Composting and waste reduction in the UK and Australia

Since moving to Australia I have taken on a couple of voluntary roles at a nearby community centre and garden run by the Australian Red Cross. One is as a community garden volunteer which, as well as general garden activities, includes planning and coordinating the garden and welcoming visitors and encouraging them to participate. The garden is also home to one of the community composting sites managed by Brisbane City Council and as a composting site volunteer I am responsible for its upkeep. I am loving my volunteer work. I have learnt so much more about gardening in such a short time, and I am able to put my composting knowledge into practice on a greater scale. But that brings me to my shortcomings: I’m in a new place with a very different climate, different potential pests, different legislation and initiatives with regard to waste reduction, and the use of different schools of thought about composting.

So I have asked myself the following questions:

How fast does the compost process take given higher temperatures?

Queensland has a sub-tropical climate and although has four seasons, like in the UK, winter here is comparable to a British summer. Using a cold composting method which requires little management and materials are added as and when, decomposition can take 6 to 12 months in the UK. At the community composting site here in Brisbane decomposition has taken approximately 4 months. This is not necessarily comparable as the bins receive a greater quantity of waste than a home composting bin. However, it does suggest that the process is significantly quicker.

What about snakes?

An inevitable question, of course, but interestingly it is not a subject that has arisen as yet at the composting site. I have been warned of spiders when pruning (‘if you see a spider, back off’), but not snakes! However, the first step for avoiding snakes in gardens and compost bins is to make them unattractive to things like rats which, as a food source, attract snakes. So, the rules are the same as in the UK: as with any pest, keep your bin/heap covered, attend to it regularly, avoid raw meat, cover food scraps with other materials, and place the bin on a fine layer of mesh.

35Popularity of worm farms?

I have noticed since being here that worm farms (wormeries) seem particularly popular, including the ‘worm swag’ as pictured. The advantages of these and compost tumblers (of which we have two in the community garden) are that they help avoid problems with pests due to being enclosed. Worm farms are also really good for apartment living given their size, enclosed nature, and the small quantity of worm castings that are produced. In comparison, I have not yet come across composting methods like the HotBin, Green Johanna and Green Cone that exist in the UK and enable people to compost things like cooked food waste that cannot go in a conventional compost bin.

preventionWaste reduction legislation – nationally and state-wide

UK waste reduction legislation is, at the moment, directed by the EU Waste Framework Directive. The Waste (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 are the country-specific rulings. These provide a definition of waste and include measures on waste collection and separation, recovery, landfill, and so on. The EU provides a hierarchy of waste management (with another one specific to food waste), which is an extension of the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ mantra that most people are familiar with. The EU also sets targets for waste reduction and waste to landfill.

In Queensland the relevant legislation is the Waste Reduction and Recycling Act 2011 and aims to:

  •  “promote waste avoidance and reduction, and resource recovery and efficiency actions;
  • reduce the consumption of natural resources and minimise the disposal of waste by encouraging waste avoidance and the recovery, re-use and recycling of waste;
  • minimise the overall impact of waste generation and disposal;
  • ensure a shared responsibility between government, business and industry and the community in waste management and resource recovery; and
  • support and implement national frameworks, objectives and priorities for waste management and resource recovery.”

The Act also outlines the ‘Waste and Resource Management Hierarchy’ as:


Each state in Australia has their own individual act relating to management of waste and resources, but I have been unable to find anything specific to the country as a whole. That said, the measures being undertaken are very similar to Europe.

Food waste and other waste reduction targets

Targets in the UK include: recycling half of UK household waste by 2020; reduce waste to landfill to 35% of 1995 levels by 2020; and a 20% reduction in food and drink waste by 2025.

In Queensland, targets include: reduce general waste by 5% by 2024 and reduce waste to landfill by 15% of 2012 levels by 2024. Food waste actually seems to have a far more nationwide approach but targets are much more specific to individual businesses and industries, or with regard to zero to landfill, X% to charity, etc.

85732417_005219719-1I was also very happy to read this: The Queensland Government’s state-based ban on single-use lightweight plastic shopping bags (already banned in four other states), and Container Refund Scheme, will begin on 1 July 2018! Plastic bags have been irritating me since I got here. I didn’t realise quite how much I’d taken the effect of the UK plastic bag charge for granted. In the UK I had got used to shopkeepers asking if I would like a bag; here I have to be really quick to say ‘I’ve got my own bag!’






Community composting

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.

20170227_123951.jpgThe 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!





World Food Day

Yesterday was ‘World Food Day’, a day celebrated each year to mark the foundation of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations in 1945. The day itself was established in 1979 and since 1981 it has adopted a different theme each year so as to highlight where action is needed and provide a common focus for governments, businesses, NGOs, ministries, universities, campaign groups, individuals, and so on. The themes have included things like food security, rural poverty, women in agriculture, nutrition, and sustainable food systems. 2016’s theme is climate change: ‘Climate is changing: Food and agriculture must too’.

I celebrated ‘World Food Day’ a little early by attending not one but two events on Saturday which are both very close to my heart. One of these events highlights the significant problem that we have with food waste, and the other promotes slow food. Despite these differences, both have one thing in common: the notion that food is for everyone and should be shared and enjoyed together. How this relates to 2016’s theme for World Food Day I will come back to at the end of this post, but first I would like to tell you a bit about both of these events.

Utilise Social Kitchen

Utilise Social Kitchen is a social enterprise set up by an Enactus team at Loughborough University in February 2016. It is part of the Real Junk Food Project network which uses perfectly edible food that supermarkets and other commercial businesses would have otherwise thrown away to produce hearty meals for the community.

The Social Kitchen takes place at Fearon Hall in Loughborough, everyone is welcome, and payment for the meals is on a ‘pay as you feel’ basis whereby you pay what you think the meal is worth, or indeed what you can afford. Initially every three weeks, from November the Social Kitchen will take place each Saturday between 12.00 and 13.30.

This Saturday, Fearon Hall celebrated ‘Social Saturday’ and the Social Kitchen was joined by Action volunteers from Loughborough University, and two local social enterprises. Our local MP even stopped by for a meal. The next cafe is on the 22nd October alongside a talk by Transition Loughborough about Potato Day, and on the 29th, in the lead up to Halloween, Utilise are running a special ‘Pumpkin Rescue’ event in collaboration with Hubbub and Love Food Hate Waste.

Loughborough University ‘Fruit Routes’

The Fruit Routes were developed by a local artist, Anne-Marie Culhane, and are managed by the sustainability team at Loughborough University as part of their ‘Eat Your Campus’ project. In 2012 76 trees, 25 fruit bushes and 285 hedgerow whips were planted around campus. Many of these are now coming into their own and one of the key events each year is the autumn apple harvest. Students, staff, the children at the campus nursery, and people from the local community all join in harvesting and sharing the apples. The week ends with a guided tour of the fruit routes, various apple-related events, apple pressing by Transition Loughborough, and the Great Apple Bake-Off. Year round anyone is free to forage the fruit routes for things like apples, pears, cherries, apricots, almonds and more!

Climate is changing: Food and agriculture must too.

Food waste is a global issue and one that is currently dominating the media. It has social, economic and environmental connotations. It is not right to say we need more land to feed the growing world population when an estimated 30-50% of food produced is wasted annually, over 700 million people are classified obese, and  925 million people worldwide are undernourished. Rather, it is better to look at each stage of the supply chain and see where and why things are going wrong. The pressure of consumption has depleted the nutrients in the land so that many areas have very few harvests left in them, which means an ever-increasing reliance on chemical fertilisers. Dumping food waste in landfill causes not just methane, a greenhouse gas that is a significant contributor to global warming, but also contamination of groundwaters and soil, and pollution of the local environment.  If food is wasted it is vital to direct this away from landfill and through more sustainable channels where it’s value and energy can be used, if not by humans, then by animals or to produce power or nutrients that can be returned to the earth.

Slow food is food that has been prepared with care using local, high-quality, seasonal ingredients. The benefits of this for combating climate change are vast: for example, local food = less transport = less pollution and need for fuel; and seasonal = less resource intensive farming to grow things out of season, or less air miles to transport produce from overseas. Slow food also tries to save and reintroduce endangered food back to their local environments. One particularly important element, to me at least, is that projects like the Fruit Routes, and others around the country that follow similar ideas and principles, teach people how to enjoy food and appreciate where it comes from and what it went through to get onto their plate. And hopefully this understanding and awareness will ensure it fills their stomachs and not their bins.

Real Junk Food Project – Leicester

My almost six-year-old son, Harry, and I were going to Leicester today, and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to visit the city’s Real Junk Food Project café if it was open. But before I had a chance to check the opening times I opened my latest Wonky Veg Box, and what was in it but a leaflet about one of the charities they support through food donations: the Real Junk Food Project in Leicester!


Cafes like this are donated food by supermarkets, local shops, allotments, food banks, restaurants, events, and so on, that would otherwise go to waste, and they use this food to prepare delicious and healthy meals (like all other food providers in the UK they must abide by the same Environmental Health regulations so you should not be worried about food safety of ‘waste’ food). The café in Leicester is based in the LCiL West End Neighbourhood Centre and is open Thursday evenings between 7.00pm and 8.30pm, and Friday and Saturday lunchtimes between 11am and 3pm. So, (being a Friday) after Harry and I had got the train to Leicester and paid a visit to the dinosaurs and mummies at New Walk Museum, we set off in search of the café.

It was a 20-25 minute walk from the museum, not including the map-checking, and a brief park-stop (with the biggest slide I have ever seen), but we found it easily and it was worth the trip. I had a fabulous aubergine curry which I would happily eat over and over, and Harry had a simple pasta with tomato and vegetable sauce. While waiting for our food we both had banana milkshakes. Then, following our mains we had banana ‘cookies’ (more like warm cake) with chocolate sauce, which were also yummy and Harry’s favourite part of the meal. I paid £10 for our meals. I could have paid less if I wanted, or more, because that is how it works.

Real Junk Food Project have cafés globally which all operated on a Pay As You Feel basis. At the café in Leicester, there are a couple of donation tins and customers pay what they can afford, or they can pay by volunteering, playing music or washing up. Food that is leftover at the end of service is donated to local food banks. There is also a basket of waste food that customers can help themselves to – in today’s instance, a selection of supermarket-baked bread and bananas with black spots. There was a constant flow of customers from all walks of life. My only criticism was that because it is so well-established there is a bit of awkwardness if you haven’t been there before because you don’t know the ‘right’ way to order. It was also not very clear where to go within the community centre without asking someone. A café along the same lines has recently opened in Loughborough and because it is so new there are leaflets on the table telling customers about the project, and table service which gives the server the opportunity to share this information verbally. However, the café in Loughborough is much smaller so this is more practical than it would be in Leicester.

It is worth checking to see if the Real Junk Food Project operates a café near you. (And if there isn’t anything in your area have a search online because there might well be a similar project that operates independently of the Real Junk Food Project.) They are doing a great thing not just in terms of the redistribution of food waste, but also socially. They are for everyone, not just the homeless or those in food poverty, and in my opinion it is important they stay that way as I believe this normalises it: when we sit beside one another sharing a meal it just shows that we are all equal.


Wonky Veg Boxes

IMG_20160401_081632[1]I am no stranger to vegetable boxes, having been receiving organic veg boxes from a couple of suppliers for the past 5 years. These boxes do not differentiate the veg – I have broccoli so small they have given me two, and red peppers that I have struggled to fit in the veg basket, but nothing I would describe as ‘wonky’. But what is wonky veg anyway? All it is is veg that does not meet a supermarket’s aesthetic requirements in terms of size and shape – which can account for up to 40% of a crop of vegetables. A curvy cucumber or carrot might make it a bit awkward to peel and cut but it still tastes just as good, and it is still just as good for you. Personally, I like getting a bundle of carrots of different sizes – the small ones are ideal if I am just cooking for my children. Likewise, with potatoes – large ones are great if I’m wanting to peel them and feeling lazy, and small ones are good when I’m being equally lazy and just want to throw them in a pan. Needless to say, when I first found out about Wonky Veg Boxes in Leicestershire I signed up straight away

Wonky Vegetables were set up in February 2016 by Sam Barkshire and Matthew Hewett. (These guys remind me of Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s and the guys who set up Innocent – I have read the autobiographies of both these businesses and the enthusiasm, passion and values they send of in these books are the same as the vibes I get from the Wonky website). They are Leicestershire-based and currently only deliver in the county. They sent out their first wonky veg boxes this week fill to the brim with veg that has not been sold by a farm because it did not meet the aesthetic requirements. Wonky’s priority is to supply a box of seasonal produce from local UK farms. They purchase the veg that supermarkets won’t at a fair price and aim to give at least 10% of their extra stock to local charities (for example, food banks). This surplus stock is a necessity to accommodate loss in transit that makes food unfit for consumption. Wonky’s end goal is normalise the purchase and consumption of so-called wonky veg, and aim for a system where fruit and veg are graded solely on whether they are fit for human consumption.

Its early days, but I like what I see so far. Their whole premise motivates me to buy their veg boxes but I would like a bit more information about the veg I receive – for example, its county of origin, why it was rejected (aesthetics, purchaser cancelled an order at the last minute, etc), and what charities Wonky have donated to, perhaps in form of a newsletter each month (I know, early days – maybe they already have this sort of thing in the pipeline). Although their prices are extremely reasonable (4kg for £5, 6kg for £6, and 8kg for £8) the delivery charge of £3.99 may put some people off as it is steep compared to competitors even though the total cost is still lower. My only criticism is their renewal system as your subscription is renewed, and payment for the next box taken, on the same day you receive the first box. In the long-term I do not foresee this being a problem so long as you are organised about skipping a week for holidays, etc. But as a new customer this does not give you a chance to decide if the box you have chosen is the right size and could then lead to surplus veg. I don’t foresee this being a problem for me this week, fortunately.

I ordered a medium sized box which was filled with:

  • Podgy Potatoes
  •  Peculiar Parsnips
  •  Odd Onions
  •  Crazy Carrots
  •  Curvy Cucumber
  •  Abstract Aubergine
  •  Playful Peppers

The only things that are actually a bit wonky were the peppers. The aubergines are the most beautiful colour I’ve seen (and perfect for the lamb moussaka I am planning with the rest of my Easter lamb). The rest are humongous! The box will definitely feed us for the week, and given the size of the produce they will also keep fresher for longer. I just need to get planning that menu…

We are conducting a war on waste and the problem of wonky veg is one item on the agenda. Asda was the first supermarket to introduce a wonky veg range in January 2015 and their wonky veg box trial in February this year proved popular. Following its success Asda have expanded the number of stores offering the boxes. Tesco and Morrison have also introduced wonky veg lines which incentivise customers to buy so-called imperfect veg. Whether this suggests consumers are concerned about the amount of food being wasted or just like a bargain (or both), the popularity of these ranges shows that consumers are not as particular about what their veg looks like as retailers think. Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda and Waitrose have also all pledged to relax their cosmetic standards on fruit and veg.

I think it is great that a local, independent enterprise are tackling this problem in such a proactive way. I had a quick search for similar schemes across the country but search engines are just full of what Asda are doing and I could not find anything close to Sam and Matt’s Wonky Veg Boxes so they seem to have uncovered a gap in the market and grabbed hold of the veg box trend that is showing no signs of faltering any time soon. I wish these guys the best of luck.