The Auckland composting collective trying to make the city waste free by 2040

If you’re keen to do your bit for the environment, then composting is a good place to start. And the Compost Collective is on a mission to help more Aucklanders make the most of their food waste.  

You might think nothing of throwing a banana skin into your rubbish bin, but the methane generated from organic waste in landfill dumps is 25 times more harmful to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. To help combat this problem, the Compost Collective was born, and it’s here to help Aucklanders help the planet – and maybe feed a local garden or two.

The effort began when environmental educators EcoMatters and Kaipatiki Project merged their composting knowledge in 2015, with a goal to make Auckland zero-waste by 2040. "Food waste in the landfill is a massive issue,” says Sarah Jane Murray, EcoMatters’ team leader for the Compost Collective. “Ultimately, we’re trying to get as many Aucklanders composting at home, because it’s one way in which people can actually do something about climate change.”

The job is not easy. Auckland households throw out around 90,000 tonnes of food waste each year, roughly half their total landfill. While the Council has rolled out kerbside compost bins in Papakura, and plans to do so across urban areas by 2021, more work needs to be done. For Murray, a good way to chip away at that “rugby field full of waste per week” is education. An army of tutors speaking a multitude of languages hosted 276 workshops last year, reaching almost 3,500 people.

“In a standard workshop we introduce people to the three types of composting, which are cold composting, the bokashi system and worm farming, and help them find what best suits their living situation. After they attend we send them a $40 voucher which they can then use on our website to help purchase one of those systems.”

This community outreach work has done wonders for the collective, which has seen almost 15,000 people get involved since it launched. Now people across the country are pitching in to Sharewaste, an online composting platform run by the collective that connects those who have compost facilities with anybody who wishes to recycle their scraps.

Orewa resident and former Auckland Council employee Richard Lee, who was originally responsible for bringing the platform from Australia to New Zealand, still uses the service to take his neighbour’s compost. “Right now, I get about five families that regularly drop their waste off. I don’t even have to be at home – I have a compartment in my carport where people drop off their full bokashi bins and take an empty one with them.”

Lee has helped spread the word to his neighbours, some of whom have now signed up to the programme as well. “It’s a great way to build communities – I’ve got to know some of the families that drop compost off quite well.”

With more and more news reports of plastic piling up in the oceans, and with 2018 being the fourth warmest year on record, the collective’s message has taken on a life of its own. “When I first started in this sector ten years ago, reducing waste in landfill was unheard of. It was a real struggle to get people to wake up and recognise what was happening,” Murray explains. “In the last two or three years especially, social media has made things much more accessible for people and is really raising awareness.”

And the size of the problem has not deterred anybody at the collective from their goal, Murray says. “I’ve got the best job in the world! We’re passionate about minimising waste in landfill. This is one of the ways people can actively do it and it’s usually inexpensive to get started – which is what people are looking for.” 

This story was first published on Our Auckland.