The idea for the Leaf Burrito came to Marc Mataya as he was tidying up his yard for a holiday party.
Crunched for time and unable to bag leaves in plastic bags, he ran up the street a few houses and asked the Solid Waste staff working their way down the street if they could help him dump a “burrito-shaped” tarp full of about 25 bags of leaves into their truck. Mataya’s request was going out on a limb — tarps are not approved containers for trash by the City of Charlotte.
“They actually replied, ‘We prefer it this way, otherwise we have to rip open every bag,’” Mataya recalled via phone recently.
As it turns out, his in-the-moment invention fixed an industry-wide pain point: Solid Waste staff must rip open and empty each plastic bag of leaves or yard clippings into their trucks; otherwise, they have to do it manually at the landfill. The burrito-like tarp not only saved time and energy, but also eliminated the use of single-use, plastic bags, which can’t be recycled and take 1,000 years to break down.
So Mataya decided to turn his simple idea into the Leaf Burrito, the 5-foot by 7.33-foot zippable, reusable landscaping bag made from custom industrial-grade mesh. Approved by the City of Charlotte Solid Waste Services in February 2017, the Leaf Burrito serves as an efficient and reusable alternative to plastic or paper bags for yard waste during all four seasons.
Leaf Burrito’s is built to accommodate everything from grass clippings, leaves and weeds to sticks, compost and mulch. Its PVC-coated nylon mesh is designed for optimal porousness; the joints are soldered together so it won’t split, run or rip under pressure or tension. The Leaf Burrito is a patented product and registered trademark. The company is currently awaiting approval for a utility patent.
Mataya comes by entrepreneurship honestly. Both his parents were entrepreneurs in the hair salon industry.
“It was great experience growing up and hearing your parents talk business around the kitchen table,” he recalled.
Mataya at first built his career in the corporate world, becoming a systems developer with Bank of America who provided key consumer credit metrics to former Chairman and CEO Hugh McColl.
When he launched Leaf Burrito, he decided to self-fund the company from the start and continues to lead Leaf Burrito’s development and strategy as well as the company’s leadership in sustainability practices and green initiatives. Lauri Eberhart, who worked as vice president for the NASCAR Speedway, spearheads business development.
For right now, Leaf Burritos are distinctly Charlotte. The Charlotte-based leadership team wants to keep production in the QC as the company grows; a current capital raise would mean the creation of up to 250 new jobs for the region.
The company is currently testing the Leaf Burrito in the new neighborhood of Brightwalk, located in Charlotte’s Smart District. Their “BETAHood” means that 100 percent of Brightwalk residents will not need to use a single plastic bag all year. In doing so, he hopes to shift a paradigm for QC residents with education and awareness: Homeowners don’t have to use plastic bags. And Mataya believes there’s no better place to start that movement than the 19th-fastest growing city in America.
“We want Charlotte to pioneer this product and initiative,” Mataya noted. “We want to put Charlotte on the map as the first large city to roll out this product nationally — and we want to make them all here.”
Leaf Burritos are currently sold at several Charlotte staples including Blackhawk Hardware, Certified Lawn Mower and Rountree Nursery, as well as via the company’s website.
That commitment to Charlotte is apparent in other ways, as well: The company is giving 5 percent of total revenues back to new, local greenway projects throughout the city.
The future is bright for Leaf Burrito as it continues to celebrate its 2017 Waste Reduction Award from Sustain Charlotte. That momentum is powering its current Indiegogo campaign. They’re looking to raise $50,000, to spread the word about the Leaf Burrito and to ramp up efforts to fund mass production and make the customized mesh in the U.S. versus Taiwan where it’s currently produced.
Mataya and team are also conceptualizing other products to complement Leaf Burrito, including a midsized tote for the elderly, a custom-made rake shovel and a leaf shredder that would shred 20 to 30 bags of leaves into one Leaf Burrito. There’s also a potential custom-designed, garbage can design to be developed with the City of Charlotte to help create a standardization of containers for functionality and visual curb appeal.
An avid and lifelong outdoorsman, Mataya knows that the Leaf Burrito is about so much more than just picking up leaves from the yard.
“I really understand and appreciate the ‘leave no trace’ thought process,” he said. “Single-use anythings are bad; we get the bigger picture of this, and the sustainability of it all.”