Wasting food means all those other emissions that were generated to produce the food in the first place go to waste as well (Photo: File)

Cheat sheet: What’s the deal with kerbside food scraps collection?

Auckland Council recently announced a citywide food scrap collection scheme that will be kicking off in 2021. Most of us already know the main gist of composting, but what’s happening to this waste? What will I have to pay? And can I opt out if I don’t need it?

New Zealanders waste enough food every year to feed Dunedin’s population for three years, and unfortunately, a lot of that food is going into landfills. Auckland Council’s plan to introduce citywide food scrap collection in 2021 could be a huge step towards combatting this issue. Here’s what it could mean for Aucklanders.

What’s this all about then?

On Thursday, Auckland Council announced plans to introduce kerbside food scrap collection to Auckland households in 2021. Apparently Aucklanders produce around 100,000 tonnes of food waste annually.

Is that a lot?

It’s around half of all the waste Auckland households produce every year, so yeah. It’s a lot. Research suggests most households don’t have home composting systems for various reasons – people living in apartments with no outdoor area are very limited in their options, for example, so often end up throwing their food waste into the general rubbish. This waste ends up among all the chippy packets and shampoo bottles in pits in the ground.

But food scraps are biodegradable, so what’s the problem with putting them in the bin?

True, food scraps and waste are biodegradable, but when they’re put into landfills they’re not given the right climate to break down. They end up producing methane gas because there’s no oxygen for them to break down naturally, and they become just as bad as every other piece of trash in the pile. 

What if I already compost my scraps? 

Nobody’s going to stop you from keeping up with the system you’re already running, but you won’t be able to opt out of the kerbside collection service. The latest information from the council doesn’t address an increase in rates, but earlier reports say there will be an annual charge of $67 for the service. 

I swear I’ve seen kerbside food waste collection before…

Council-run compost collections are in no way a new thing, having run in places like Christchurch and Timaru for years. Auckland Council has been trialling its food scrap collection scheme in Papakura since March 2018. 

OK, so what’s going to happen to my food scraps in Auckland after they’re picked up? 

Anaerobic digestion. It’s basically a way to turn food scraps into energy and fertiliser. The company taking care of this is New Zealand company Ecogas, which has signed a 20-year contract with Auckland Council. Stuff like citrus, bones and meat scraps can be tricky to compost in a domestic system, but anaerobic digestion makes short work of it.

The OMG Organic Market Garden (Photo: Alice Neville)

Is anyone against the idea?

While composting food scraps seems like an all-round good idea, there are some cons to this particular model, and some people are advocating for a more community-minded compost service. 

Wellington City Council is putting money towards community composting initiatives like Kai Cycle, which does weekly compost pickups and uses the nutrient-rich soil to grow food and run composting workshops. Kai Cycle also uses bikes for its pickup services, combating another criticism of the kerbside model, that the trucks create additional emissions.

For the Love of Bees’ OMG Organic Market Garden compost hub in Auckland city is also focused on community-based composting and teaching people how to do it themselves. Sarah Smuts-Kennedy and her team have been campaigning against the council’s anaerobic digester. She told The Spinoff in September that it would produce “something very similar to urea, which is the very thing the government is saying to our farmers please stop using”.

What’s the alternative?

Smuts-Kennedy says the council should be investing its money to “train an enormous amount of people in communities to start taking those very food scraps and not using trucks [for collections]”. 

Why is this happening now?

The council is working towards its goal of a waste-free city by 2040. Councillor Richard Hills, the environment and climate change committee chair, says kerbside compost collection “will help build our resilience to the climate crisis we are in and allow more Aucklanders to access a solution to reducing their waste”.

He also encourages people to join in on a composting class and have a look at local composting initiatives like OMG.


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