7 Tips for Starting a Shared Composting Area with Neighbours

two people with garden tools and bin of soil - tips to start shared composting area

A growing movement across the United States, Canada and Europe pulls together people living in a community to share a common composting area. These sites most often occur in community gardens, in schools or even on small farms.

Composting on a small scale, using locally based resources, allows residents who may not have backyards or the means to compost in their backyards access to composting. This decentralized form of composting also keeps organic resources in the community, since the community garden or other host site often uses the finished compost on the property.

Aside from all the usual benefits of composting, neighbours getting together to compost as a community has additional advantages. Household-scale backyard composting tends to be a very private affair. We go about our business of collecting materials, maintaining the compost pile and using the compost in a solitary or family-oriented manner. Community composting brings neighbours together and raises awareness for neighbours who haven’t yet been exposed to the wonderful world of composting. Gathering with your neighbours to create a valuable soil amendment using your collective labour and resources is a powerful feeling.

Community-scaled composting can occasionally go awry, especially when the system lacks a competent manager. If you’re venturing into community-scaled composting, consider these seven tips:

Choose a manager

Dedicate a manager who knows how to compost. This person could be someone experienced in composting in their own backyard or someone who has taken formal classes on backyard composting. This person should train everyone else involved in the maintenance of the site.

Decide on the size and scale 

Consider what scale of composting site you need. Many community composting sites operate just over the size of a typical backyard system. How many people will be contributing materials?

Research local regulations

Some states and municipalities have regulations restricting the size of the compost area or what types of materials you can add. Look into your local regulations and operate accordingly. If regulations are too strict, consider requesting a variance for your site. It never hurts to ask.

Select a workable system

Choose a system that can handle your volume. For some community composting sites, this means having multiple types of compost bins. Others construct large two- or three-bin units. If space allows, some community compost sites operate large compost piles called “windrows.”

Think about pests

Consider your area and whether having a locking lid or other critter‑proof mechanisms are necessary. Nothing spurs neighbours to complain like a haven for unwanted pests.

Create guidelines for users 

Educate participants on what to compost. If you allow neighbors to bring food scraps, make sure they know only to bring fruit and vegetable scraps and to leave out meat and dairy. Limiting the types of materials will make the manager’s life easier. Do not allow compostable plastics or any other hard-to-handle material such as prepared cooked foods. Create clear signage at the site to show where participants should place material and how the compost system works.

Consider the final product

Will the community garden, school or farm use the finished compost on site? Will you allow participants to take some of the finished compost? This is also a reason to consult local regulations. Sometimes regulations don’t allow you to move the material off-site or sell the material. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

A great opportunity for community-building

Community-scaled composting offers a great opportunity to build community, replenish local soils and provide access to small-scale composting for your neighbours. While the process of designing and implementing this level of composting is more tedious than composting in your own backyard, you may find that the benefits of dividing compost‑related labour with your neighbours will outweigh the initial concerns. You may also get to know those living around you and make some new friends.

Get more advice on composting by checking out Composting Made Easy: 6 Tips to Making Good Compost>>

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Front cover of Composting For a New Generation - 7 tips for starting a shared composting area with neighboursMichelle Balz is a longtime backyard composter with a passion for reducing our impact on the planet. She spends her days writing laid-back advice for home composters in the Confessions of a Composter blog, teaching classes on backyard composting and learning everything she can about composting, recycling, reusing and waste reduction. Since 2002, Michelle has worked as a solid waste (AKA garbage) professional encouraging residents and businesses to reduce their waste and use fewer resources. Michelle has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies and a master’s degree in Professional Writing, both from the University of Cincinnati. She lives in the American city of Cincinnati, Ohio.

Excerpted from Composting for a New Generation: Latest Techniques for the Bin and Beyond, © Michelle Balz, published 2017 by Cool Springs Press, an imprint of the Quarto Group.

Image credit: Gustavo Fring

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