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Learning from a Community Composting Setback

Posted in Movements, Opinion, Research by Kate Archdeacon on April 20th, 2011

From “Community composting – here one day, gone the next” by Russ Grayson:

 

“…A new technology or new approach to doing something had a greater chance of long-term success when it comes as a package containing the technology + a clear plan for its maintenance + the training of those who will take over and use it.”

 

What had started as an innovative idea of local people came to an end when, one warm Wednesday afternoon in late March 2011, the City of Sydney removed the community composting installation in Peace Park, Chippendale. The removal reminded me of something I had learned some time ago at a place not very far away.

Technology transfer: a three-legged construction

In those days I worked for an international development NGO operating in the South Pacific and what I learned still makes a lot of sense to me. We worked in village food security and small scale, sustainable farming systems using the LEISA (Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture) approach, however the NGO—then based only hundreds of metres away in the University of Technology, Sydney, though 14 years in the past—also did village micro-hydro electrification.

It would have been easy for the NGO to have come in to some Solomon Island village and install a micro-hydro system, turn on the lights and leave. That approach was not unknown when it came to development assistance work by government programs and even by small, community based NGOs. Instead, those in the NGO were savvy enough to know that technology transfer, to be done properly, comes as a three legged structure. That technology transfer structure is this: a new technology or new approach to doing something had a greater chance of long-term success when it comes as a package containing the technology + a clear plan for its maintenance + the training of those who will take over and use it. It’s a simple enough proposition but it’s all too often ignored. The lesson has stayed with me and it came to mind when I started working with the City of Sydney where I collaborate with the City’s waste projects co-ordinator on community composting trials.

[…]

Gone, but a reboot is coming

Community composting is a new idea both to communities and to local government. Neither have tried it before. Solutions are being developed and trialled as we go. There are no instruction manuals. The City and local people installed a community composting system consisting of seven Aerobin composters (one for each day of the week) in Peace Park in inner urban Chippendale that is within easy walking distance of Sydney’s busy Railway Square.

That day in late March, the City in agreement with the local people who had been maintaining the system removed the seven Aerobins of the community composting facility. The reason? Cockroaches. Multitudes of cockroaches. The community compost had gone from a good idea in local resource recovery to a public health issue. There had been the comment from locals about odour and flies, though these may have been not the common house fly but vinegar flies and other flying insects that appear during composting as part of the decomposition process.

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