A Composting Champion: One Small Act = A Huge Impact

Jo Heeps at her Glenbrook home, where the composting magic happens.

Story and photos by Julie Nance

Jo Heeps has prevented more than 11 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions being released from landfill each year, simply by composting coffee grounds and food scraps from her local Glenbrook café. That’s the equivalent of taking nearly five fossil-fuel-powered cars off the road for 12 months, or one and a half homes off the grid. Learn how you can also make a big impact.

Key Points:

  • Up to 33 per cent of the material in our red-lidded garbage bins is food waste that can be composted. Hundreds of tonnes of this food waste ends up in our local landfill each week. (As a guide, an African elephant weighs 2 to 7 tonnes!)
  • This waste takes up valuable space, generates CO2 and methane emissions and causes other environmental impacts that are expensive to manage. 
  • Community composting helps us use food scraps and other material the way nature intended, to return valuable nutrients to the soil. Compost improves drainage, increases water holding capacity, stabilises soil temperature and has a wide range of other benefits.

Jo Heeps is a familiar figure in Glenbrook village, wheeling her collection bin back and forth between Kickaboom cafe and her nearby home. She’s been making the journey twice a week since October 2022.

Although she grew up with keen composting parents and grandparents, Jo didn’t have the opportunity to try it herself until she moved to the Blue Mountains from Glenmore Park with husband Ronnie.

She discovered Blue Mountains City Council was running a program called the Compost Hub. Through this interactive online platform, you can become a ‘champion’, accepting extra food scraps for your compost. If you are eager to stop your scraps from entering landfill, but can’t compost yourself, you can become a ‘contributor’. You can deliver food scraps to a champion or in Jo’s case, someone like her will come to you.

Jo signed up to the initiative and was delighted to get an email from Kickaboom soon after. A wonderful partnership was born. 

“I was new to the community and wanted to get involved somehow,” says Jo, a mother-of-two and a grandma of one. “It’s fabulous working with the team at Kickaboom. I always know from the scraps what’s on the menu.

Jo Heeps' compost bins are enclosed in a wire mesh cage that came with the house.

Jo’s compost bins are enclosed in a wire mesh cage that came with the house.

Material suitable for home composting includes kitchen food scraps, tea bags, eggshells, citrus, newspaper, egg cartons, tissues, lawn clippings, garden prunings, dust, lint and hair.

Jo started her compost enterprise with one donated 220 litre Council compost bin, later receiving a second one to cope with the volume of Kickaboom scraps. Over time she added two extra bins of her own.

She averages about 120 litres of organic waste from the café each week, using a trolley to make moving the bin easier.

“After about five months, I put the compost bin contents over different sections of my garden,” she says. “I feel like it saves water as the garden holds the water better. The vegetables I’ve grown and the plants, have been really high quality.

“I used to go to Bunnings to buy fertiliser. Now I mostly use the compost and my worm farm wee.”  

Jo Heeps beautiful front garden that is being nurtured by her compost.

Jo’s beautiful front garden that is being nurtured by her compost.

Jo’s beautiful back garden

A stunning back garden that Jo enjoys pottering around in with her 3-year-old grandson, who is learning how to compost.       

Kickaboom Manager Kat Kroon says before partnering with Jo, the café paid for two red-lidded bins to be emptied twice a week.

“I didn’t feel comfortable about our food scraps just sitting in landfill, contributing to CO2 ,” she says.

“Through the partnership, we saved money with only one bin pick up a week. Just one small step can snowball. Having that community inclusion with Jo, and to know that we are doing better for our planet, gives us more meaning.”

Kickaboom Manager Kat Kroon

Kickaboom Manager Kat Kroon with some of the café’s food scraps, once destined for landfill.

Kat and Jo, with her trusty compost collection bin and trolley.

A friendly and productive partnership: Kat and Jo, with her trusty collection bin and trolley.

Kickaboom produces such large quantities of coffee grounds that Jo can’t take it all. To avoid the excess material ending up in landfill, they offer free bags of coffee grounds out the front of the café each day, which is quickly snapped up. Kickaboom also entered into a second partnership.

“One of our baristas has a cold brew company called My Mate Dave Coffee,” Kat explains. “We’ve partnered with them, giving them coffee grounds. They add essential oils and other ingredients and we are now selling a coffee scrub that you can use in the shower.”

coffee scrub for sale

 Coffee scrub for sale.  

Staff at Jo and Ronnie’s business in Penrith, Truck Hydraulic Solutions, are also enjoying doing their bit, contributing coffee grounds and a garbage bag of shredded paper to Jo’s compost each week.

Jo finds the process of watching her compost contents breaking down fascinating. A keen baker, she likens composting to cooking.

“It’s like baking a cake, as you use all your senses,” she says. “I’m looking at it. I’m smelling it, I’m feeling it. And it’s just knowing that the mix looks right, which takes a little bit of playing around.”

In addition to the compost nourishing her extensive garden, Jo also grows vegetables, some of which she donates back to the café.  

garden vegies

Some of Jo’s fresh picks from her garden. (Photo: Jo Heeps)

Here are some of Jo’s top composting tips she’s gathered on her journey:   

  • Before throwing things out, think about what you can do with them – whether it’s recycling or composting.
  • I bought second-hand books on composting which really helped. The best one was The Compost Coach by Kate Flood. (This is available in Blue Mountains libraries).   
  • Because it takes months for material to break down, the smaller your waste is before you put it into your compost bin, the quicker the process e.g. cutting it up or shredding it. Some people even blitz it in a blender.
  • Use compost activators e.g. coffee grounds, which also helps speed things up. I use blood and bone occasionally. 
  • Keep turning your compost every two to three days. In the centre of the compost bin, I put a pipe with holes in it, to help aerate the material.
  • Use compostable bags so you don’t have to keep cleaning out your kitchen scrap bin, which may deter you from continuing.

(Compostable bags only break down well in warm compost. If you don’t turn your compost regularly, it’s best to empty your bag into the compost and dispose of the bag or reuse it).

Author Kate Flood’s book has been a composting bible for Jo. 

Author Kate Flood’s book has been a composting bible for Jo. 

Jo chopping up food waste before putting it into the kitchen scrap bin

Jo recommends chopping up food waste before putting it into the kitchen scrap bin, to help the compost break down more quickly.

compost bin aeration pipe

Jo puts a plastic pipe with holes in it, into her compost bin to help with aeration. The insects, worms and microbes all need air to live but as ingredients break down, it can all drop, pushing air out. Turning compost over brings air back into the system and the pipe approach helps too.

Erin Hall, Blue Mountains City Council Senior Project Officer, Circular Economy, says you only need to start small with composting. Even if you put your material into the compost bin and you don’t do another thing with it, you are making a positive contribution.

“Methane generated in landfill is one of the most potent greenhouse gases and it is Council’s biggest emitter in our LGA,” she says.

“So, when we’re talking about reducing climate change, one of the best things you can do is compost. As Jo has shown, small actions can yield big results.” – Erin Hall, BMCC Senior Project Officer, Circular Economy

Take Action:

  • Sign up to be a compost champion or contributor or find out more. 
  • Find a compost champion or contributor near you by searching the Compost Hub map. There are many champions throughout the Blue Mountains waiting for contributors. They will be grateful to receive your food scraps.   
  • Jo has been nominated in Blue Mountains City Council’s ‘Binfluencer Awards’, recognising and celebrating members of the community working towards our goal of zero waste. There are three themes: Avoid, reuse and recycle. For more information go to https://yoursay.bmcc.nsw.gov.au/blue-mountains-binfluencer-awards
  • Gain great quick tips in Your Compost Guide flyer.
  • Order a subsidised compost bin (one per household).
  • Book a free Blue Mountains City Council composting workshop or choose other topics related to managing waste that are of interest. A group of 10 people is required.

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This story has been produced as part of a Bioregional Collaboration for Planetary Health and is supported by the Disaster Risk Reduction Fund (DRRF). The DRRF is jointly funded by the Australian and New South Wales governments.

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About Julie Nance

Julie Nance is a community storyteller with the Blue Mountains Planetary Health Initiative. In her coverage of the Lower Mountains area, she brings 30 years’ experience in communications, publishing and journalism. After specialising in health and social issues as a journalist, Julie led creative teams in the government and not-for-profit sectors including the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, YMCA NSW, Cancer Council NSW and The Children’s Hospital at Westmead. Julie is passionate about empowering people with quality information to help them make informed choices.

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