Community composting – Troubleshooting and FAQ

What are the benefits of a Community Compost Scheme?
Residents can reduce the volume of waste in their bins. It is estimated that kitchen waste makes up 35% of all domestic waste. Composting reduces domestic household waste and reduces the carbon footprint associated with waste removal and energy recovery. In 2020, in the existing community composting schemes, approximately 104 tonnes of food waste was diverted from waste and converted to compost (the equivalent of nearly 8 double decker buses in volume!).

Less waste = less space. We estimate that a household which composts all their raw food waste, could reduce their weekly rubbish sack to the size of one carrier bag, and will definitely reduce the smell in their domestic bins.

Composting recycles ‘waste’ into a valuable resource. Scheme members have first dibs on the nutrient-rich compost for their gardens/allotments and any leftovers can be put to good use in the community, supporting growing projects.

Composting can bring the residents together. Monitors sometimes organise compost social events and meet-ups for members which have been very popular at some schemes. Most schemes are a source of joy, pride and celebration for the local community.

How does the community composting scheme work?
The bins are locked and only accessible to people from the local neighbourhood who have signed up and received some basic training in composting.

Usually, one bin is delivered to start with, then once the first box is full, we lock it and leave it to continue to break down, and deliver a second box. Several boxes can be used in rotation, usually 3, depending on the site. By the time the final bin is full, the first one is usually ready to be used and emptied.

The Food Partnership give training to two local volunteer compost monitors to keep an eye on the bins and give inductions to new members, organise a rota for turning the compost and generally be responsible for keeping an eye on the boxes and their contents. When members want to join the scheme, they are inducted by the monitor, receive the code for the padlock and a free kitchen caddy.

Will it smell?
A well-managed compost bin does not have an unpleasant odour that can be detected from passers-by. When the lid is opened, there may be an earthy smell, particularly during the summer months, but it is rarely problematic.

Compost needs turning regularly and lots of paper and cardboard are added which helps to create the right balance. If insufficient cardboard is added, (or cooked food) then, yes, they can smell unpleasant. Our compost monitors are trained in how to assess the health of their compost bins and how to achieve the correct balance. Monitors encourage all the members to get involved with turning it and adding cardboard so everybody helps to take responsibility for its condition.

Will there be lots of flies?
Much like the answer above, in a well-managed scheme, flies are rarely a problem. Tiny fruit flies are common inside the bin in the summer months with hot weather and more fruit being consumed. However, they do not swarm outside the boxes (as they are only interested in the contents) and are not noticeable to passers-by.

When the lid is opened, their presence can be noticeable, but only to members using the scheme, and when opening the lid. Like the methods for reducing odours, by adding plenty of cardboard and paper and regular turning (to bury fresh contents), fruit flies are kept to a minimum.

Will it attract rodents?
We, like local residents, absolutely do not want to provide food or a nesting site for rats or other rodents/pests. This is why we have strict rules about what can and can’t go in the boxes. Rats are attracted to cooked food, residual egg on eggshells and meat. For this reason, we do not accept these items in our compost bins and only allow raw fruit and veg peelings, tea bags and coffee grounds etc.

In addition, the bins are designed with various features to make them hard to penetrate and reduce nesting places underneath. In nearly 10 years of running the scheme, rats have been a minimal issue (and there have been no incidents of rats gaining access or nesting under the new style bins that were upgraded in 2018). If rats or other pests were to become a problem that cannot be overcome, then bins will be moved elsewhere.

It’s worth saying too, that rats, mice, foxes etc. are already present in most of the locations across the city before compost bins are installed so therefore, ‘attracting them’ is a slightly misleading phrase; it’s feeding them and proving a nesting site that we want to avoid. Any signs of rats nesting under or gaining access to the contents of the bins will be taken very seriously.

Why don’t the council collect food waste like in other areas?
The Council is currently completing an options appraisal to determine how a food waste collection service could be introduced to households across the city, including from kerbside properties, communal areas and flats. This appraisal includes analysis of what vehicles can be used, frequency of collections, as well as the associated costs, including revenue and capital and one-off and ongoing.

The Council also offers subsidised compost bins to residents to encourage composting at home, including kitchen caddies which allow residents to make use of their own compost.

The Council fund the community compost scheme which is run as a partnership with the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership.

Why are they needed in the first place, can’t people compost in their own gardens?
Brighton and Hove is a very densely populated city with many people living in flats or rented accommodation where home composting is very challenging or impractical. Local schemes only get up and running if we are satisfied there is enough local demand.

Across the city, in January 2021, there were approximately 200 people on waiting lists as most schemes are already full. For those that are able, there is information on the Food Partnership’s website on how to get started at home.

What if there are problems?
All members have contact details of their monitors who look after each scheme. Monitors are responsible for reporting repairs or other issues to the Food Partnership who can send out a handyman to complete any repairs.

The Food Partnership contact details are on signs on the lids so members of the public too can also get in touch. Any serious or ongoing issues are discussed with the Council who make any final decisions regarding removing or relocating bins.

What sort of places are the bins installed at?
Bins can be placed in local parks, green spaces, kerb sides and community gardens. The land owner needs to give permission (usually the council, though we do have some schemes in private flats for example).

Members need to feel safe to visit the bins after dark, so locations that are well-lit at night are essential as well as not being too hidden away. Bins need to be next to pathways with easy access for those with mobility issues. They are also better if situated away from bushes and shrubs as this is another feature that helps to deter rodents. If a rodent has to leave the cover of bushes and cross a path out in the open, they are less likely to investigate the bins than if the bins are nestled among bushes giving them easier access.

Bins also need to be not too close to houses/windows and a consultation is completed to take into account the views of local residents who may overlook the bins.

What happens to the compost once it’s made and how long does it take?
The average box takes about 9-12 months to produce compost. Members are encouraged to take some of the compost or share it with other scheme members.

If there is spare compost we work with many community gardens that are happy to take it. You can spread it on the earth and lightly mix it in before you start growing vegetables or where you want to plant new flowers. Plants already in the garden will also appreciate having some compost in the spring, particularly if the soil isn’t very good. For members without gardens, house plants love a top-up of fresh compost every now and then too.

Request a repair or report an issue at a composting site – fill out our online form.

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