Recycling food and other organic waste into compost provides a range of environmental benefits, including improving soil health, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing leachate, and increasing climate resilience. Composting is the natural process of recycling organic matter, such as vegetation and food scraps, into a valuable product that can enrich the soil and increase crop yield.
Anything that grows will decompose naturally, composting simply speeds up the process by providing an ideal environment for bacteria and fungi to do their work. The resulting decomposed matter, which looks like garden soil, is called compost which is rich in nutrients and can be used for gardening and agriculture.
Food scraps are utilised in Rarotonga, with most families having access to pigs, chickens, and other animals. Landscaping materials and clippings from households, hotels, and growers, however, are not as easily managed, with most families and businesses choosing to burn this material.
Participants from the PacWaste Plus programme steering committee meeting were taken on a tour to Down To Earth Compost N Machinery Ltd, which started as the Titikaveka Growers Association, an association founded by Mr Teava Iro and other local growers around Titikaveka village in Rarotonga who understood there is a better way to use their organic material by processing it into compost.
Not all growers had the space or knowledge to make their own compost, so the association was established with support from the New Zealand Development and Relief Agency to purchase equipment, and over the years, the association has evolved into a business mode of operation.
The visiting delegates were informed that the composting facility receives approximately 15-18 tonnes of organic material per week and processes it into compost for sale back to the community with landscaping material from hotels and agricultural growers the main material received.
Other materials processed include by-products from noni agriculture and processing, coconut fronds, cardboard boxes, weeds, and pig manure.
The visiting delegates learned that a large pile open windrow composting method is used.
The facility does not use a chipper to do any size reduction on materials received. Some of the bigger logs and whole coconut are removed, but the rest of the material is simply placed on the pile, letting the bacteria and microorganisms do the work to break them down.
The pile is kept aerated by the larger materials and by regular turning using an excavator. The main equipment used at the facility includes an eight-tonne excavator and a self-built sieve to screen the material prior to sale.
Mr Iro shared with delegates that the biggest challenge for operating the facility is in regards to plastic being dropped off with organic material, and other items like vehicles and parts dumped over the weekend or overnight. Clearer signage, a targeted educational campaign, and a skip bin to collect residual plastic items, serviced by ICI, may assist resolve this challenge.
The site tour concluded with the visiting participants thanking Mr Iro for sharing his experience, challenges, and insight on the operations of a large community composting facility, and the bus driver getting a bucket of free compost for his home garden!