Nobody hates food waste more than our very own Ryan Cooper, Sustainability Specialist for Organics here at Rubicon. Wherever food waste is top of mind, Ryan is never far behind – which is why he’s at the NYC Food Waste Fair in Brooklyn as we speak, chatting with restaurants and small business owners about their food waste management and possible solutions.
So where does a person like Ryan Cooper come from? What drives someone head first into the smelliest kind of waste around? Well, we sat down with Ryan Cooper and learned his story.*
How did you get “into” food waste to begin with?
I have experience in farming and landscaping, so I knew about the value of good soil. As an arborist and farmer, when wood chips or a dead cow needs to be “disposed” of, the best, easiest, and cheapest way is nature’s way: compost. After starting a state permitted composting facility in North Carolina to recycle food waste from a well-known art school, I entered grad school to study sustainability. Once there, I wound up focusing on municipal-level food waste and organics recycling.
While in grad school, I worked with the City of Asheville for my graduate thesis. Then, off to Europe to see how the other side of the pond handles food waste. After that, I wrote for a leading organics recycling journal in the US, worked in Charlotte, North Carolina, then Charlottesville, Virginia, and finally, I found Rubicon. Here, my job is not glamorous, but it is exactly what I went to grad school to study. And now the US EPA, USDA, and United Nations are joining in on the fun.
What’s your most ridiculous/funny food waste story of your career thus far?
Getting a call about recycling 30,000 pounds of hamburger buns in Mississauga, Ontario. Or a tractor-trailer load of canned peaches that tipped over on the highway in Kentucky. Or 100 tractor trailer loads of canned peas in Minnesota. Yea, those all probably top the list. But honestly, finding a “home” for dewatered sludge cake and biosolids, or milkshake mix and chicken tenders, are all in a day’s work.
Okay, let’s get a little sappy. What do you love about your job? What gets you out of bed in the morning?
I love knowing that these materials go to feed people in need, to feed animals, to make electricity, and/or to create amazingly rich soil, instead of going to the landfill. I love knowing that I am part of a global movement, and that what we are doing represents the way of the future. At Rubicon, we all work to reduce waste in the first place, but some materials are simply the waste products of certain processes. I’m a pretty frugal guy, so with so many hungry people in the world and so many better things to do with this “waste,” I enjoy being part of the solution. The way I see it, if everything went as nature intended, nothing would be wasted.
If you were a cartoon character or super hero, who would you be?
I guess I sorta have to say Captain Planet…I sincerely care for people, living things, and the environment.
Any other fun facts we should know about you?
I was born in a snowstorm in June in a log cabin in Colorado. I enjoy making feather jewelry. Oh, and I love hiking and being outdoors, homebrewing beer and mead, grilling brats and playing guitar and drums.
More about Ryan Cooper, LEED GA, Sustainability Specialist – Organics, Rubicon
Ryan M. Cooper, LEED GA, joined the Rubicon team as the Organics Recycling expert in October, 2015. Prior to implementing and managing organics recycling programs at Rubicon, Ryan worked at GreenBlue, where he was a Project Associate for the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC). In this role, he administered an EPA sustainable materials management grant project called Scaling Up Composting in the Charlotte Region. He worked with the Carolina Panthers, IKEA, YMCA, and others to develop organics recycling programs. In addition to working on this project, he also worked with the City of Charlottesville, VA, on a pilot residential composting program. Ryan received his Master of Science in Regenerative Studies at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, where his thesis focused on municipal anaerobic digestion and composting. He worked with the City of Asheville, NC, on a feasibility study for curbside organics collection. Before that, he established a state permitted compost facility in North Carolina. Ryan has written for BioCycle Magazine and currently holds a position on the Membership Committee of the US Composting Council.