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Celia Somlai wanted to put her food waste in a compost bin.
She tried in vain, though, to get a brown bin in the apartment complex where she lives in Ushers Quay.
Last January, she found her own solution: a box of worms.
Now, she keeps “hundreds or thousands” of the wiggly fellas in a wooden wormery in her living room, and feeds most of her food waste to them.
By-laws introduced in 2018 stipulate that all apartment complexes must provide compost bins – but thousands of homes across Dublin still don’t have any.
This lack of compost facilities is something customers often complain about, says Naomi Sheridan, who runs the health-food shop Noms, in Phibsborough.
All her packaging is compostable, but people end up returning it to her because they don’t have a brown bin. “It is annoying,” she says.
Compost expert Craig Benton says putting food waste in the black bins – and then burning it – has serious environmental consequences and could contribute to acid rain.
He recognises that there are challenges with providing communal compost in apartment blocks. “It is complex, but it needs to be done,” he says.
If the materials collected in brown bins end up in landfill they can generate methane, says compost expert, Craig Benton, aka Dr Compost. “Which is 20 times worse than carbon dioxide as a global-warming gas.”
Meanwhile, in Dublin, most waste from black bins goes to the Poolbeg incinerator, he says. “When that burns, the nitrogen in the materials, especially grass clippings and food, turns into nitrous oxide,” he says.
Mixed into the atmosphere, it becomes nitrous acid, says Benton. “And that contributes to acid rain.”
Somlai, who lives in the Viking Harbour apartment complex on the quays, says she tried her best to get a brown bin.
(The management company of her apartments hasn’t responded to queries about why they don’t provide brown bins.)
She phoned her management company on a number from a notice board in her complex, but didn’t get an answer, she says. There was no email address.
She called up Dublin City Council, she says, but they said that she needed written proof that she had tried to contact her management company.
At that stage she gave up, she says. She opted for a wormery instead.
A company based in Austria shipped her all the equipment, including the worms themselves and a nutritional starter pack, she says.
“It’s a wooden box and you have to do a bit of treatment of the wood to make sure it doesn’t leak,” she says. “It was done in half a day and it wasn’t complicated.”
The pack included a measurement system explaining how many food scraps you can feed to the worms, she says. You feed them every second day, she says.
“It is really important that you cannot put cooked food, no dairy, no meat, no citrus,” says Somlai. “The worms can eat those but it takes much longer. So in an apartment, it wouldn’t be nice because there would be a smell.”
For Somlai, there’s a strange benefit to her home-composting. “What is really amazing with this system is that you get this kind of worm juice.”
A tray collects the liquid which the worms discharge. Diluted with water, it makes “a really rich, nutritional, compost”, she says.
Her apartment only has a small garden on the balcony so she usually gives the worm juice away to her friends. They’re delighted with it, she says.
Not for All, Though
Wormeries are “a great solution”, says Benton, who has one in his own apartment.
But some apartments might be too small, or might not have balconies for them, he said.
Councils, waste-management companies and property managers all still need to work together to provide compost facilities in complexes across the city, says Benton.
There are challenges to managing communal compost, though, he says.
At the moment, waste-management companies in the city collect brown bins once every two weeks. But communal compost bins need to be collected at least weekly, he says.
“To reduce flies, reduce odours and bring fresher materials to the facilities,” he says. “If the waste sits in the bin for a while, the nitrogen gets lost and then it is hard to get the temperatures up to pasteurise the compost.”
There’s also an ongoing problem with householders putting the wrong waste in communal bins, says Benton – as happens with recycling.
That recycling in apartment complexes isn’t working well may explain why management companies are reluctant to bring in compost facilities, he says.
A minority of residents in apartment complexes contaminate the recycling bin with non-recyclable waste or by not cleaning items, says Benton.
There needs to be a “massive programme of education” around what goes in which bin, he says. Following that, there need to be penalties for those who don’t comply.
Other cities have successfully educated households on disposing of waste properly says Benton. So it can be done.
Dublin City Council Press Office hasn’t responded yet to questions about whether they have plans to better enforce the by-laws that say apartment complexes must provide compost bins.