Q&A with We Compost's Steve Rickerby
This summer, instead of throwing your corn cobs and potato peels in the bin, why don't you consider composting them? We can't stress enough about the benefits of composting. It stops the food waste going into landfill, and it actually turns it into a valuable byproduct: a brown crumbly soil fertiliser that's good for the garden. Think - eat the veggies, compost the veggies, add to the soil to grow more veggies - it's one complete cycle designed by Nature.
We asked compost expert Steve Rickerby from We Compost a few questions to get a better understanding of compost and soil. Hopefully, his answers educate and inspire you this summer!
Q. What do you do and why did you get into it?
A. Our core business is the compostable waste collection service We Compost, but we also now collect other waste streams under our Supertrash brand. Our aim is simply to help people reduce waste to landfill by finding circular solutions.
Back in 2009, I completed a permaculture design course and a certificate in organic horticulture, but then I started a job in the city. We were sorting our office waste into three streams (compostables, recycling and landfill) but there was no collection service available for the compostables. I hated that that part of the waste stream was just going to landfill so I decided to fix the problem and started We Compost. To begin with, it was just one bin on the back of my ute, which I would take down to Kelmarna Community Garden each week. Our collections grew rapidly over the years as more people became aware of the importance of composting. We now collect around 70,000 litres of compostable waste bins each day in Auckland and have diverted over 7 million kgs of waste from landfill for our customers.
Q. Let's start with soil - why is soil so important?
A. Soil is an incredibly important part of the ecosystem. It holds carbon in a living form (think of soil as being alive), keeping it out of the atmosphere. It helps to retain moisture, reducing water runoff and the problems associated with that in our waterways, and it helps us to grow food and essentially support life on this planet!
Q. Why are food scraps and composting important for making good soil?
A. When growing food, the organic component of the soil is the most important... and it's the part that's most depleted with intensive agriculture. Compost is the good stuff that replenishes that organic component - it adds back the vital carbon (which comes from anything that grows, like plants and trees) and nitrogen.
If you grow and crop endlessly without replenishing the organic component of the soil, the structure will collapse, and the soil will compact, with no ability to retain moisture. There will also be no nutrients to grow food.
Q. Do we have a problem with food security?
A. I think there is a problem with food security and food sovereignty across the world. In New Zealand we are incredibly lucky - we have a relatively sparse population with good fertile soils close to the cities. But Auckland is becoming a large city with over 1 million people needing to be fed each day. So we need to look after our local cropping land to ensure we have healthy soils and a sustainable and robust food system. To achieve that, we need to move away from petrochemical fertilisers and pesticides, and we need to incorporate more organic methods (i.e. composting) into our farming. At the same time, we need to ensure that people have the tools and space to grow their own food at home or in their communities to allow them to feed themselves as we move towards a low-carbon future.
Q. What’s the number 1 question you get about composting?
A. "Can we put citrus peel in there?" (There's still a lot of confusion between compost and worm farming!). The answer is YES in a compost bin and NO in a worm farm. The next question after that is "What about teabags?". The answer is MAYBE. Some teabags do contain plastic fibres so it's always best to double-check, and if in doubt tear it open, compost the leaves then put the bag in the rubbish.
Q. What can we do to make a difference in the foodservice industry and at home?
A. It's simple: start composting!