Quality Compost

How can we in Australia produce consistent material that is worthy of being called a quality compost? A recent webinar with Florian Amlinger, an Austrian compost expert, revealed a few key insights that can lift the industry as a whole, bringing the public, processors and end users along a journey that can be a win-win-win for all concerned.

By focussing with ‘the end in mind’ to consistently bring a high-quality product of great agronomic value to the market, with amazingly low contamination, they have demonstrated it can be done.

Austrians have concentrated on the value of the end product, not the through-put of waste. As such, they:

  1. Stipulate tight standards for both process and management of compost facilities
  2. Have clear education and communication strategies along the chain
  3. Forbid the insinkerator method to dispose of food waste
  4. Do not recommend Food and Green waste collected together, especially in large 240 L bins

By adopting a similar strategy, I believe it is possible to marry 3 objectives of the NSW EPA to “reduce pollution and waste, protect human health, and prevent degradation of the environment”, to create a winning compost trifecta. But it will take a slight change of focus and would require a reordering to read:

Quality Compost – a product that benefits human health, improves the environment, and reduces waste.

Though the composting context is significantly different in Austria, there is much we can learn if we want to emulate the high value compost enjoys there. Having attended (twice) the 6-day live-in intensive composting courses by the founders of Austrian Composting, Angela Lubke and Urs Hildebrandt, and visiting several composting sites over there, it was great to hear the same messages repeated by Florian.

The key points Florian made are worth elaborating:

  1. High Standards

‘The State of the Art of Composting’ (TSAC), co-authored by Urs and Florian (among others) is a great practical guide that outlines process as well as management. Austrians enjoy far greater controls in both areas, and the benefit of high-quality product as a result. It would behove us to have a comparable standard if we want a product worthy of the value compost can be both to the environment and to human health.  

Several points were made in the webinar that are of particular note:

  • The inclusion of farmers in the discussion of standards
  • High quality means ‘mature’
  • Sufficient aeration is not possible in high piles. Florian mentioned 2m as the limit, TSAC says 1.5m.
  • Clay is essential for humus formation. This is a science itself, and is delved into greater depth in the Lubke-Hildebrandt ‘Humus Management and Composting’ courses

 

  1. Communication and Education

Florian made the point that processors are the nexus of the communication channel – responsible to educate the suppliers (of the quality they expect) and those they supply to (of the quality they provide). This cannot be overstated. Clear, consistent communication is essential if minimal contamination is expected. In our own experience working with food-waste businesses, the feedback loop is costly, but worth it if we want businesses and their staff engaged and part of the journey.

The critical comment he made was the need to view them as PARTNERS… “friendly and clearly – like you would a family member”.

  1. Extrapolate the value of material

Austrians value organic material. Food waste represents resources that should not be thrown down the sink.

  1. Combined FOGO

Nor do Austrians want to lose process control through the amalgamation of putrescent waste with non-putrescent in varying quantities due to seasonality.

Conclusion

Austria’s focus of a high-quality product of great agronomic value is inspirational. It is possible to go for the winning trifecta.

This leaves the question, what will the focus be in the Australian context?

I look forward to the possibility of processors, farmers and regulatory authorities sitting together around the table to make it happen – for the benefit of them (and us) all.

So let’s aim for quality compost, product that benefits human health, improves the environment, and reduces waste in Australia.

 

Thanks to the NSW EPA who funded, and AORA for coordinating the webinar to complement the EPA’s Compost Facility Management online training, it would be well worth the investment of time for anyone associated with compost to download – I understand it was recorded and will be made available.