Nfld. & Labrador·From The Ground Up

Community composting tackling food waste in Corner Brook, one house at a time

A small-scale effort in the small city on Newfoundland's west coast hopes to get more people realizing how much food we waste — and how useful that waste can be.
Len Moores is a member of the community composting program at the Reid Street community garden in Corner Brook. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

From The Ground Up is a CBC series in collaboration with Food Producers Forum, looking at how small-scale growers are digging and dreaming up agricultural innovations in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

A small-scale effort in a small western Newfoundland city hopes to get more people realizing how much food we waste, and how useful that waste can be.

Summer 2021 marks the expansion of a community composting program in Corner Brook, with four large, mint green composters set up at each of the city's community gardens on Reid Street and Caribou Road. People who have signed up can drop off their carrot peels, onion skins and other dinner debris that would otherwise be mixed in with regular garbage, since the city doesn't have curbside compost pickup.

"There's so much waste that we generate at the household level, and a lot of it is actually organic waste," said Katie Temple, the executive director of the Western Environment Centre, which oversees the program. Thirty per cent of household waste is organic, according to the provincial government.

"We felt like we could use this valuable resource that's just being tossed into the landfill, and turn it into something useful for our community gardens," she said.

The composting program builds upon a pilot composting project WEC began in 2017 at its Humber Heights community garden. The success of that — along with financial backing from the City of Corner Brook — meant WEC could go on a small composting shopping spree.

The community garden composters are insulated, have air holes and rotate - all features that help speed up the composting process compared to backyard versions. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

Its sleek new bins, bought in Quebec and based on a Scandinavian design, have an array of features that aim to make the most out of composting in a northern climate. The bins rotate, with air holes throughout, and are lined with several centimetres of insulation, allowing compost to heat up and break down speedily.

"It can break down in as little as two months, which is pretty amazing, because normally in Newfoundland for a backyard composter it can take up to two years," said Temple.

Each bin can hold 10 households' worth of waste. WEC opened the program up first to its community gardeners, and then to anyone nearby, to use for free.

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Len Moores, who lives around the corner from the Reid Street community garden, signed up with zero composting experience. So far, it's proved simple, he said.

"All I have to do is walk up every couple of days with a bucket of organic waste, and we can make a product that can be used here in our own community gardens," he said.

Moores and Katie Temple say the composters have helped create a bigger sense of community at the city's community gardens. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

Turning compost into a community hub

Composting has also been eye-opening for Moores, as he sorts through his waste with a new appreciation for what can have a second life feeding soil, or what should go to the landfill. That was one of the intents of the program.

"It gets people close to the action. People see what's actually happening. It's a lot easier to be disconnected when you're just getting things picked up from your curb," said Temple.

"Overall, it would be wonderful to have a municipal curbside pickup program, but it really in my mind should be complemented with these neighbourhood level programs."

Another advantage to staying small, she said, is any potential compost troubles are also fairly tiny.

"The problems are really minimal when you bring it down to this level, so I really see a lot of positive benefits of expanding this as much as possible," she said.

The Reid Street community garden has four composters, which can handle waste from up to 40 households. There are two other community composting sites in Corner Brook. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

A composting project in St. John's using the same composters is in its final stages of getting underway. In the meantime in Corner Brook, the composters have become an added draw to the community gardens, with Moores often composting and chatting while his grandson plays on the adjacent playground.

"Usually when you come up here in the evenings there to drop off something for the compost, there's always someone else up at the gardens or in another composter," said Moores. "So it's becoming more like a little community in itself. We socialize a bit, we bring up our grandkids."

Seeing more people using the green spaces is exactly what Temple hoped would happen. 

"The overarching goal of building up this green space is that it becomes a neighbourhood hub., so it's really neat to have these neighbourhood spaces where people can go for different reasons." 

(CBC)

With files from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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