Valuing composting services

I want to write today about something I tend to be a bit sheepish about: asking people for money. Last year I was willing to run the HCC for free. Some community members wanted to pay me for compost that I was donating back, others gifted me lovely things like homemade preserves, so it certainly wasn’t all thankless! But others also noted that I should be getting paid for the hard work. Last year was great and I was willing to do it for free because I wanted to use it as more of an R’n’D year, where I worked out some of the kinks. I had already been collecting kitchen scraps off friends for years but I wasn’t sure how the logistics and other concerns would work when I opened the composting service up to the wider community. The best thing that I learnt is that there are heaps of people who are looking for ways to help out our environment by being considerate of where their organic wastes end up.

For new members this year I’m suggesting that they donate to the HCC so that I can continue to grow it into something bigger and better. Donating cash to HCC is easy because I have set up a Patreon page, where anyone can donate small, regular donations. Patreon was originally set up to support creative artists with the idea being that if you like the work of a particular artist or content creator then you can ensure they keep creating by becoming their ‘Patron’. For some artists or creators this means that you begin paying for their work that they were already supplying ‘for free’ (with everything being accessible and shared on the internet these days). I think this model suits the HCC really well.

I want to track back to a few years ago when a coworker was flabbergasted when he asked me if I would ever pay more for an item even if I knew I could get the exact same item for a lower price, and I answered in the affirmative. Maybe ‘exact’ is not the right word but I certainly find myself paying more for plenty of everyday items these days, and on purpose. I buy a lot of foodstuffs from the farmers market or the bulk food store these days simply to avoid unnecessary packaging. I buy as much of my clothing and footwear from ethical fashion brands as I can, even though I could get similar or in some cases lovelier gear from other brands. It’s all about values. Others might find ‘value’ in bargains but I personally get value out of being a conscious consumer. And that is what is needed for people to start paying for compost collections services, a slight shift in values.

It was only a few years ago that I didn’t think too much about the rubbish I was sending to landfill. It’s currently very easy to not think about as our rubbish is ‘taken care of’ for us. All you have to do is remember to put the wheelie bin out on the right day. Of course sending the copious amounts of materials to landfill that we do is not really taking care of it and it is in fact creating more problems than we care to think about. Especially the organic wastes that generate a huge amount of methane that mostly ends up heating our atmosphere.

Not to worry though, if we value our kitchen scraps instead and think it’s worthwhile to pay for a composting service we can actually make headway in solving quite a few different problems. Outlining all the benefits of contributing to a community composting service would take up a whole other blog post (jobs, improving soil, greenhouse gas abatement, community engagement, less food waste etc etc) but the main one for me is Keeping It Local. If we’re thinking of going after the big goal of greenhouse gas abatement by keeping food scraps out of landfill then it doesn’t make sense to collect from disperse locations, trucking waste all over town to process it in a central facility, say for all of Canberra. If we can instead get the whole of a suburb to work together and support a local initiative we can see great efficiencies such as collecting waste from a localised area, processing it in that same locality and even using it to amend soil in veggie beds in the same suburb. Very ‘closed loop’ and not that much effort put into transporting materials or other large infrastructure.

Before I get carried away with ambitious plans for a well managed decentralised network of composting hubs that cover all of Canberra, I’ll touch on my sheepishness again. Because I’m just not sure how many people are willing to contribute financially to set up such a composting service. I don’t think this can be done with volunteer labour alone and it does need a certain amount of oversight, both financially as well as other administration. I also have no qualms paying decent wages to get people to carry out the sometimes dirty, stinky work (they will save money on a gym membership though!)

I have been very ‘future forward’ with my suggested donations. Currently HCC contributors are somewhat dispersed across Hackett and other suburbs. In the near future there will hopefully be some efficiencies gained by collecting scraps from co-located households (i.e. in the same street/apartment block). With that in mind, the suggested donations have been set very low ($2-$8 per month). This does not cover the work currently put in to collect buckets, wash buckets, turn the compost, administer new members and maintain records (let alone education and community outreach). So no-one needs fear that I am personally profiting off this venture!! However we can all profit, as a community, if everyone chips in to get this waste recognised as a resource but also to help pay for work that is needed to transform those banana peels etc. into black gold 🙂

Postscript: This blog post has been sitting in my drafts folder for a while! (told you I was sheepish). But the time is ripe to start discussing the economic aspects of community composting. Yesterday I attended Canberra’s first Zero Waste Festival (thanks Zero Waste Revolution for hosting!) and was even profiled by our National Broadcaster for managing the HCC. It was great to meet so many people engaged with the waste issue at the festival but the main question I received was “When will you be active in my suburb?”. The answer depends on greater community engagement! That can mean money (don’t worry, I’m following up on various avenues for funding, in addition to HCC member donations). On the other hand if you disagree with the proposed business model (user pays for scraps collections) then feel free to put your hand up to volunteer anytime! I also heard at the festival about some other scattered community composting efforts all over Canberra and that’s fantastic. We should all help each other to achieve the goal of no household kitchen scraps to landfill.

Gratuitous picture of me with leaves. Over the past week I’ve incorporated nearly all of these leaves into the heaps, which are always hungry for more!

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