Composing Compost

The commercial composting facility at the Launceston City Council waste station takes me straight back to my childhood and my grandfather. I remember sitting on the stone wall under the backyard fruit trees as he wielded a spade and giant sieve to turn his compost. The sound of the spade as it sliced through the decomposing matter, the grunt as it was swung through the air to toss its load onto the (it seemed huge at the age of nine) massive metal sieve.  This was my signal to jump as high as I could grab the sieve and drag it down to release the matter not yet ready for distribution around the garden.


It is the first thing I notice as we reach the compost facility, standing to the side of the composting mounds is a giant metal sieve used to separate the chunks of logs and matter that are not yet full composted. Grandpa, I thought, you knew what you were doing.


But I am getting ahead as the journey for the Harvest Launceston Community Farmers’ Market to closing the loop for waste management is still in its early stages. Early forays into effective waste management were limited to diverting as much recycling as possible away from landfill and encourage stallholders to think about waste limiting strategies. Since then Harvest has joined local residents and introduced FOGO – Food Organic Garden Organic – bins to the market. The support from market visitors has been inspiring.


Recently the Harvest Launceston management team had the opportunity to visit the recently opened commercial composting facility at the waste centre in Mowbray. Wow!


As you approached the composting area you glimpse mounds of dark soil that are sending out clouds of steam, an indication the microbes are starting to work and this is before the mound is heated by the grid of pipes that cross the ground.


Mobile Aerated Floor at Launceston’s FOGO Facility


Michael Attard, the Waste and Environment Officer for the Launceston City Council explains the process to us. FOGO bins were launched in March 2018 and since then the West Tamar Council has joined. Each day the collection trucks makes their way through suburban streets collecting the waste that more than 6500 households in Launceston are putting into their green bins.


At the waste centre, the mix of food, paper products and garden refuse is tipped out to start its decomposing journey to compost.  There are a number of staging areas, at the first the waste is visually checked to ensure its integrity and Mr Attard points out that residents are working hard to ensure their waste is not contaminated and it is currently under one percent.


Biopack packaging which is commercially compostable


Water, oxygen and heat are the key ingredients to transforming the rubbish into compost. Stage two is all about the mobile aerated floor system which comprises black pipes that inject oxygen or air through the pile so that the mound reaches 55° C for three consecutive days. This pasteurisation process kills the bacteria and pathogens and is effective at managing any potential odours.  Every two weeks each pile, which are an average size of 25 cubic metres, is moved and is controlled  to make sure it remains moist and hot and is topped with some mulch. At the end of 12 weeks the waste has matured into compost and then is passed through the giant meshed screen that removes anything that is too big such as sticks.


The compost is then again tested and checked to ensure it meets all regulations.


What goes in to FOGO is the key to making good compost and Mr Attard explains that all contaminated paper and all shredded paper is the perfect carbon mix to food waste. However clean paper and carboard should still go to recycling as it was essential to reuse products with such a high carbon value. The biggest mistake I’ve been making is with shredded paper and I was shocked to learn that it could not be recycled as it clogged up recycling machines. It is also one of the highest generators of methane gas when in landfill but is a great source of carbon for the compost bin.


Mr Attard says for every four years that the compost facility operates it adds a year onto the life of the current landfill area. FOGO for the Harvest Launceston community is a win/win, we save on landfill, create compost to put back into our gardens and support an incredible local initiative by our very own local council.


Join the FOGO revolution at Harvest Launceston Community Farmers’ Market each week and be sure to thank the volunteer “waste educators” who help market-goers to get their waste in the best bin.

Compostable FOGO waste from Harvest Launceston ready to start its composting journey!