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Feature: Feeding the Gardens of Eden

The holy grail for those involved with sustainability and waste management is to be able to convert all waste into something useful and negate the need for landfill. The Eden Project in Cornwall, ever-striving to research and promote best practice, has installed a Neter composting system on-site to handle its food waste.

The Swedish aerobic in-vessel system arrived at the Eden Project last April and is not only the first to be installed in the UK, but one of only three Neter composting systems in the world. Of the other two, one is used in a secondary school in France and the other in a vegetable market in Japan.

Produced by Susteco, Neter systems are tailor-made for customers to match the volume of waste produced. They can handle 1,300-15,100kg a week of food waste, and take all waste including animal products and dairy.

Food waste fed into the composting system reaches up to 65ºC, and the metamorphosis from food scraps to useable compost takes 40-60 days. The result is a substance that has reduced the waste fed into the system by 90% and is a mature enough compost to go straight on to the land. Extra storage time is always beneficial, but no windrowing or turning is needed.

According to Susteco representative Hugh Creighton, the bespoke system was ideal for the Eden Project. “In a place like the Eden Project that could have around 14,000 people on-site, you want something that doesn’t smell and doesn’t need turning.” He says the beauty of the system is that it is designed to compost 100% of food waste on-site and, for the Eden Project, was an example of a replicable system.

Eden is using the Neter system as a research tool to help establish whether it is an effective solution to dealing with the disposal of organic waste and reducing the environmental problems that result from sending it to landfill, such as emissions and leaching.

According to Eden, most studies so far have looked either at small-scale solutions for households, excluded animal waste, or have looked at large municipal solutions. But it wants to examine solutions available for organisations and communities that produce significant amounts of food waste without having to send the waste off-site or devote an inordinate amount of time and labour to handling it.

Eden says its system can consume 500kg of organic waste a day – or 40% of the site’s total daily amount. Each year, Eden produces a little over 100 tonnes of food waste, which all went to landfill before the Neter was installed.

Eden is currently in the first stage of its trial programme, but says that as far as the composting process inside the vessel is going, the system is working very well. The project hopes soon to move into the second stage of its trial – a one year ‘steady state’ monitoring and evaluation process. And Eden says the real test of the compost will come in the long-term performance of the plants and landscapes it has been used on.

All the compost produced by the Neter will be used within Eden’s grounds. But due to the diverse nature of the estate and geographical regions exhibited, Eden will always have to bring in more compost and mulch than it produces. The composting system also helps take some softer green waste from the grounds, used to help provide the right balance of carbon. Eden also produces compost from its separate green waste collections – but says this is also due fo

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