Ever since I started composting I’ve been fascinated by the idea, and practice, of community composting. I think a big reason from this was not so much that I lived in an urban area with minimal space for composting, but that composting -or at least the motivation to start composting – scared me. It seemed a lot of work to get started – to buy or make a bin, create some space for it, learn what I could and could not put in it and then teach my family what they could and could not put in it (still a never-ending task).
At the same time I was volunteering at a community centre. The centre was looking to tidy up and develop their composting site and overall garden and I helped out a bit with this. Sorting through the compost bins showed two things:
* people have good intentions when it comes to composting their food waste
* people do not fully understand what can and cannot be composted
Although I had brainwaves of ideas about expanding the site so members of the public could also use it, I never suggested them.
Imagine it: local residents can fill a caddy with their kitchen scraps and then take it to the community garden and empty it into their bins. When the organic matter had broken down and the compost has matured residents, if they can use it, can collect free bags of compost to use on their own gardens and the rest can be used on the community garden or even sold elsewhere to make a bit of money for the community centre.
All sounds great, doesn’t it? But unfortunately it doesn’t, and can’t always, work like that.
Imagine someone puts things into the bin that shouldn’t be there. Cooked food or raw meat that attract vermin. Dog faeces or cat litter which spread disease. The associated risks with community composting mean that it is covered by legislation.
In the UK community composting is covered by the ‘Waste exemption: T23 aerobic composting and associated prior treatments’. Generally, compost can only be used on the site where it is produced, but community composting groups are able to apply for an exemption so long as the quantity of waste stored/treated is under 60 tonnes. This enables residents to bring their waste to a centralised site and for compost to be used on local gardens, although council health and safety officers usually recommend compost be used on the site where it is produced to keep things simple. Wormeries/worm farms also need to be declared, and depending on the quantities might also be covered by the Animal By-Products regulations which came about following the foot and mouth outbreak. Allotments and schools are two other examples of sites which would need to apply for an exemption certificate.
Two months ago I moved to Brisbane, Australia. Prior to moving I was searching for community gardens as this was something I wanted to get involved in, and my search led me to Brisbane City Council’s community composting scheme and the discovery that there are currently four community composting sites in Brisbane. It didn’t take me ten seconds to sign up for the scheme, select what would be my local site, and then once I had arrived in Brisbane collect my free compost caddy! Now every week after dropping my son at school I walk the twenty minutes to the compost site to empty my caddy, easy as that!
The scheme is still in its infancy and has only been running since mid-October last year. There are four sites located at community gardens throughout Brisbane – Jeays Street in Bowen Hills, Kelvin Grove, Nundah, and The Gap – with 279 residents currently participating in total (the spread across each site is fairly even). The council will be opening more sites across the city in a staged process, but it is clear that the scheme is going well so far – Jeays Street community garden has recently added another bin to their site. Over half of the Jeays Street site users live within 1km, and 14% within 2km, although the furthest someone travels is 17km! Presumably they work locally but this does suggest that there is the demand for sites elsewhere in the city.
The maintenance of the composting sites are the responsibility of volunteers, although the council is on hand if any extra tools, bins, signage, etc., are needed, and they also run composting workshops. I have been to the composting site today to meet the program officer, one of the volunteers, and the community engagement officer at the community centre so that I can also get involved with this. Three of the compost bins at the site are ready to be used, and the compost is going to be spread on the raised beds (which have just been cleared) at the community garden so we can get planting! The community engagement officer has not long started and is very keen to develop the garden as it has been somewhat neglected.
So, here begins the next stage of my composting journey!