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  • Writer's pictureElise Garner

Spotlight: Community Compost Solutions

Updated: May 1

This April, we met up with award-winning sustainability champion Graham Ellis from Community Compost Solutions to hear about his community-led waste solutions.



1. So, tell us about Community Compost Solutions!

We are focused on providing services to businesses, individuals and communities that will reduce their carbon footprint, working together on one of the biggest problems society faces – dealing with waste. 


We’re all about creating nutrient-rich soil by diverting food waste and organic materials from landfill because we believe that composting is the key to creating a sustainable and healthy environment.


2. How long has it been going?

Dena and I joined the community garden in Rye, in November ’21. I have past experience of composting, so I looked at the operation they had in place at the time, talked with those involved and we decided to start over. 


The original system in place was using the classic plastic bins that many gardens have. 

What we have now are more rustic recycled wooden pallet bins which have many advantages over the plastic variety. First – you can make compost in them much more quickly, and second – the design means you can add to them incrementally really easily as you grow your composting system.


Everyone seems to favour the principle of composting but lots of people report problems in doing it in their own gardens and it’s often because the plastic bin system is too slow, and the inputs aren’t in the right layers and the right balance. 


3. OK, ,so talk to us about the secrets of your composting system!

Well to start with any compost needs three things:


  1. Inputs  

  2. Air

  3. Water


Nature does the rest. 


At Community Compost Solutions our inputs are – leaves, garden trimmings, weeds, hedge clippings, grass cuttings, cardboard, newspaper, horse manure, beer mash, and coffee grinds


And the inputs have to be done in an orderly fashion. It doesn’t work to put a whole bunch of grass in – your system will become anaerobic. So it’s all in the layers and that’s how the magic happens.   


We use a small amount of food waste but we don’t specialise in that.



The composting process is in two stages. It begins with the heat stage – the compost reaches between 50-60 degrees Celsius – killing all the pathogens, weed seeds, and anything we don’t want to be there. Then 2-3 months in – we add the worms and they do all the hard work. They reproduce every 6 weeks and attract other micro-organisms so that the compost becomes teaming with life. 


It takes between 4-6 months to produce perfect compost – slightly longer in the winter than in the summer and the beauty of this system is that you don’t need to turn the compost.


If you go to a garden centre to buy your compost what you’ll see are two different products. There’s something sold as compost which is just your start point because it’s a lifeless growing medium to which you’ll often need to add a second product sold as fertiliser to help grow and feed your plants. With our compost it’s one product that does everything – because the fertiliser is already in there! The compost is soil that is very much alive – and it’s that life that is vital for growing and feeding plants.


4. Where do you make your compost and where do you get your inputs?

We have compost bins at the community garden, at Tilling Green, at Rye Scouts, and at people’s homes in the area. 


We collect our coffee grinds from restaurants and cafes on a twice-weekly run – made much easier now that we have our electric vehicle. We collect our beer mash from the Waterworks Microbrewery locally too.


We collect some food waste from outlets in and around Rye that are too small to use the commercial food waste collection service – L2K for example and a few others, just a bucket or two. One of the reasons we don’t specialise in using food waste is because by 2026 Rother will be providing food waste collection, in the same way that other areas are already benefiting – Benenden for example.


We collect cardboard from a couple of businesses – but we often have more cardboard than we need.


We need leaves in a large quantity and we get those in part from Rother District Council, by intercepting them from the community workers sweeping up leaves in parks and public areas. I realised that those leaves were being collected up and then driven by RDC at a cost to the taxpayer halfway across the county to be disposed of elsewhere. By stepping in and taking the leaves for our use we are making use of them almost at source.


It's a win-win because a big part of our intention is that we keep our organic matter as close to the source as possible. We know from Rother District Council’s own data that a huge proportion of Rother’s emissions are from waste collection services, so the more we can do to reduce the transportation of waste, the more we are reducing carbon emissions. 


We know that when organic matter goes into landfill in black bags they often contain as much as one third food waste. This doesn’t emit carbon once it’s in landfill, it emits methane – because it’s a different breakdown process. It’s why landfill sites require huge vents to let out the methane. And of course methane is ten times more dangerous to the planet than CO2.


5. How important is it to spread the word?

Very! I go into schools and visit youth groups like the Scouts, and all sorts of community groups to talk to them about the composting process. We help residents set up their own compost bins too which is very satisfying. 



6. What is the latest initiative you’ve launched?

We’re really excited to offer an alternative brown bin service. If you have a brown bin service available to you in the area you’ll know that it has gone up to £81 and that's a lot for those people who don’t necessarily have a full bin ready for collection each fortnight. Residents in the Citadel in Rye don’t have access to a brown bin service at all, but of course, many of them have gardens and that makes things really tricky for them.


So, we’ve created a user-friendly alternative – you call Community Compost Solutions as and when you have a black bag of garden waste and we’ll come and collect it from you in our electric vehicle for a small fee. Again it’s a win win – you get rid of your waste in a cost-effective, eco-friendly way and we add to our pile of useful compost inputs!


7. So what got you into composting?!

I lived in Hawaii for 36 years and that’s where I first learned about composting. It’s a very different science out there because of course you’re living on lava rock – there isn’t soil as we know it here. The ground is incredibly porous there, so you literally have to create your soil in order to grow things. The technique requires covering things with black plastic and letting things rot down. But it’s where my passion grew – I just love the concept of creating a resource out of waste.


8. What makes your business unique? 

Other projects in the wider area focus only on composting food waste – one in Hastings, and one in Brighton for example. We’re different because we don’t focus on food waste.


Also - I chose this business model because it can be expanded easily – you can scale it up quite quickly and inexpensively.  If I’d looked at getting a yard, buying some equipment, getting truck loads of inputs delivered – that would have been entirely different, much more labour intensive, costly and would involve more emissions.


9. What are your business values?

We’re all about building community and helping create solutions to mitigate climate change.


10. What are you focusing on right now?

We’re starting a project in Bexhill on St Leonards Road in conjunction with a tree-planting initiative. 


The community there wanted to improve the area by planting some trees and having some planters – which is no small task in terms of ongoing care and maintenance. Community Compost Solutions is providing the compost that will help raise and sustain the trees and the plants. It gives the community a sense of ownership of their environment.


11. What are the challenges your business faces this year?

Finding volunteers to help. I’m hoping that before too long we’ll be able to hire someone to help with the project. A college student would be ideal – someone with a strong back! And if we can get young people to value the process and learn about its wider benefits it’s a way to ensure the next generation will continue to share that knowledge.


12. What are you most proud of in your business?

The fact that not one business that we’ve approached to work with has declined. They have all recognised the benefit and value of being involved. 


13. If there was one piece of advice you’d give to someone wanting to start their own compost journey, what would it be?

Talk to us! We can help! But if you want to really learn about the process first then You Tube is full of useful information. Remember to be flexible – there isn’t one way that suits everyone depending on your location, your capacity, your inputs.


 

Find out more about Community Compost Solutions on their website and browse membership options to level up your organic waste management.



Want us to do a Spotlight feature on your business? Contact us today at 01797 222857.


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