Berrysmith Foundation

Why We Compost

When Steve Rickerby was coaching sailing on manmade lakes in Kansas and Oklahoma in 2005, he experienced what is best described as an ‘epiphany’. The lakes he was sailing on had been built by the US Army Corp of Engineers at the end of WWII in response to the 'dustbowl' which had decimated the agricultural land through the 1930s. Primarily, the dustbowl was caused by unsustainable agricultural practices – decades of mono-culture and petrochemical farming had utterly destroyed the structure of the soil, so when a severe drought occurred the topsoil simply blew away in clouds of dust. The environmental and economic ramifications of this loss of topsoil were huge. No food could be grown and what was once called the ‘bread basket’ of the United States was rendered a desert. Steve’s interest in the food and agriculture industries was sparked and his desire to do something positive for the environment was born. 

Upon returning to New Zealand, Steve offered a green waste service as part of his GreenWork landscaping business and realised the need for a service that would help reduce the environmental damage as a result of food waste being sent to landfill. “I had spent time working in a 5 green star rated building which meant that we separated our organic waste from recycling and general waste (as well as many other green initiatives), but at that time there was no collection service in Auckland for food waste - so I decided to come up with a solution.” 
  With just one man, one customer and one ute, We Compost began. 

How does We Compost operate?
We Compost provides the vital link between food consumption and food production,” says Steve, whose aim is two-fold. Firstly, to help businesses deal with their waste in a sustainable manner and secondly, to encourage organic methods in New Zealand agriculture.

Steve’s focus is on large volumes of trade waste, because a busy café can create 500 litres of food scraps every week. And with Auckland’s café and restaurant scene booming, We Compost’s service is increasingly in demand. He’s moved on from the ute and now drives a large truck from Auckland, to Tuakau and Hamilton, where he shifts 1.5 tonnes of food waste every Monday, taking it to Envirofert for composting.

“There’s been a shift in environmental awareness in the past two years,” remarks Steve, who says his customers are proud to promote themselves as ‘green’. “We Compost definitely adds value to our LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) clients that are looking to lessen their environmental impact. The waste is processed and becomes compost, which then goes back onto community gardens, encouraging a thriving, healthy topsoil and improving the nutrient levels of the fruit and vegetables.”  One such garden reaping the rewards of We Compost’s service is Herne Bay’s, Kelmarna Organic City Farm, of which Steve is now a trustee. 

Why is it so important to dispose of food waste correctly?
Steve explains that there are several reasons why composting is vitally important for our environment. Firstly, when broken down under anaerobic conditions (when the waste is covered and air cannot get in) the food waste degrades and produces methane, a greenhouse gas which is 23 times more environmentally harmful than carbon dioxide, so food waste in landfill can contribute greatly to the greenhouse effect and climate change. Secondly, putrescible waste has a high water content which picks up heavy metals and leaches them into the soil. Unfortunately, landfill that has been contaminated with food waste cannot be used at a later date, so the only way to make this land usable at some point in the future is to avoid creating a noxious cloud of methane gas by removing the food waste in the first instance. The importance of ‘earth’ on ‘earth’ is often taken for granted according to Steve, who explains that by composting, we are putting the biomass back rather than just taking it away. “Soils play a vital role in carbon sequestration and water retention - approximately 20% of global carbon is held in the soil. Disposing of food waste in the right way minimises the environmental damage caused by the waste and the resulting composting benefits are positive for the food industry. For example, Snap Fresh Foods grow a lot of greens and bring in compost to increase the health of the soil, so a company like We Compost helps 'close the loop' by putting that organic waste back into the earth.”

What are We Compost’s future goals?
Steve says that the business is growing quickly as a result of people becoming increasingly aware of environmental issues. “When the Auckland Waste Plan takes effect it will drive knowledge around food waste and composting, while landfill levies will increase costs and encourage less disposal.”

How can we help promote We Compost’s mission?
Steve is incredibly grateful to his customers saying that is their desire to do less environmental harm that has allowed him to play his own part in that service. “People can help by promoting the businesses that We Compost collects from, help us spread the word on Facebook and Twitter and, because we collect from large corporate, talk to your employer about this change – push for it!”

On a smaller scale, Steve recommends at home composting by building a worm farm or purchasing a product such as a Hungry Bin.

We Compost reducing food waste in N.Z. landfills and creating nutrient-rich compost.

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