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City to Soil wins village residents and waste managers

Palerang Council’s waste-managing ‘City to Soil’ pilot program comes to a close at the end of this month with a basketful of data on how household organic waste can be turned into compost, what the economics are and what village residents think about it.

Most residents who use the service have been positive according to council surveys and want organic waste pickups to continue.  About one quarter of all village residents responded.

However, in May, two councillors and a local media discussion disputed council’s 6-2 vote to extend the trial service for another two years with the present composting facility without calling for expressions of interest first.

Council Engineer Bill Ellison told the Bulletin the logic was not to interrupt the organic waste collection service to Bungendore, Braidwood and Captain’s Flat households. He said that alternatives were looked at. But once Cooma and Goulburn, which both have City to Soil programs, declined to take Palerang’s organic waste, no other composting facilities were on the regional horizon.

Expressions of interest called

Building a new composting facility is an expensive multi-year project judging by the pilot experience of the present facility at Landtasia Organic Farm between Bungendore and Braidwood. This will be tested now with a call for expressions of interest going out this month – see ad p11.

Some also criticised the recommendation for a $130 gate fee (about $30 per village household per year) to keep the project economically viable. A state grant offset the start-up stage collection costs until now. The rest was absorbed by the compost maker at a significant loss.

Deputy Mayor Paul Cockram said that a gate fee is normal in the sector, “the chance of finding anyone in the geographic area who will take our waste for less than $130 per tonne is very remote.”

Less waste to landfill

The upside (along with home composting  and less food waste) is that less organic waste goes to landfill sites which have their own costs to ratepayers both environmentally and in dollar terms. New state hygiene rules also mean councils can’t just chop up green waste and sell it, so more councils are adopting City to Soil type schemes.

The Palerang situation was complicated from the beginning in the minds of some by the fact that the Landtasia compost facility was built, with his own funds, by Councillor Richard Graham.

Graham has said he believed he was donating a community service by enabling the trial period with the composting infrastructure. The start-up was lengthy, seven years, involving a range of government environmental permits. There was also a fight with neighbours who feared noise, smells and loss of amenity.

Graham says none of the fears were realised and that he always assumed council would call for expressions of interest at the end of the initial trial. He does not deny that he wants his facility and a composting business to continue now that the bugs are ironed out.

“We’re very happy with the results of the 16 month trial which was a steep learning curve. We can shave off some of the costs and we hope to get a reputation for high quality, organic compost,” he told the Bulletin.

 So what has the trial shown?

Over a 6 month survey period, 246.5 tonnes of organic waste was diverted from landfill and delivered for composting. The fortnightly average was 19 tonnes. In all 500 tonnes were collected since February 2014.

The composting process is described as covered, static and fermentative with naturally occurring microbial inoculants applied. It takes between 16 and 24 weeks to produce stable compost – about 25% longer than originally projected.

Contamination with any substance that is not organic waste has to be removed by hand and re-collected by council. This is the greatest time and labour cost even though most village residents are doing the right thing.

To date, early users have applied the compost for tree planting, orchard establishment, nurseries garden beds and raised beds. (They’re getting a tonne of active biology, says Graham).

Landtasia reported to council that without gate fee and given the price for compost in the market, the trial was making a loss of $368 for every tonne of waste delivered. The conclusion was that a gate fee, productivity gains, and increased sales were required to make the process viable.

The full report is on council’s meeting business paper of 7 May 2015

By Maria Taylor


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