This week is… wait for it…. International Composting Awareness Week! Yeah! Right on!

Sure, it’s not as exciting as No Pants Day (yes, really) but it is *slightly* more important. Little do people know of the environmental harm done by sending food waste to landfill. Let us explain:

Up to 40% of household waste is food waste. That means that almost half of the stuff households send to landfill is food/organic waste. When organic matter like food waste rots in the anaerobic environment of landfill, it emits methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more toxic than the carbon pollution that comes out of your car exhaust. In fact, food waste in landfill is responsible for over 3% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions annually.

It’s an issue that not only environmentalists are concerned about. It’s becoming such a problem that Councils all over Australia are working hard to stop people from placing food waste in their landfill bins. Many councils around the country are providing free composting cones to residents, others are collecting food waste in separate bins that are sent to large commercial composting facilities (kerbside composting) while others are investing millions of dollars in establishing commercial composting facilities where there are currently none. An entire industry is being created to make better use of food waste, the Recycled Organics Industry. It’s a big issue.

What’s the solution? What can little ol’ you and me do? Apart from reducing food waste as much as we can? We can compost! We can compost!

Compost compost compost!

Home composting is one of the best things each of us can do for the environment, on an individual level (and it doesn’t matter if you have a garden or not). Here’s why:

– Composting diverts organic matter from landfill, thereby helping to reduce methane and carbon emissions. For every tonne of food waste not sent to landfill, almost one tonne of CO2 emissions is saved.
– It greatly increases the amount of carbon in soil. Carbon sequestration by soil is vitally important to keeping carbon out of the atmosphere.
– It recycles vital and finite nutrients, improving soil quality so that things can grow in it.
– It saves water. Healthy soil retains more water, so you need to water it less.
– It makes you more sensitive to the amount of food you waste. You suddenly start thinking of ways to use the onion peel before throwing it away.
– It saves you money. Making your own compost out of food waste means you don’t have to spend money on purchasing compost or fertiliser for your garden or pot plants.

A practical guide to home composting

Home composting options – there’s one for everyone!

Yard & garden – Regular compost bin

This is a terrific option for people with a garden. You don’t need a special ‘compost’ bin – there are many ways to DIY a compost bin and a quick internet search will give you a plethora of great ideas and instructions. Compost bins are generally low maintenance, although you do have to turn the contents over with a shovel regularly to maintain aeration. Even that step depends on which unit you choose – some compost bins are designed to eliminate this step.

 

 

 

Yard but no real garden – Green Cone Solar Compost Digester

A Green Cone is a terrific option for people with a front or backyard but not necessarily a garden to take care of. A Green Cone is a simple, low maintenance composting unit that breaks down food waste until it becomes nutrient rich liquid, which then filters safely into the soil. The great benefit is that you can throw everything in here, including meat and bones with no issue. It doesn’t produce a compost as such, so is the ideal choice for those with no garden. Many councils are currently trialling the use of Green Cones in the community, with plans to make these available to all households in the future.

 

Yard with garden – Worm farm

Worms are soil’s best friends. Worms help to break down organic matter and release nutrients into the soil that feed microbes and other beneficial bacteria, which in turn further break down nutrients and making them available to plants. Anyone can have a worm farm and they’re especially fun for kids. For a full run-down on how to create and maintain a worm farm, click here.

 

No yard no garden – Indoor or bench top composting bucket

This is the easy option for people with no garden, for instance someone living in an apartment. Also known as Bokashi bins, indoor or bench top composting units allow you to place all your food scraps in a handy bench top or under-the-sink unit, to which you add a special spray or composting ash that helps the food scraps break down quickly. The food breaks down inside the bucket, releasing a liquid that is drained off and used as fertiliser on plants (alternatively it can be poured down the drain – it cleans the drains) and a pulp that can be buried or mixed with soil. The units do not emit any odours. There are many companies selling indoor and bench top composting buckets these days, it’s simply a matter of finding one you like.

What to do if you don’t have a garden

You live in an apartment with no garden, so you can’t compost, right? Wrong! Even if you don’t have a garden, you can use a bench-top or indoor composter to avoid sending food waste to landfill. If you have a balcony, mix the contents of your bench-top or indoor composter in a large tub of soil. This will turn into compost which will nourish other pot plants. If you don’t have any plants, perhaps your neighbours do? Or other houses on the street? Friends or family might like some compost for their own gardens too. You could also arrange to donate your compost to a local school or kindergarten or community garden. The options are endless. Alternatively, some councils have regular organic waste pick-up which you can arrange by contacting them directly.

What to add in your home compost bin

Vegetable and fruit scraps, vegetable oil, prunings and lawn clippings, tea bags and coffee, grounds, vacuum dust, shredded paper and cardboard (including toilet paper rolls), used potting mix, egg shells, flowers, pet hair, your hair. Click here for more.

What not to add in your home compost bin

Diseased plants, metals, plastic and glass, animal manures, fat, glossy magazines or receipts (they are coated in BPA), large branches, weeds that have seeds or underground stems, sawdust from treated timber, pet droppings, synthetic chemicals.

Can you add meat and bones to your home compost?

Meat and bones can be added to the Green Cone with no issue. Meat can be added to most indoor or bench top units. Many say that you should not add meat or bones to a regular backyard compost bin or worm farm, but this National Geographic article begs to differ and explains how to do it.

Want more information on how to compost? Try these online resources:
Clean Up Australia – Composting
ABC Gardening Fact Sheet: How to Compost
WikiHow – How to Compost (with pictures)

For more on food waste, read our previous post We need to talk about food waste.

Images, from top to bottom via: Vegetarian TimesA Conscious Life, Dyg, Intunearth, Apartment Therapy