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YIMBY Composters

YIMBY – Yes in My Back Yard

Compost bins are not often seen in front gardens, especially large ones with thermometers peeking out from the top. 

But this is YIMBY, otherwise known as the Yes In My Back Yard initiative.  Ironically, in this case it’s Yes in both my backyard and front yard. It’s the property of Mikaela Beckley who is part of a team that runs an imaginative and successful community initiative to make use of neighbourhood kitchen scraps that go to feed gardens brimming with healthy vegetables.  At the same time the organics are not going to landfill.

When organic waste breaks down in landfills it is without oxygen (anaerobic), it produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.

Composting, on the other hand, if done well, is an aerobic process where organic waste decomposes in the presence of oxygen. In this case, methane production is minimised, and carbon dioxide is produced instead. While carbon dioxide is also a greenhouse gas, it has a significantly lower global warming potential than methane. Capping your compost with a good layer of straw can also assist in ‘capturing’ this Co2.

So, by composting organic waste, we can divert it from landfills, reduce methane emissions, and create a valuable product that can enrich soil and support plant growth.

Lucy Young from The Hub Foundation in Castlemaine, with Joel Meadows, Terry White and Bill Grant, initiated YIMBY after visiting New Zealand and spotting buckets in neighbourhoods, awaiting collection, ‘it was a light bulb moment’, says Lucy, just so simple. The main difference between what was noticed in NZ, and what YIMBY has become, is the composting in backyards, instead of the traditional model of composting collectively in a community garden, for example. 

Now a group of 3 individuals, Lucy, Mikaela and Joel Meadows, backed by The Hub Foundation, work hard to encourage and educate more residents in the shire to compost well and to support a team of backyard composters.. 

YIMBY volunteers knock on the door of their immediate neighbours  to find those who do not compost their kitchen scraps. This is actually good news for the volunteers because these helpful neighbours love to join the scheme by donating their scraps.  The YIMBY volunteers  all love composting in their own backyards but to get enough material to fuel their hot compost they collect buckets weekly from their neighbours. 

The system is not only really practical, it employs a unique method of hot composting. Hot composting normally entails putting in all its various components at once in a large 1 cubic metre pile and turning at least three times, to assist the microbes to do the work of composting. In this traditional hot composting system, no new components can be added once it’s set up.The temperature must be above 55 degrees so that the heat kills pathogens and deter rodents who can’t stand the heat.

But YIMBY composters have secret knowledge up their sleeves and have developed a unique ‘continuous hot composting method’ the YIMBY method.  Each new bay is started with ⅓ of a cubic metre and more ingredients are added over 6-8 weeks. They have found that this achieves the required temperatures.  It is still turned twice over the following couple of weeks, by which time it’s fully decomposed, but then left to cure for at least 2 more months – when the worms finish the process adding their own bit of magic juice. At the end of this time,a nutrient dense compost emerges that goes into the soil to make the huge cabbages I spotted in the garden amongst other to- die- for vegetables. The cycle continues.

It works because YIMBY composters are trained to know a good recipe to keep that temperature above 55 degrees. Having assessed their collection data, they also know they must collect 30-50 kilograms of scraps per week to keep the compost hot and to make sure they build an entire cubic metre bay in under two months. Any longer than this and the bottom part of the pile can become anaerobic. The thermometers I see peeking out the top help them know that the heat is remaining above the right temperature, but not too hot.

YIMBY has developed over the last 3 years and there are now 15 enthusiastic composters in Castlemaine, with another 10 currently in an apprenticeship to start collecting from their neighbours. Mikaela has 18 neighbours whom she collects from and who contribute weekly, to date, she has collected and composted almost 5,000kgs of food scraps!. 

Amazingly the hot bins can process  anything……er… except perhaps poo. Pet poo that is. This becomes a complication when the compost is being used to nourish the growing vegetables because dog and cat food and medicine are contaminants.  Strangely enough Guinea Pig poo is quite acceptable!  So too are the traditional ‘no no’s such as citrus, onion, meat, (yes meat!) and dairy. They are easily broken down due to the high number of microbes that are thriving in the bins. 

Mikaela explains that YIMBY has benefits beyond just composting. Neighbours feel like they are part of something valuable even if they are not composters. The collectors get to know their neighbours and neighbourhood all leading to a community that is connected and working together, each contributing what is within their capacity to do.

Mikaela hopes that the Shire will be brave and excited enough about YIMBY’s achievements to give its support to further developing the model as a solution to the organics in landfill problem as well as  contributing to food security.  It has great benefits for the poor soils found in the area. 

The State government is committed to reducing organics in landfill by 2030 and legislated to require all Councils to introduce a green bin collection service. But, a green bin collection  would put food and garden waste together in the same collection bin. 

Mikaela explains; Not only will the nutrients  be taken away from the Shire to be processed elsewhere, adding to travel miles and depriving the Shire of all that good composting material, (nutrients) but co-mingling garden and food waste requires careful combining to make high quality compost. 

Additionally, YIMBY argues, it’s the food scraps that are the main problem in landfill, with their high nitrogen values, hence they are the priority for YIMBY. Garden waste, they argue, is just not the same problem, and we already have options for dealing with it, such as the Greenaway collection, or people simply mulching it in their backyards.  Combining food organics and garden organics (FOGO) creates problems, and produces a comparatively low quality product- it makes no sense to the YIMBY team. 

YIMBY estimates that 250 composters is about what is needed to cover the Shire’s composting needs, and to continue producing this exceptional, quality compost. Mikaela  believes  that we just can’t get this quality elsewhere. Judging by those cabbages, she has every good reason to make this claim!

Since first writing this article Yimby and The Hub Foundation with a special mention to Mikaela, have won Australia’s Best Compost Award!!! We congratulate them!