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Conscious composting

Doubt Not crew organise hospitality food waste for compost: Jason Hodge (left) and Pete Ryan

Two mornings a week, the Doubt Not crew collect Dunedin hospitality food waste, which is turned into ‘conscious compost’ and used to propagate trees and plants.

The men sell the plants at the Otago Farmers Market to raise funds and their goal is to establish a tree and plant nursery, the sales from which would help cover the project’s costs. They want to have 25,000 trees by the end of this year as a base for the nursery.

One of those who started Doubt Not, Isaac Davies, says that longer-term, they hope to grow enough trees so businesses could off-set their carbon footprint.

That’s a little bit of a pipe dream,” he says.


Seeing how quickly this environmentally-friendly venture has grown, that dream of hospitality waste going a full circle may indeed become reality.

Isaac and Pete Ryan began the not-for-profit, which they run as a social enterprise, in August 2018. An earlier pilot project picked up waste from five cafes and used nine compost bins but they needed more capacity.

They’d been using a friend’s land, however the Logan Park High School principal offered a large unused field behind the school, so they are using this in the meantime.

Pete hopes the Dunedin City Council would like to collaborate and provide land for the venture, which from when it started until late March, has saved just over 300,000 litres of waste from landfill.

Pick-ups increase 

Isaac explains that they pick up food waste, coffee grinds and compostable packaging from 41 cafes, restaurants, coffee roasteries, the University Book Shop and a few offices.

“Mainly hospitality but as we’ve grown, people have said there’s a need, so we’ve done it.”

Some of the food waste, coffee grinds and compostable packaging Doubt Not has collected from cafes and other places in Dunedin

The number of places wanting Doubt Not to collect their waste increases weekly, he says. The service is ‘contribute-what-you-want’ to promote this change in waste management and enable ‘conscious composting’, which is when people are aware of their waste and are intentionally composting.

Waste is poured into large containers which the project has mostly found or been given. At Logan Park, the compost bins are built from reused wooden pallets and lined with used brown paper bags from bakeries.

The men collect 150 flour bags a week and have started giving them to cafes to use as bin liners. When they started, all the cafes were using plastic or compostable liners, however they’ve been able to significantly reduce this, Isaac says.

We’re trying to make it a full circle of everything that’s a waste product being utilised.”


On the icy July morning Daily Encourager visited the Logan Park site, Isaac, Pete and their friend Jason Hodge had collected about 3200 litres of waste in a couple of hours.

They volunteer their labour and both Isaac and Pete have paid jobs. Other mates volunteer their time when needed.

Isaac says they don’t make money from the enterprise. They reinvest money from the plant sales to make the project happen. For example, they have bought a digger to turn the compost and have gravelled and paved a driveway.

“We’re just growing naturally, organically, as it’s happened.”

Once they have what they need and the project is running as they want it, they may consider taking a wage.

Reusing and repurposing

Pete says they layer up the compost and leave it to sit for 12 to 16 weeks before turning it. A full ageing cycle takes about six months.

Once the compost is ready, at their homes they mix it with topsoil and aged wood mulch to create potting mix. This is filled into foil coffee bean bags for larger plants or used takeaway coffee cups for seedlings.

Digger driver John Foote from UnderFoote Services turns compost at the site behind
Logan Park High School, Dunedin

They reuse and repurpose as many items as possible.

“The general philosophy I guess is, everything’s a resource until it’s not,” Pete says.

Isaac says seeds are gathered from nature, while seedlings are thinnings, cuttings or donated from people’s gardens. One day recently, he propagated between 300 and 400 plants. The plants are grown at friends’ sections until they can start a nursery.

Doubt Not’s third arm is educating the public about domestic composting at the market and primary schools.

Pete says once a nursery is established, they’d like to involve more school students and encourage them that “there is more to life than buying t-shirts and making money”.

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Doubt Not’s Instagram


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