Footpath Garden
Footpath garden in Chippendale. Image: Mark Metcalfe/City of Sydney

If we’re to get things done in the 30 months we have left to prevent Earth’s climate collapsing a key solution most of us have power to do is to grow footpath gardens out the front of where we live and work.


What can little gardens do to stop climate collapse?

And, what’s this “collapse” stuff?

On 5 April 2022 the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, said that investing in new fossil fuel projects was “moral and economic madness”. He also said that government and business leaders were lying about the actions they are taking to combat climate change.

The words were spoken after the UN report that week and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report which said:

“In the scenarios we assessed, limiting warming to around 1.5°C (2.7°F) requires global greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025 at the latest, and be reduced by 43 per cent by 2030; at the same time, methane would also need to be reduced by about a third. Even if we do this, it is almost inevitable that we will temporarily exceed this temperature threshold but could return to C below it by the end of the century.
“It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F)…Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.”.

In its April 2022 report the UN says we humans have 30 months left to cut the pollution – until 2025 – when the IPCC expects we will lose the slight remaining potential to prevent cascading, out of control, climate collapse.

Here’s a graphic I made to sum up the little time left for we humans to save ourselves.

But how much weight may be placed on my answer to the UN’s challenge which is, “Build a footpath garden where you live and work”?

Each of us in wealthy countries get the answer and solution three times a day – when we eat. The UN reports food waste is the third largest contributor to climate pollution.

Food waste is making Earth hotter. It’s the third biggest cause of climate change: according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), unconsumed food is responsible for roughly 8–10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The 2021 UNEP report found that globally we wasted about 931 million tonnes of food waste in 2019 alone.

When accumulated, each action of households, cafés, retailers, restaurants, manufacturer, and more accumulate to a food waste problem we must act on now.

Going back to the 2021 UNEP report results, we can break the food waste data down by sector (household, food service, and retail) as shown in the table above; evidently, households and food service make up the largest portions of food waste.

Estimates of global food waste by sector in 2019 (from UNEP report). Look at this graphic:

So – work with me here – footpath gardens can both grow some food and end food waste, the third largest contributor to climate pollution. 

Look at the potential to cut the third greatest source of climate-destroying pollution in the state of NSW:

A footpath garden can end food waste by composting in that garden. If footpath gardening and composting becomes common we may reduce or avoid garbage truck pickups of food waste.

The typical pick-up distance travelled by a household garbage truck is 100 kilometres.

It’s simple common sense that keeping food waste to compost it where it is uses no petrol, diesel or gas energy.

Thus, there’s additional savings in pollution composting food waste because it avoids or reduces the energy – petrol, diesel gas – to collect, then transport, waste long distances using heavy waste vehicles, waste transfer stations, and other mechanical processes.

(Any of us may easily calculate the pollution from our food waste and potential savings using this easy-to-use free calculator.)

Inspiring examples for self-approved footpath gardening have been set by councils in Brisbane, Perth and Sydney. The Sydney example allows citizens to self-approve their footpath garden (which, of course, includes composting), and reads:

“Residents and businesses in the City of Sydney do not need approval to install planter boxes or carry out gardening on a public footpath as long as they comply with policy criteria, outlined in the footpath gardening checklists. The criteria ensure any planter boxes or gardening on public footpaths respects other uses of the footpath and maintains access and amenity.”

The wonderful news is, in those three cities, almost all of we citizens can build and grow footpath gardens, including with composting, without first getting approval.

We don’t need to hope or despair that the lying governments and politicians will do something real to stop Earth’s climate collapsing. We can do this ourselves if the local council rules allow us to self-approve our footpath gardens. There’s a terrific article and video by Sydney City Council of the Chippendale Footpath Sustainable Footpath Gardens.

The policy enables road gardens and composting, resulting in more than 300 kilograms of household food waste being composted each week. This avoids more than 450 kg of carbon equivalent pollution each week.

I live in the Sydney City Council area, in Chippendale. I thank my community and council for an inspiring, empowering policy which for over a decade has allowed footpath gardening without the need for formal council approvals.

Our streets keep rain where it falls to grow more plants and tree canopy, they are cooler in summer, more enjoyable to walk in, and increase property values.

For over a decade about 160 of us have been composting in our Chippendale footpath gardens. We are residents of houses and units and office workers.

Each of us in wealthy countries, three times a day for the next 30 months, can stop new pollution from our food.

How about you?

If your council hasn’t given you freedom to make a footpath garden do what we did in Chippendale; start growing and at the same time show your gardens to your local councillors and persuade them to make rules this year like those made by the Sydney, Brisbane and South Perth Councils.

Michael Mobbs

Michael Mobbs is a sustainability coach who works with developers, governments and communities to design and obtain approvals for houses, units and subdivisions. More by Michael Mobbs

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