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A person brews coffee at Reground cafe

How to compost when you have no space to compost

March 25, 2024
July 3, 2019

As the director of Reground, a company that specialises in diverting coffee waste from landfill and using it as a resource, Kaitlin Reid knows a thing or two about the complex world of sustainable inner-city waste management. So we asked her to share those things with us. And she obliged.

Knowing the best way to dispose of our waste is a seemingly ever-evolving issue for Australian households. Just when we get one method all figured out, some new information or research gets released, or a new initiative kicks in, and we have to take another look and what we do and how we do it.

Of course, rule one is to simply create less waste. Rule two is to separate your recycling from your landfill waste. But from there, it gets a little more complex, and your specific solutions for waste management depend on whether you live in an apartment or a detached house, whether you rent or own, what region of Australia you live in, and even what local council you fall under.

Some councils, for example, offer up free organic bins to their constituents if they ask for them. Some don’t. Some councils go to great lengths to reuse and recycle the hard rubbish they pick up. Some don’t. Many of us can’t even get rule two quite right – around 10% of materials placed in our recycling bins shouldn’t be there, and around a third of landfill waste bins are made up or recyclables or organics. Oh, and did you know that you don’t even need to rinse your recycling?

See? It’s complicated.

Thankfully, there are people out there who are trying to fix our waste woes while providing some much-needed education in the process. Kaitlin Reid, Reground director alongside founder Ninna Larsen, spends her days doing just that.

Founded in 2014, Reground set out on a mission to prevent coffee grounds from Melbourne cafes needlessly ending up in landfill. And since 2014, they’ve been doing just that by offering a waste collection service.

The Reground team takes coffee ground waste and chaff off the hands of café owners and roasteries and redirects it to their community garden (they collect and recycle soft plastics from local businesses, too). “The whole premise of Reground is that we see waste as a resource,” says Kaitlin. “With a coffee, only about 1% of it ends up in your cup, the other 99% goes into the bin, then into general waste, and eventually ends up in the landfill.”

What a lot of people don’t realise is that organics in landfill can release huge amounts of methane gas, “which can be up to 40 times worse for the atmosphere than carbon pollution from cars,” says Kaitlin. “Thankfully, the beauty of coffee is that it’s an amazing resource for the garden. It’s high in nitrogen and high in potassium. Ultimately, it’s an organic matter, so it should end up back in our soil.”

A Bank Australia customer grant recipient for 2018, Reground will imminently be using the grant to set up a not-for-profit community composting hub in Alphington, Melbourne. As well as being a site for the community to bring their food waste, the aim of the space will be to educate the community on the wonderful world of composing within the context of the urban environment, which means it’ll be as applicable to apartment dwellers as it would home-owners with a 20-acre backyard. It’ll also aim to be a one-stop for shop for anyone who has questions about the wonderful world of waste, and just what they’re supposed to do with theirs.

Recycling and general waste management aside, for city-dwellers – who invariably do not have much room indoors, let alone outdoors – disposing of organic waste sustainably can be a problem. And when it comes to household organic waste management and composting, Kaitlin agrees that living in an apartment can be a barrier, but that it doesn’t need to stop people from composting altogether. “One good, small solution is getting a worm farm,” she says. “We have a worm farm on our tiny balcony and while it doesn’t take all or our organics, it does take a fair whack.”

If a worm farm is off the agenda, Kaitlin recommends finding a local community garden – like Reground’s – to take your organic waste to, though she highlights the importance of being respectful to those doing the composting. Many community composting hubs are liable to being overrun with waste.

Kaitlin also suggests giving your local council a call to find out what free services are on offer (some councils provide free kerbside bins for organic matter) and what plans they might have for the future.

Even if they don’t provide much themselves, it’s likely that your local council will be able to let you know where you can buy worm farms and compost bins, and they’ll be able to direct you to the local composting sites too.

“We talk about the waste hierarchy a lot at Reground,” she explains. “So if you’re at home, it’s about using less. Creating less waste. And then the next best step is keeping it local – composting it on site, rather than sending it out to composting facilities far and wide.”

But why compost at all? What does it actually do? Aside from avoiding the much-feared release of methane gas, composting at scale also helps combat soil degradation.  “Soil degradation is one of the biggest issues we might face in the future,” say Kaitlin. “Because of the way we’ve farmed for a long time, our soils are no longer the quality they need to be. People need to become more connected to our soil, and to growing food. Inner-city initiatives like rooftop gardens, alleyway gardens, planter boxes – anything that makes good use of unused space is what we need to see more and more of. It’s just about being connected.”

Find out more about Reground’s work on their website, and contact your local council to find out what organic waste options are available in your area.

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