Hexbyte Tech News Wired
With summer upon us, you’re no doubt tending your garden. Which hopefully means you’re composting too.
Using food waste to enrich your soil benefits the earth in a number of ways, including reducing the use of chemical fertilizers and decreasing methane emissions in landfills. And while it’s difficult to recycle things like cans and plastics yourself, composting is something you can do at home pretty easily. Collect food scraps, add some water, stir the mix to provide oxygen, let it all sit long enough to decompose, and voila: Your plants have never been happier.
But not everyone has space for keeping a compost heap, and not everyone’s got a green thumb. Some cities have mandated composting services that collect food scraps from residents and do all the dirty work at a central facility. But until composting is mandated everywhere, you might have to get creative and team up with neighbors to make and share compost.
That’s something the team behind ShareWaste wants to facilitate. Launched in 2016, the app uses a digital map to connect individuals with food scraps to nearby neighbors who have a compost system like a heap or a bin. Users accepting compost scraps can mark their compost site on the map for other users to find. Nearly 6,000 users are currently signed up for ShareWaste across the globe.
To become a user, ShareWaste asks for an email address and a first name. Next, you can add your compost station to the map. Specify if you’d like scraps for garden compost or for a chicken run (many chicken owners use the birds to help process food and yard waste), and whether your operation is for an individual household or a larger community. On the map, sites are represented by three different icons: The chicken icon means a site that uses scraps to feed animals; the flower icon stands for a larger community garden compost; and the most common icon looks like your average wooden compost bin, representing home-run composts.
Clicking an icon shows you a bit more information about that specific site, like the first name of its user, what kind of scraps it takes, and its location. To protect user privacy, the exact address of the host is hidden, so users must message hosts through the app to arrange meeting times and drop-offs.
Whether or not you’re dealing with compost, browsing the map is pretty cool. It gives you a little insight into grassroots waste management infrastructure, and tech trends across the globe. In the United States, I counted over 100 compost sites, mostly planted on the East Coast. Some of them are lone dots, but most are clumped together around cities. In Texas, there’s one in Dallas and five others clumped in neighboring towns less than 40 miles away. There aren’t any in New York City, and only one in San Francisco—cities with municipal composting programs in place. (The user behind that San Francisco Bay area site is named Doug. He hasn’t had much luck on ShareWaste, but he does have half a million worms and is currently experimenting with rabbit droppings.)
Head south to Latin America and you’ll see a mere two sites; one in Ecuador and one in Costa Rica, two countries known for their environmental conservation policies. In Africa, you can count four. But scroll over to the UK or the Eastern coast of Australia, and you’ll find heaps of heaps.
Dirt Down Under
ShareWaste was started after founders Eliska Bramborova and Tomas Brambora relocated from Prague to Sydney. They didn’t know anyone, and it’s never easy to meet your neighbors in a new city. Unless, that is, you start bringing them your food scraps.
With a growing pile of scraps, the couple took to a community Facebook page to see if they could find any takers. Within half an hour, they had found a place to bring their waste. Better yet, they got to know their neighbors.
Now they have three compost hosts. One of them, an American guy, occasionally gives them homemade kimchi when they drop off their scraps. In return, they bring him homemade jam. “You know,” says Bramborova, “there’s like, a little economy growing.”
The meetups can be educational too. When users drop off their scraps, they see first-hand the ways a person can compost from home. After enough visits, they might want to start their own garden or their own compost site. And since chickens are frequently the recipients of collected food scraps, people get to learn about keeping those too.
“It’s sustainability,” Bramborova says, “from the people’s side. Connecting communities and encouraging them to take steps (toward) a more sustainable home.”
Speaking of sustainability, the couple is searching for ways to keep their app alive. Managing the online community—not to mention a baby—takes all of their spare time. But Bramborova is optimistic they’ll find a business partner to ease the weight of running ShareWaste. Hopefully, it’s one who shares their vision of turning compost into community, or as Bramborova says, “waste into treasure.”