Communal Composting in Apartments

Recycling food waste in communal worm farms is helping Stonnington apartment dwellers reduce their environmental impact and work together towards a more sustainable future.

The food waste issue:

The average Stonnington garbage bin contains 40% food waste. When food scraps and other organic materials are sent to landfill, they begin to break down anaerobically (without oxygen) and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas. According to statistics from Food Wise, Australians throw out up to 20% of the food they purchase. That’s four million tonnes, or roughly 140 kg per person of wasted food going to landfill each year.

The food waste challenge in apartment buildings: 

Bulky home composting units and limited available space makes it difficult for people living in apartments to recycle food waste through standard composting systems. Innovative solutions, such as communal composting, provide a great alternative.

Twenty-four households from three apartment buildings across Stonnington participated in the Apartment Composting Pilot Project to trial innovative solutions and support apartment residents to recycle food waste. Their involvement was driven by Owners Corporations who were looking to do their bit for the environment but were also keen to explore the benefits the project may have on the building’s gardens.

‘We want to convert our space to a green hub.’

‘Would like to be a model of sustainability for older apartment blocks.’

A solution to reducing food waste in apartment buildings:  Communal Worm Farm 

The Apartment Composting Pilot Project installed communal worm farms in common areas at each apartment building to make it easy for apartment dwellers to recycle their food waste. Participation in the pilot project was optional for the residents at each of the buildings. Residents were encouraged to get involved via information provided by Council and the Owners Corporations. Introductory workshops were held at each site to encourage residents to get involved and households were provided fridge reminders and kitchen caddies to collect food scraps and understand which items could be fed to the worms. 

‘The workshops and kitchen caddies were valuable tools in building enthusiasm for the project and increasing understanding.’

Results from the Apartment Composting Pilot Project:

In only 6 months the pilot project has already resulted in an average reduction of 9% in the amount of food waste sent to landfill from all three apartment buildings. It is expected that further reductions will occur as participation by residents grows.

Apartment residents with worm farm ‘It’s great to recycle our food waste and know it’s not going to landfill.’

The Owners Corporations and residents are also enjoying the financial and environmental benefits of producing their own fertiliser.

‘The worm juice is magnificent. We store and offer worm juice to residents and use on the gardens at the building.’

Alongside the environmental benefits, the project has also resulted in a number of social benefits, including the fostering of community connections between apartment dwellers. All Owners Corporations involved in the pilot reported an increase in community connectedness within the block.

The community connection created by installing a communal worm farm has highlighted the importance of creating an opportunity for neighbourly connections and demonstrated the value of communal worm farming beyond the environmental benefits of recycling food waste.

The Owners Corporations now have an ongoing challenge to maintain enthusiasm for the initiative and to increase participation. It’s hoped that participation will continue to improve with time and it’s important that the Owners Corporations ensure the worm farms continue to meet the needs of the building. This may involve increasing capacity by adding additional worm farms as participation increases. Providing information to new residents is also an ongoing challenge however one Owners Corporation representative described it as a great way of introducing people to the block.

There is a direct correlation between the amount of food waste diverted from landfill and the participation of residents in the pilot project – the buildings with higher participation also diverted more food waste from landfill.

Thinking about communal worm farming at your own apartment block?

‘Just do it.’

‘It’s not that hard.’

But remember to keep it simple.

Ensure the capacity of the food waste recycling hub meets the needs of the building and is available and convenient for residents to use.

It is important that there is a resident or building manager committed to the ongoing success of the project and someone driving the project from within.

For further information on how you can get involved at your apartment building contact environment@stonnington.vic.gov.au or visit stonnington.vic.gov.au/composting.

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