By Yustin Riopko
CHARLOTTE – Nobody knows for sure, but it’s estimated a plastic bag could take up to 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill.
Outside the landfill, plastic bags look unsightly, interfere with the groundwater system and endanger wildlife. Although bags decompose faster out of the ground, the chemicals they break down into are toxic and hazardous.
That’s why Charlottean Marc Mataya introduced his reusable yard debris bag, the Leaf Burrito. The burrito is a 5- by 7-foot mesh tarp that you can rake leaves onto, then fold and zip up to be put on the curb for waste collection.
The idea came to Mataya a few years ago when he was having a party at his home. There were leaves everywhere.
“I put about 25 bags of leaves into a tarp and rolled it up with bungee cords,” Mataya said. “It looked like a big fat burrito on my sidewalk.”
When he saw the collection truck coming down the street, he ran up to the workers and said, “I know you don’t take tarps but I’m in a huge bind. Can I help you throw this big tarp into your truck?”
The workers said they’d check it out when they got down the street, so Mataya went back to his property to wait. As he watched, the collectors picked up eight bags at one house and six at the next. They flipped them upside down and ripped the bottoms open, shaking out the debris and putting the spent one-use plastic bags in the truck.
As the leaf-collectors emptied Mataya’s tarp contraption, they marveled at how easy it was to use and – best of all – they gave it back instead of throwing it away like plastic bags. That’s when Mataya realized he had an opportunity to make a product that could solve multiple problems.
Mataya reverse engineered the original prototype for the Leaf Burrito from tarps, but it didn’t stick for some of the same reasons tarps aren’t allowed. Water got trapped, and you couldn’t see through to make sure the bag only contained safe yard debris.
The next prototype was made out of coated nylon mesh customized for water pressure. Mataya explained the width of the mesh will allow a drop of water to fall right through, but it will just bounce right off if it’s raining hard enough. However, that one got turned down for size.
So Mataya reduced the size of the next model to 5 feet, added zippers and handles so it was easy for homeowners, contractors and collectors to use, and the city stamped it approved last February.
Now if you put your Leaf Burrito on the curb for collection day, there will be no questions or wasted plastic.
Mataya demonstrates in a video on the Leaf Burrito’s Indiegogo page how easy it is to use, laying the thing flat out on the ground, raking onto it and zipping it up. Mataya says crowdfunding is a big deal now and hopes it can give the Burrito some more momentum.
“It’s a marketing tool. People like to go to these sites to see what’s new,” Mataya said. “Look at FinalStraw – a reusable straw. They’re killing it! That’s a great example of how green eco-friendly products are gaining progress with crowdfunding.”
FinalStraw has collected almost $1.9 million on Kickstarter.
You can visit www.leafbur rito.com to learn more about the Leaf Burrito and donate or buy one.