Managing biowaste and promoting sustainability - profiling community composting

Slater, Rachel and Frederickson, James (2008). Managing biowaste and promoting sustainability - profiling community composting. In: CIWM Annual Conference and Exhibition, 10-13 Jun 2008, Torbay, UK.



The voluntary and community waste sector makes an important contribution to waste objectives (Williams et al, 2006). The community composting sector would appear to be leading the development of innovative biowaste collection and processing systems in areas unsuitable for traditional kerbside. Such schemes can contribute to developing local areas by improving local soils and green spaces as well as diverting waste from landfill. However, this is often only part of the story. Well managed community activity has huge potential for providing work and volunteering opportunities, as well as bringing people together and improving skills, knowledge and self-confidence. Considered collectively these factors may contribute to local sustainability more effectively than reliance on meeting particular targets.

Although there is some anecdotal and financial evidence for the growth in, and diversity of, community composting, there is very little comprehensive data that draws together the activity of the sector as a whole. The paper addresses this gap by presenting findings from a national survey profiling community based composting. Results show that a range of activities fall under the umbrella of community composting and these include: collecting / receiving and processing material, running education campaigns, promoting home composting and facilitating others to develop / promote community composting. The survey recorded over 100 groups actively engaged in at least one of these activities with many involved in more than one. Overall 80% of groups are involved in collecting and composting material and 20% are involved in composting related activity other than collecting and composting, such as educational and promotional activities. The sector has a large potential for providing work and volunteering opportunities and results indicate over 1,300 volunteers, trainees and staff involved in community composting.

In addition, most groups (68%) carry out composting alongside other waste and recycling activities or, more commonly, alongside non-waste activities such as community gardens, city farms, local food production, day and residential services and work integration schemes. These activities may bring about positive environmental impacts and social benefits over and above quantities of material diverted from landfill, and these benefits often cut across different policy agendas. Knowing and understanding these impacts and benefits is important in understanding the role of the community composting sector. In addition to results from profiling the sector, this paper will also present findings from participatory research with groups to develop ways to better understand and demonstrate the impacts of their work.

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