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.
Popularity 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.
Waste 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:
AVOID, REDUCE, REUSE, RECOVER, TREAT, DISPOSE.
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.
I 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!’