Whanganui's brand new food composting business, Easy Earth, has its first 14 customers and its HotRot in-vessel composting system working.
Easy Earth, owned by Derek and Sarah Pickering, has set up in a 2500 square metre yard in Karoro Rd, next door to Whanganui's Beach Rd pump station. It can compost two tonnes of food waste a day, keeping it out of landfill and turning it into a useful soil additive.
The manager is Melany Davy and it's almost her dream job - except that at this stage she's mostly working on her own and would like more company. Brought up in Whanganui, she returned three years ago after spending time in Australia.
She's passionate about a sustainable environment.
"I used to canvas for the Wilderness Society in Sydney, and we had a Save Our World pantomime that the environment network put on in primary schools and preschools," she said.
Her customers so far include Whanganui waste minimisation councillor Rob Vinsen, two hairdressing salons, WSP Opus and, soon, Whanganui District Council. She's also collecting other recyclable resources from Sport Whanganui, and said Whanganui had a major need for a kerbside recyclable collection.
To store their food waste, households get a bin and a roll of recyclable bags to line it. They pay $6 a week to have the bags collected, and re-line their bins with a new bag. Businesses pay $9 or more per week, depending on their size and needs, and have their bins replaced at each collection.
Davy is also working on a scheme where households can drop their food waste off The Crazy Pumpkin in Taupo Quay, for $3.50 a week. Those customers will pay a $10 deposit for a bin, drop off a full bin and pick up and empty one.
The HotRot system can cope with most foods and compostable packaging, including meats. Fluids, including oils, milk and cream, are unwanted, as are the plastic labels on fruit and vegetables.
The system puts the mixture of food waste, hair, wood chips and packaging through a two-week process. The waste makes its way along a tunnel, with air injected and an auger turning it about every 20 minutes.
The waste generates its own heat. Composting works best at 55 degreesC and Davy says temperatures inside have reached 70C.
Because the process is contained there is no smell, and because it is aerobic there is no methane gas generated.
Odour, carbon dioxide and moisture coming out of the tunnel is run through a biofilter - a bin of bark chips - where fungi growing on the bark "magically gobble up the smell".
The system is computerised and runs on electricity, with a human/machine interface in a shed on site. Davy checks temperature, timing and the weight in the feed hopper there.
Wood chips are supplied free by Botanical Tree Services, and there's a shipping-container structure for storing bins and sheltering the vehicles she uses. They are a small truck, for collecting the food waste, and a tractor for loading food waste and wood chips into the feed hopper.
"So I learned to drive a tractor this year. It was a little bit challenging," Davy said.
The vehicles cost $70,000, which was provided by Whanganui District Council from its waste minimisation fund - the money it gets from a levy of $10 per tonne on waste going to landfill.
Households and landowners have expressed an interest in buying the finished compost.
It's still early days for the business, and it is only publicising itself on Facebook and its own website. But Davy and Pickering are happy with progress so far.
In time Easy Earth wants to buy a shredder and extend its composting to garden waste and lawn clippings, and it would also like to collect and sort other recyclable materials.