New Zealand Box’s vision is straightforward – we believe compost belongs in the community, just as the waste pyramid provides. The conversion of food scraps and other organic materials to compost and back into fresh food is a natural virtuous local spiral. The industrial/chemical model of food production with its associated waste of “waste” and greenhouse and water polluting, soil thinning and acidifying effects is increasingly recognised as ecologically unsound and, indeed unsustainable.
The solution lies in communities taking control of their own food “waste” and turning it into a nutrient resource to grow food locally for local consumption. They need to be encouraged, and enabled, to convert their waste into fresh nutritious whole food. Multiple benefits will flow in direct proportion to how widespread the practice becomes. Those multiple benefits include eliminating the financial and ecological cost of the wholesale dumping of food waste in landfills; dispensing with the need for packaging, eliminating compost and food miles, eliminating the need to harvest food before it is ripe, putting food that is insufficiently robust to travel back on the menu, making communities more self reliant, self respecting and food resilient, putting poorer communities on a par with the well off in terms of access to high quality food and nutrition, significantly reducing the incidence of food related diseases including diabetes, cancer, heart disease and stroke. This is not a theoretical proposition, but is well documented, and is the basis of the Auckland Council 30 Year Plan.
Educational outcomes would improve. There will be a greater and more widespread understanding of the workings of the carbon and other natural cycles and the huge capacity of the soil to sequester carbon, hold water, cling to nutrients and not to leach. In time these absorbed lessons will translate into more resolute and better directed efforts to: contain the accumulation of carbon and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere; control flooding; mitigate the effects of drought; cure nitrate pollution of groundwater, rivers and the oceans, and produce more nutrient dense food.
The design imperative for the New Zealand Box was to deliver the necessary community, composting/food growing solution, i.e., a compost box system with the capacity cleanly, simply and efficiently to compost the volumes and types of food and organic waste that might be generated in the community surrounding say, a school, local park or community garden. This system needed to be scaleable so it could do that across all schools, parks and community gardens.
To achieve that scaleability, we followed the KISS principle. The system had to be manual so that it could be established and continue to operate independent of expensive machinery prone to mechanical failure and operator error. The need for self insulation dictated a capacious cubic box. Convenience called for the boxes to be portable, linkable, all terrain and flat packable. They had to deal with meat, fat, bones, fish, shellfish, dairy products, cooking oil, weeds, compostable packaging and other materials not usually composted in the average urban setting where composting is often or intermittently anaerobic and/or cold. Instead the system needed to be consistently aerobic so as to attain and hold a high heat for sustained periods in order to kill off pathogens and weed seeds and deter vermin. The need for sustained hot aerobic conditions dictated that the compost be turned periodically.
Traditional compost boxes can be opened only on one side due to a perceived need for the other three sides to be fixed and secured to each other for structural integrity. In consequence turning the compost meant lifting the entire contents of the box over the dividing wall between the full and empty boxes. This inordinate, time consuming and labour intensive process was probably the single biggest impediment to the viability of schemes for communities to convert their food waste to compost. Those limiting structural issues have been resolved, permitting access to the compost from all sides of the New Zealand Box and importantly to open the space between adjoining boxes. The innovation allows the contents to be dragged, rather than lifted, from one box to the next so that the compost can be turned in a fraction of the time formerly required. This efficiency is particularly marked where the boxes are assembled on a slope to take advantage of gravity.
Our vision of cities living on their food scraps is endorsed by the United Nations, which says that this is the only way that we will be able to feed the world’s population and the world of the future. And as NSW, Australia, and other parts of the world are turning into dustbowls, it is easy to see why cities need to turn themselves into foodbowls, growing food in a way that sequesters carbon in the soil. This is the antithesis of the industrial chemical agriculture that is practised outside cities. The concept of trucking domestic food scraps out of the city, where they will be anaerobically digested and the bulk of the carbon content burned to generate electricity, puts more carbon into the atmosphere at a time when it is critical that that carbon be returned to the soil to feed the people.
New Zealand Box (NZ Box)
The New Zealand Box has been designed for use in school and community environments. The impetus for the design of this compost box system was a composting project that Richard Wallis (Company Founder) undertook at Lowther School, Barnes in London, to compost all of the food and green waste generated by the school, together with green waste from the surrounding community. This provided the school with sufficient compost to support a large and copious kitchen garden which was tended by children in the popular garden club and with a large input from parents. The school hired part time chefs to teach the children how to prepare and cook the food they had grown into tasty and nutritious meals. Within two years of being established, the garden won a gold award in the eco section of the Richmond In Bloom garden show.
The composting system was very effective but required posts to be concreted into the ground. He designed the New Zealand Box to keep the utility of that system without the need for concrete and permanence. It is a system consisting of 1.5 cubic metre boxes which are portable and flat packable. They can be locked together to form a compost box assembly with multiple boxes, the number required depending on how much volume of compostable waste needs to be processed. Six boxes gives a compost capacity of 9 cubic metres which is one cubic metre less than the maximum permitted as a right without resource consent. Six boxes would give an annual compost capacity of 40 tonnes of organic waste of all descriptions.
All structural members holding the box together are at or near the base of the posts which enables easy access from every side of the box by removal of slats from the aluminium frame. This configuration is particularly useful where two or more boxes are joined together because the common wall of slats separating two boxes can be removed and the contents moved from one box to another by dragging rather than lifting.
Because of the volume and configuration it is easy to get the compost hot from the get-go and keep it hot for weeks on end, which ensures the composting process is efficient, clean and the product sterile. It will take any form of food or organic waste (including compost packaging, cups, lids and bags) and can be vermin proofed.