Community solutions for food waste
Don’t have the space or time to process food scraps at home but still want to manage your food waste locally?
Community enterprises such as community gardens, urban farms, and dedicated composting enterprises have been working hard for many years to enable New Zealanders to sustainably manage their food scraps close to home, keeping resource and waste flows to smaller, more localised scales.
Composting is a particularly common solution used for food waste within New Zealand communities. Community composting efforts can be broadly divided into volunteer-run ‘compost clubs’ and decentralised social enterprises that have emerged as a community response to food waste. Unlike composting clubs, composting social enterprises are often commercial operations, reliant on contracts and customers to support their business model. Enterprises like Kaicycle use a subscription-based model, charging fees for collecting and composting food waste from households and business. In contrast to larger scale industrial processors of food waste, social enterprises are embedded within the communities they serve, collecting and recirculating resources on local scales. Many composting clubs and social enterprises are keen to scale out across multiple communities to be a larger part of the solution going forward.
Place-based use of compost is common for community composting initiatives. For example, on Auckland’s Hibiscus Coast, City to Farm collects food scraps from local businesses, which it composts on a regenerative banana farm in Waitoki, improving soil quality and building soil carbon. Similarly, Waiheke Resources Trust collects compostable material from local businesses around Waiheke Island and sells the compost produced on-island back to the community.
Community solutions for food waste are often associated with broader benefits such as community building and resilience, sustainability education, intergenerational knowledge exchange, physical and mental wellbeing, and links to Māori soil and kai sovereignty. When factoring in community and social good, a French study found that an urban farm and composting school delivered a 2:1 return on investment over a one-year period, forecast to reach 27:1 over ten years.
To find a community-based food scraps solution near you, check out Manaaki Whenua’s live map of community composters, Kore Hiakai’s map of community gardens and other community food initiatives, and MakeSoil’s global map of composting initiatives. Alternatively, your neighbours might be able to make use of your food scraps; ShareWaste is a web resource that helps connect people who have food scraps to spare with people who have extra processing capacity.
Case study: Composting and urban farming with Kaicycle
Kaicycle Composting is a subscription-based community composting enterprise which processes 40 tonnes of household and office food waste in Wellington each year. Since it started operating in 2015, Kaicycle Composting has processed an estimated 230 tonnes of food scraps, in addition to arborist waste, coffee chaff, and untreated wood shavings. The resulting compost is used at the Kaicycle Urban Farm in Newtown, and any extra is donated to City Housing and local community gardens. Kaicycle Urban Farm produces fresh vegetables for the local community, with people able to buy a share in the outputs of the farm.
Kaicycle currently uses composting boxes in Newtown and is at capacity, but a new site in Rongotai and an in-vessel composter, which fully contains and automatically stirs compost, will enable Kaicycle to process an additional 90 tonnes of food scraps per year. As capacity grows, Kaicycle will look to sell surplus compost to supplement its income from the urban farm and scraps collections.
Kaicycle collects food scraps from around 200 offices and households, including from groups in multi-unit dwellings where home-based solutions for food scraps are often limited. Collections are done by e-bike, reducing transport-related emissions from Kaicycle’s activities. In addition, about 65 household subscribers drop scraps off at three sites across the city.
Aerial view of the Kaicycle urban farm in Newtown, Wellington. Image credit: Te Kawa Robb, Toroa Creative.
Compost manager Kate Walmsley building a compost pile with collected food scraps.
Liam and Tom, former Kaicycle staff members, collecting food scraps by e-bike in Wellington’s CBD.
Kaicycle uses scales to measure the ratio of nitrogen-rich food waste to carbon-rich garden waste, coffee chaff to regulate water content, and thermometers to ensure compost piles reach at least 55°C so that harmful microbes and seeds are killed. Compost nutrition and contamination testing at Eurofins and Hill Laboratories helped Kaicycle improve its processes when it was getting started, and it intends to do more testing this year to continuously improve its product.
The voluntary compost standard in Aotearoa (NZS 4454) focuses on the chemical composition of compost rather than its biological health (other than a limit on the presence of E. coli, a pathogen), but Kaicycle is keen to understand the diversity and relative levels of beneficial microbes in its compost too, which the standard acknowledges is important for the release of nutrients but doesn’t provide a methodology for. Labs like Soil Foodweb New Zealand which analyse the microbial health of compost and soils are scarce.
Kaicycle works to ensure its subscribers know what to include in their scrap bins. It recently undertook an education campaign explaining why it doesn’t accept any compostable packaging, highlighting that compostable packaging embeds the linear economy and risks introducing contaminants while bringing little to no nutritional value to the compost.
While well-managed compost piles mean odour and pest risks are minimised, Kaicycle works with Predator Free Wellington to support trapping efforts and the wider predator free kaupapa.
Kaicycle employs the equivalent of 4.5 fulltime staff, split across fulltime and parttime roles in the composting, farm, and community engagement arms of the enterprise. Kaicycle also provides many education and community engagement opportunities through public volunteer sessions, community events, workshops, and an urban farm school. The urban farm school is delivered with education provider Papa Taiao Earthcare. In 2023, the urban farm school will have more than 25 local high school students attending a year-long, NCEA accredited programme. In the last year Kaicycle has hosted 125 volunteers at the farm.
Kaicycle hosting local community members at a farm open day with pumpkin soup made from farm pumpkins.
Open days usually include workshops, seedling sales, shared kai, live music, and farm tours.
While all composting leads to some greenhouse gas emissions (albeit substantially less than emissions from landfilling food waste), Kaicycle works to keep methane emissions to a minimum by managing the composition of its compost piles, turning them regularly to ensure they are oxygenated, and inoculating piles with Beneficial Anaerobic Microbes (BAM) like those used in bokashi. BAM contains facultative anaerobes which can continue to break down food scraps in the absence of oxygen without producing methane, with the intention being that if the pile becomes anaerobic, methane-producing bacteria won’t dominate. Using BAM reduces the frequency with which the compost piles must be turned, reducing labour and allowing beneficial fungal networks to develop with less disruption.
As with many district plans, the Wellington District Plan is ambiguous about the legal status of community gardens, urban farms, and community composting. Wellington’s plan is currently being updated and looks to include composting at community gardens as an expected and permitted activity. Kaicycle hopes to see community composting directly included as well, to clarify the status of and rules associated with small- and mid-scale composting enterprises.
Kaicycle is currently undergoing a three-year process to attain Hua Parakore verification for its operations. The Hua Parakore verification scheme is a kaupapa-based approach to organics certification developed by Te Waka Kai Ora, the Māori Organics Authority. Participating organisations must demonstrate how they embed the kaupapa of whakapapa, wairua, mana, māramatanga, te ao tūroa, and mauri in their mahi.
Date released: 29 March 2023
Last updated: 29 March 2023