International Compost Awareness Week: An Interview with Compost Foundation

Compost has its very own week, organised and held every year by the Compost Research and Education Foundation – aka CREF. 

We sat down with the Ginny Black, Trustee Chair of CREF, to find out more.

Can you tell me a little bit about the Foundation and its goals?

The mission of CREF is to conduct scientific research and educate both the general public (ICAW) and the compost community about issues and the science around composting. 

You can learn more about CREF on compostfoundation.org.

When – and why – did the Foundation set Compost Week up?

The full name is International Compost Awareness Week (ICAW).  It was initially started in Canada, through the Compost Council of Canada in 1995.  Shortly after, the US Composting Council got involved and started running ICAW in the U.S.  Five years ago, the Compost Research & Education Foundation (CREF) took over running the program.  

Canada, and a number of other countries, run their own ICAW programs in their countries, but we all work together and encourage each other’s individual ICAW programs and activities.

ICAW was started and continues today with the same goal, which is to build awareness on the benefits of compost use and organics recycling.  Today, more people are starting to recognize the benefits of compost use for creating healthier soil and also there has been an increased interest in the need to stop throwing food waste into landfills through composting their food and yard waste, but there is a long way to go to get more of the public knowledgeable on this subject,  and willing to participate and make lifestyle changes.  

ICAW is designed to educate the public in a fun, informative way by encouraging people throughout the country and the world to participate in ICAW, which is always the first full week of May.

Shovelling compost into a sack ready for use during compost week.

It’s interesting you mention that there’s a long way to go to educate the public about the benefits of composting.

There seems to be a lot more opposition to composting in North America than in the UK, including local ordinances that do not allow composting. What’s behind this, and how are you combating it?

This is a difficult question to answer. There are, at a minimum, three levels of government that can regulate composting, all have a different motivation. In general, Federal/State/County regulations target commercial compost facilities and revolve around protection of water/air quality, noise and odor. For local units of government (cities/townships) regulations target backyard composting and are geared toward neighbor issues, like odor and unsightliness.

The ICAW is an education program that is geared toward educating the general public about the benefits of composting and reducing the potential impacts.  We work closely with the US Composting Council.  They work with their local chapters to help bring more common-sense approaches to these regulations. It is a big job because the US is a big place and there are lots of levels of government to work with.

What has Compost Week achieved in the past?

Last year, we celebrated our 25th Anniversary.  Over those years, this program has continued to grow and expand to where it is well recognized by many organizations, municipalities, at schools and with thousands of individuals.  Press coverage has grown each year and more and more people participate in the annual ICAW Poster Contest and also during the week of ICAW. 

How has Covid changed Compost Week?

Usually, a lot of ICAW events and activities are held at different locations with groups of people attending.  They can be events such as educational workshops to compost giveaways.  Last year, everything went online.  There were a lot of webinars, short videos, lots of educational postings and things like that.  It actually worked well.  People were still excited and enthusiastic to participate.  We even had our official kick-off event online, highlighting the Town of Lexington, MA. 

This year, we assume it will be more of a hybrid event – where a lot of what was done last year will continue and, if it is safe, some outside, socially-distanced activities may be planned too.  Some of it will be based on what is going on in the individual states and communities.

What is the focus of Compost Week this year?

This year the theme for ICAW 2021 is Grow, Eat…COMPOST…Repeat.  Here’s how we describe the theme on our website:

The ICAW 2021 theme is based on the circular movement of the organics recycling process flowing from farm to table to farm again. 

This circular process turns recycled organic materials into compost which creates healthy soils leading to more nutrient dense fruits and vegetables, with that waste going back to being composted and the process starts again. Compost adds carbon back into the soil, promotes erosion control and closes the loop by avoiding the loss of valuable organic resources. 

From on-farm composting, large-scale commercial composting facilities to community composting and composting in backyards, this amazing resource provides an ecologically responsible option for managing our organic materials. 

This year’s ICAW 2021 theme, Grow, Eat…COMPOST…Repeat, empowers us to recognize and promote the importance of composting and the use of compost in growing healthier food, supporting healthier soils and, ultimately, creating a more just and sustainable world.

What events are you planning this year?

There are volunteers all across the country that plan different events and activities during ICAW.  They share their plans with us on our website and on our social media.  Everyone does things a little differently.  As the organization that manages ICAW in the U.S, we do have a kick-off event every year.  That is currently being planned and can’t be announced yet.   

Past events held include a Compost Awareness Week Event at Urban Growler in St. Paul, Minnesota. In addition to giving out free compost to attendees, raffling off compost bins and kitchen collection pails, the MNCC had free resources and large maps showing all of the organics recycling programs and sites in Minnesota. The Wildflower Project was on site using some of the compost to top dress the on-site garden and plant plugs of pollinator species. You can see more examples of past events here

Who should get involved with compost week?

Everyone is invited to get involved from school children to public leaders, to backyard home composters.  This is a program that encourages anyone interested in learning more about compost to participate.

Final question – what do you love most about composting?

It is environmentally friendly and is needed to regenerate degraded soils, improve plant growth, protect our lakes, wetlands, and rivers from pollution, can be a carbon sink to reduce climate change and many other benefits, including decreasing food and yard waste going into landfills.

Thank you so much to Ginny for taking the time to answer our questions. To learn more, visit CREF’s Compost Week page here.