Czechs ‘Down Under’ pioneer waste recycling network

A young Czech couple living in Australia has launched a successful online application which enables people to recycle their kitchen waste. Through ShareWaste, people wishing to recycle their kitchen scraps but without the means to do so can connect with their neighbours who are already composting.
I spoke to one of ShareWaste founders, Eliška Bramborová, on the phone to Sydney, and I first asked her to outline the project:

“It’s an online platform that enables people who are recycling their organic waste to connect with people who can’t but would like to.

“We mostly focus on people living in urban areas, in neighbourhoods where people don’t know each other on one hand but on the other hand they also don’t have the opportunity to recycle their organic waste.

“This was our case at the time we moved to Sydney and we were looking at ways how to solve this problem.”

How did you get the idea to start the project?

“When we moved to Sydney about three years ago, we moved to a small apartment in the west of the town and we realised we were producing a lot of organic waste. And because Australia’s climate is very humid and warm, anything you put inside a bin starts rotting very quickly.

“We were also building frustration because of the fact that we were producing so much organic waste that could be so easily recycled, but there wasn’t any service that we could use at the time.

“So we were looking into way how we could do something about it and I came up with an idea to ask the local community if there was anyone would be willing accept our scraps and recycle them for us.

“Within a couple of hours a lady who lives around 30 minutes away from us got back to me saying: ‘Bring them over, I would be happy to recycle them for you, I have two compost bins.’

“So we started seeing her on a regular basis, but after some time we realised that walking there with buckets full of kitchen scraps was quite demanding.

“Our first objective was to help people see their organic waste as a resource, not as a waste.”

“So my husband, who is a software developer, came up with an idea of building an app that would actually connect people like us with people like her.”

Have you been inspired by a similar project that already works abroad?

“Not at all, I actually don’t think there is any project such as ours. I think we are probably the first ones who came with such an idea. There are some commercial services where you would pay to somebody to come and collect your kitchen scraps or food waste on a regular basis.

“First of all, our service is completely free and we are connecting people within the community. It’s not connecting for instance the councils with households. We are connecting the households with community gardens and other individuals. So we are trying to build stronger communities as well.

“Because when we moved to Sydney, we didn’t know any locals, and now, after three years, and especially once we started ShareWaste, we have made so many friends here. It’s great!

So that’s the side effect of sharing your waste that you actually make new friends…

“I would say that we had too main objectives. The first one was to help people see their organic waste as a resource, not as a waste. Organic waste becomes waste once people put it down in their garbage bin and then it goes to landfill.

Eliška Bramborová with her husband,  photo: archive of Eliška Bramborová
“But if they collect the scraps and give them to chicken, or give them to someone who can compost them or give them to the worms, than it’s recycled and turned either in compost or new soil and people can use it in their gardens. So why should we use and treat this treasure like garbage?”

How many people have signed up for the project so far?

“Currently I think we have over 4,000 registered users but there are new people signing up every day. I would say the ratio of people who are receiving scraps and who are donating scraps is about one to three.

“We also have a lot of supporters on our social media. We are very active on Facebook and also on Instagram so I think our community could be over 5,000 followers. And also a lot of people are in touch with us through e-mail and other media as well.“

So where do you have the highest number of supporters? I would guess it’s in big cities where people don’t have the luxury of having their own garden and being able to compost their scraps.

“Exactly! That’s also the communities we are actually targeting, where people don’t know each other that well but at the same time can benefit from sharing their scraps this way.

“At the same time there are a lot of side effects. They start by sharing their scraps, but then the hosts usually would give their excess produce to their donors. They share other skills as well. Also the donors come to see how the composting or worm-farming system works at the host’s place.

“So what happens actually quite often is that people who used to be donors turn into hosts by buying their own compost bin and accept somebody else’s scraps, which is amazing. It is a great way how to learn new skills, who already have the experience.”

I assume ShareWaste is a non-profit project. You make no money from this project, is that right?

“ShareWaste is pretty much me and my husband. We have one volunteer since last year, who has been doing an incredible job. But there is no money involved at all and it’s pretty much built and it runs on our free time.”

“Currently we have over 4,000 registered users but there are new people signing up every day.”

How do you finance this project? Do you have any supporters or donors?

“We started with nothing. When we started, it was very low budget and we were using free tools. But as our community grew, especially when we reached 2,000 registered people, the problem was that some of the tools were not complementary any more.

“So we started looking for ways how to make the project more sustainable, because we were receiving lots of positive feedback and a lot of positive testimonials. Last year applied for a community grant from teh city of Sydney to spread the word in Sydney. But that’s nothing that would cover the cost of the project itself.

“But that’s nothing that would cover the cost of the project itself. But this year we started a new collaboration with the council in Auckland, New Zealand.

“They have a licensed version of ShareWaste and they actually use it as part of their green goals. So this way we can actually cover the main project itself.”

So the project is not limited to Australia only.

“The app is available in the world for anyone who decides to use it and who thinks the community would benefit from it. Anyone can download the app for free from Play Store or App Store and anyone can go online to to sign up and invite their friends or the local community gardens.

“We are targeting community gardens and city farms because we believe that they are great centres of sustainability and community within the urban areas.”

Would you say there are more supporters of zero waste idea in Australia than here in the Czech Republic?

Illustrative photo: Drahomíra Bačkorová
“To be honest, I don’t really know, because we haven’t lived in the Czech Republic for the last four years. I remember that when I was leaving, community gardens were just starting there.

“In Australia there are a lot of community gardens. There are also so-called ‘verge gardens’, which are small gardens at the back of the houses, along the lanes, and it’s really easy to start one.

“Gardening, and that’s what I really like about Australia, is somehow part of the lifestyle. It’ not something people would associate with their grandparents. It’s something people who are 15 or 20 or 30 would regularly do in their free time.”