Composting is a cheap and clever way to use your organic food waste for something good, while doing your bit for the environment. And even though it is known as ‘black gold’ for to gardeners, you don’t need to be a gardening pro to start composting your waste. Compost can be given away to neighbours/friends, or even sold, if you can’t use it yourself or you have too much. Most importantly, you would be reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that would be produced by your waste if it went into landfill, and lessening the financial loss of your food wastage. So you don’t have to feel guilty about wasting that piece of fruit that went off in the fridge anymore!
Australians waste a staggering amount of food each year. $8 billion, or 4 million tonnes worth each year to be exact! That’s the equivalent of around 40 million blue whales!
Almost half of all fruit and vegetables produced are wasted, which is the equivalent to approximately 1 in 5 shopping bags worth of food ending up in the bin, costing families thousands each year.
These 4 million tonnes of food wastage are essentially left to rot, creating greenhouse gas emissions in the process. In fact, 8% of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by this.
Composting eliminates the greenhouse gases caused by rotting in landfill, and allows your food wastage to be put to good use. Of course it’s also important to rethink the amount of fresh produce you buy to reduce your food wastage, but even the most efficient of buyers will still end up with scraps for composting.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Composting uses a balance of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen to help decompose food scraps without creating emissions. Simply put, these layers are ‘brown/dry’ (carbon), such as dry brown leaves and twigs, ‘green/wet’ (nitrogen) which includes food scraps and fresh green leaves, and oxygen is added by turning the compost mixture on a weekly basis to expose it to air. When these elements are balanced effectively, food scraps can decompose with little time and effort required, and without any smell.
MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT COMPOSTING
Many people perceive composting to be very time consuming, complicated, and smelly. However when balanced correctly, composting is actually very easy to maintain, and has a pleasant, earthy smell. Once you have an equal balance of brown and green layers, all that is needed is to keep the mixture damp, and turn it to add oxygen on a weekly basis, as well as adding your food scraps with an equal amount of dry material.
WHAT TO COMPOST
Items that are easy to compost include:
Grass and plant clippings
Finely chopped wood and bark chips
Shredded newspaper (wet)
Sawdust (untreated wood)
Other more peculiar items that can be composted include hair and nail clippings, cotton balls/swabs (as long as its natural cotton), used paper towel/tissue, pet hair and pet dry food!
Along with the Do’s of Composting, there are also some don’ts. These items can be composted, but decompose better in a more advanced compost pile which has been in existence for a longer period of time e.g. at least a year. This is because many of these items can take a long time to decompose. For example eggshells can take around 6 months to decompose in a new compost heap, but the length of this can be shortened in a more advanced pile.
Onions and garlic can deter earthworms which depending on your form of composting, can be vital to the decomposition process.
Items that should never been composted include:
Although some of these items could technically decompose in a compost pile, it is best to avoid them as they can compromise the health and effectiveness of your compost, make it smell quite bad, or have artificial materials which won’t allow it to decompose.
Meat and dairy products
Anything containing oil/fat/grease
Diseased plant materials (this is because it could disease other plants once you spread around a garden as compost)
Weeds that go to seed
Magazines or anything else containing man-made materials
There are two main composting types. Outdoor ‘hot’ composting using heat from the sun to decompose items in as little as three months, and indoor ‘cold’ composting, also known as worm farms. Worm farms use the worms to decompose materials, but it can take up to a year for this process to work.
Outdoor composting can be done in several forms, a large heap on the ground in the open air, or in containers such as an old garbage bin, wooden boxes, or very effective compost tumblers.
HOW TO SET UP YOUR OWN OUTDOOR COMPOST BIN/PILE
Pick the perfect spot for your compost bin/heap. Somewhere which drains well, and has sunlight but won’t get too hot as the compost can dry out.
Start with a thick layer of hard materials, for example twigs and mulch, about 15 cm deep. This will allow any liquid from the compost to drain.
Begin layering - a layer of green material (food scraps, green leaves, etc.), then a layer of brown material (dry brown leaves, twigs etc.), and then sprinkle water over the top. Repeat this layering process until you have used all your materials.
Sprinkle soil, finished compost and/or a compost starter on top. Compost starters are full of microbes which are ready to kickstart the decomposition process. It’s a good idea to add these in every second month as well to keep your compost nice and active.
Aerate the compost by turning it over on a weekly basis. Alternatively you can place pipes holes on a compost bin to allow for ventilation.
A working compost mix will be moist and warm. This warmth means that the decomposition process is taking place. If your compost mix gets too try, you can add some water in to regain moisture. Likewise, if its too wet, add the dry brown stuff, and add more green stuff to also help with dryness!
Worm Farms are a whole different thing… but don’t worry we will bring you more info on that soon!
Want more information?
Check the website of your local council for training and resources to get you started on composting. To encourage households to reduce their waste, Blacktown Council, for instance, gives away free compost bins and kitchen tidy bins to residents who attend their composting and worm farming workshops. Blacktown Council likewise offers two $25 rebates to each household that buys a worm farm or Bokashi bin. Similarly, in North Sydney, the local council runs an online tutorial on how to compost and set up a worm farm. North Sydney residents who complete the tutorial and pass the quiz become eligible for a 50 per cent discount on compost bins and worm farms.
If your local council doesn’t run information sessions or tutorials, there are a tonne of online resources to get up to speed on the basics of composting including via the Compost Revolution website where you can also claim up to 80% off your compost bin.
Also, this video with FoodFaith friend Costa Georgiadis is a great guide.