in 2016 with a handful of customers, Happy Trash Can Curbside Composting now has a wide base of residential customers and an impressive list of commercial customers, including the Community Food Co-op and Heebs Fresh Market. 

For Green and Huckabone, composting is more than a profession, it’s their passion. Happy Trash Can’s goal is not to build a massive customer base––that’s just a pleasant side effect––their goal is to help raise awareness and build a movement that pushes Bozeman, and the world, toward a brighter and more sustainable future. And given that they are currently collecting approximately 10,000 pounds of food waste that would have been sent to the landfill every week, it’s easy to say they are off to a good start.

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Green initially became interested in compost and diverting food waste because of his love for both the culinary arts and agriculture. Studying Environmental Science and Organic Agriculture, Green has always had a passion for all things food––mentioning that “growing your own food is one of the best ways that you can connect to your own natural environment,” and you can see the truth of this statement in the passion he has when he talks about Happy Trash Can.

Huckabone on the other hand studied fine art and was particularly interested in creating works inspired by environmental issues––giving her a moral and political focus as an artist. Soon after meeting Ryan, Huckabone decided it was time to take physical action and see how two individuals could help their local environment on a larger scale.

Throughout Green’s career, he began to notice a trend of rampant waste in the food industry, telling us that “roughly 50% of food is wasted between the manufacturer and consumer” in the United States. Which––in the light of climate change and food shortages around the globe––is a rather disturbing thought. 

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Originally working at Strike Farms on the outskirts of Bozeman, Ryan and Adrienne asked the owner, Dylan Strike, if they could use a portion of the acreage at his farm to start a community compost service in exchange for their work. Strike understood the importance of having locally sourced compost and was immediately onboard. In partnership, Green and Huckabone started Happy Trash Can.

Along with Strike Farms, the Community Food Co-op quickly became instrumental in helping Green and Huckabone gain traction. The Co-op was not only their first customer, but they also helped pave the way for future customers. At the same time that Ryan and Adrienne were brainstorming how they were going to market their business, Lori Petermann, the Co-op’s Production Kitchen Manager, happened to be looking for a consistent compost service in order to cut down the amount of waste the Co-op was sending to the landfill.

Green and Huckabone’s initial relationship with Strike Farms and the Co-op would end up being beneficial for not only all three businesses, but also the local community and the Gallatin Valley’s environment at large. With Happy Trash Can supplying their services to Bozeman, there was not only less waste being sent to the landfill, but there were also large amounts of could-be-waste products being recycled and given back to members of the community and local farmers. Since the summer of 2017, the Co-op has saved approximately 275,000 pounds of trash to date, and Happy Trash Can is now processing over 500,000 pounds annually. That’s nothing to scoff at.

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Closing the gap in the food cycle has always been Happy Trash Can’s key focus, and they’ve been able to slowly but surely spread awareness about the benefits of composting. Today, Happy Trash Can has over 375 residential customers on top of their already impressive list of commercial customers, and this list includes many of Bozeman’s favorite eateries, coffee shops, and restaurants, including Wild Joe’s Coffee Spot, Nova Cafe, Lot G Cafe, Feed Cafe, The Daily Coffee & Eatery, Rockford Coffee, Ale Works, Wild Crumb, Dean’s Zesty Booch, Five on Black, Rosauer’s, Costco, and as we mentioned before, the Community Co-op and Heebs Fresh Market. 

This list is something to be proud of, and it shows the impact Happy Trash Can has had on Bozeman’s conception of composting. And really, it’s not ending in the Gallatin Valley. Happy Trash Can has also expanded their services to Livingston and Belgrade, and they have initiatives inside of some of Bozeman’s schools, partnering with Hawthorne School and the Montessori School to bring composting and gardening projects to the students to help get future generations interested in sustainable practices. 

When asked about what it’s like for the youth to see the process and benefits of composting, Green told us that “it’s going to create a generation that grew up composting.” Happy Trash Can is striving to create a future where composting is just as common as recycling.

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Mitch Bradley, the owner of Heebs Fresh Market, mentioned that composting and diverting food waste not only makes him feel better as a business owner, but he also told us that it’s “the direction [he thinks]  we should go as a country.” Ryan quipped that you don’t even need Happy Trash Can to start composting, you can do it in your own backyard, with Huckabone adding that they’re “just here for the people who don’t have the time and space, or want, to do it themselves.” While this is a way to earn a living for the Happy Trash Can couple, it’s much more than that–it’s a way of life, and for them, the more people living this way, the better.

The work of Happy Trash Can and their patrons in Bozeman show us that we do in fact have the ability to change the way we live, and it doesn’t have to be an arduous and painful journey. In fact, it can be quite fun–as long as you’re okay with the smell of rotten vegetables.

If you want to see how Happy Trash Can could benefit your business or if you want to get your own residential curbside composting bin, go here: https://www.happytrashcan.net/

And before you ask, Happy Trash Can does all the clean up. All you do is collect your compost, set it on the curb, and wait for your clean bucket to arrive back at your curbside. You won’t only be supporting two driven Bozemenites when you do this, you’ll also be helping to keep Bozeman clean and beautiful, something we can all appreciate. 

Additional Resources – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Alternatives for Waste Management https://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_g/G314.pdf

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