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Community Composting at its’ Best

A couple of years ago I spent two full and fun years working with Cultivating Community (Melbourne) who are one of Australia’s leading organisations in urban agriculture and community development. While there, I helped kick start what is now called Food Know How, a unique community composting program involving a range of partners and a whole lot of work. The motivation behind this program started with Yarra City Council conducting a waste audit where they discovered that 52.6% of their waste stream was pure food waste – yikes. You can imagine how much it costs to transport waste from Yarra (dense, inner city Melbourne) to the landfill site on the edge of the city (it’s in the millions). Finding ways to cut down on the amount of food waste going in the bin in the first place was put high on the agenda.

To get things rolling, Cultivating Community partnered with Yarra Council and started doing things like the Composter’s Composium, free composting workshops in parks and back lane ways and ran the Compost Mates pilot project. Compost Mates worked with two cafes and a handful of local residents to harvest their food waste to compost it in private compost and mini community compost hubs. It worked, however we needed to do it on a bigger scale to really make an impact.


Yours truly trialing out the early version of the bike cafe compost collection system. These detachable racks were designed to fit onto the standard bike rack and could easily be removed when not harvesting food scraps. 


The Composter’s Composium 2011: A free expo where around 200 people hung out in the local part, learned about everything compost, were serenaded by wonderful music and had heaps of fun.


The ‘Compost Off’, a relay race to see which team can make the best compost pile in the shortest amount of time. Costa was the judge and commentator and the participants included the local Mayor at the time. Bloody hilarious.

And so, Compost Mates morphed into Food Know How and a great team of people have been working to coordinate food scraps being captured in both residential compost systems (in people’s balconies and gardens) and establish a community composting hub at Collingwood Children’s Farm to process bulk cafe food waste.

In short, Cultivating Community committed themselves to:

  • Sign up 500 households and 32 cafes to participate
  • Support participants through regular interaction and visits to their home/business
  • Provide free technical advice on how to maintain a healthy compost, worm farm or Bokashi system
  • Run fun, interactive workshops and events on food waste avoidance and composting
  • Update our website with a suite of tools to help families and business owners reduce food waste in the kitchen.
  • Use cargo trikes to pick up unavoidable food waste from cafes and take them to compost hubs across the city, where we will be able to process the scraps and turn them into nutrient-rich compost
  • Throughout the program we will randomly select participants to assess how much food waste we’re diverting from landfill and will also ask people to complete short surveys, providing valuable feedback to the City of Yarra

nyshNysh modelling the current fancy and fantastic bikes used to collect food scraps from the 32 cafes


The compost hub is located at the Collingwood Children’s Farm where food scraps from local cafes is composted. Cultivating Community staff member, Kat Lavers, manages this process beautifully. Please note, the general public are not allowed to check out this space without prior arrangements.

2014-06-10 15.47.57The last bay in the line where the food scraps are unrecognisable and the good stuff (compost) is well on its’ way to maturing.

In addition to the large hot compost bays, this compost hub also features two large worm farms. When it comes to composting, worm farming has a lot of added benefits which you can read about here.



2014-06-10 15.49.36

Cultivating Community CEO (and all round legend), Michael Gourlay, showing me around the worm farms

2014-06-10 15.49.48

When we moved back to Tasmania in 2012, I had serious community composting withdrawals so worked with Hobart City Council and Sustainable Living Tasmania to do a small home-based compost project called Compost Kings and Queens. Over 6 months I worked with 30 households to teach them how to compost as much food waste as they could in their own homes. In this period we conducted strict data collection and managed to divert over 3.3 tonnes of food waste from landfill. Not bad at all. These type of decentralised waste management approaches are comparatively dirt cheap (compared to trucking waste across vast distances) and have so many happy social, environmental and economic outcomes it’s ridiculous.

CKQ DRAFT flyerMargaret Steadman and David Stephens, local sustainability wonders, being the compost king and queen

A snapshot of the Compost Kings and Queens evaluation looks something like this…

  • Recruited 30 households (71 adults and 31 children/teenagers) from the Hobart municipality
  • Diverted 3308.9 kg (3.3 tonnes) of food waste from landfill[1]
  • Prevented 5.2 tonnes Co2 -eq greenhouse gas emissions[2]
  • 92% of participants indicated they would continue composting all their food waste with their current compost system even if food waste kerbside collections were introduced.
  • 84% of participants believed that if their community were supplied with a compost system of their choice and thorough education and support, they would be open to having fortnightly rubbish collections [instead of weekly].
[1] 1 Liter of food scraps = approximately 0.66kg
[2] Food waste in kilograms x 1.6 = Co2 emissions if sent to landfill (National Greenhouse Accounts, July 2012)

Composting is a highly effective technique to process food waste (and other organic materials) in your own garden or balcony. Community composting is taking it up a level (or 10) and is more than just composting – it’s community development/social permaculture in action – it’s beautiful. It can be as simple as you and your neighbour getting together to share a compost bin, or it could be your whole community organising themselves to catch and store this precious nutrient-rich resource that is currently treated as waste. There is a shape and size to suit any context, you just need to start!


 *Your blogger is Hannah Moloney, co-director of Good Life Permaculture and lover of all things fun and garden-esk.

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