Let’s talk statistics. Making the Most of Food: A Guide to Reducing Food Waste in the Hostelry, Restaurant and Catering Industry, a study published by Barcelona’s Autonomous University and the Alicia Foundation, explains that a restaurant which serves 120 meals per day creates around 3,000 kilos of food and organic waste every year. This is waste that the Tricyclerie initiative in Nantes, France, is turning into compost.

Created in January 2016, Tricyclerie’s name comes from a mash-up of the French words for ‘tricycle’, ‘recycle’ and ‘classify’. The project consists of volunteers, known as tricycleurs, visiting certain restaurants in the city twice a week on their tricycles. At each eatery, the volunteers pick up organic waste and load it into the baskets on the back of their vehicles. Given all the kilometres covered by volunteers, they are soon in good shape.

“The idea came from a number of different sources of inspiration. It is a mixture of lots of things: personal and ecological commitment, a passion for cycling, urban development, connecting the city and the countryside…” explains Coline Billom, an environmental engineer and co-founder of Tricyclerie, by email. One of the most important motivations for her is to avoid the incineration of leftover fruit and vegetables, “to bring an end to the model by which waste is burnt, since it is so easy to recycle this organic waste.”

Every action taken by the organization is aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Firstly, as the waste collected is not burnt, there is a reduction in resulting CO2 pollution. Secondly, since the waste is collected by pedal power, vehicle emissions are avoided. Finally, given that the waste is transformed into compost, a natural fertilizer that is sold to nearby farms, the amount of chemical fertilizer is reduced, thus avoiding the emission of greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide.

To fund the project, the founders applied for that most millennial form of finance: crowdfunding. They used the French platform, HelloAsso, to ask for 8,000 Euros, and in the end raised 9,470 Euros. A three-month pilot project with 10 restaurants collected three tons of waste, with the resulting saving in greenhouse gas emissions, and an incalculable benefit to volunteers, who were cycling between five and seven kilometres per day.

“Right now we are working with 16 restaurants and five offices, collecting around 200 kilos of waste per week. We have a team of 15 people, three of whom collect a salary,” says Billom. So the cycle is made complete: food, instead of being burnt, goes back to the land, where it enriches the soil for new plant growth, and food is produced. Meanwhile, the tricycleurs legs get stronger.