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Tackling food waste by Juliet Dale

“ONE bin for a WHOLE year!!??” This is the typical reaction people have when they hear about our ambitious/crazy aim for 2021. This is usually followed with: “But… won’t it smell?”.

I respond with: “Hopefully not, because there’s no food in there”.

photo credit: Juliet Dale


You see, reducing and composting our food waste has not only been the key to stopping the year-old-bin-stench, it’s also been the single biggest thing that we have done in our home to reduce waste.

Like the Joe-average Auckland household, organic waste (food and garden) used to make up nearly half of our curbside bin. The average kiwi home biffs out three shopping trolleys FULL of food every year! All that food has to go somewhere**, typically that ‘somewhere’ is landfill. Landfills do not provide the conditions for food to biodegrade, instead they sit there rotting, and omitting methane, a potent greenhouse gas. While you may think that chucking out that over-ripe banana, wilting spinach or over-left-leftovers may not seem like a biggie, it all adds up. In fact, global emissions from wasted food are four times as much as those produced by aviation!*

If you only have the time, energy or resources to do one thing to tackle your waste, dealing with your food waste should be it.

Of course it’s a little more complicated than that. For starters, there is work involved in composting. Then there’s the issue of placement; not everyone has the outdoor space for a big compost pile or bin. Finally, there’s the pestering possibility of rodents, which can deter even the most devoted eco-warrior.

So let’s look at the nitty gritty of the different composting options, and get YOU, whatever your prior experience, wherever you live, however great your rat-angst, on track to cull the food waste in your home!

The first step actually has nothing to do with composting, and everything to do with reducing. The ultimate way to deal to your food waste, is to not create that waste in the first place; to not use up precious resources that are never eaten, and to not waste your money (on average $644 per year*) buying food that ends up in the trash. There are three key steps to reducing the amount of food (and money) you waste: store it better, use your leftovers and meal plan. The lovefoodhatewaste website is an absolute treasure-trove of tips to plan, portion, store and utilize your leftovers. You can find everything from how to make your carrots last ten times longer to turning your potato peels into oven baked crisps!

But even the most avid leftover-lover cannot avoid food-waste altogether, and that’s where composting comes in…

Greens and Browns:

The absolute key to composting is feeding your pile appropriately. Composting requires a balanced ratio of "browns" and "greens."

‘Greens’ are materials that are rich in nitrogen or protein. They are also the items that tend to heat a compost pile up because they help the microorganisms in the pile grow and multiply quickly. Green materials are often, but not always, green. Green waste includes: fresh grass clippings, coffee grounds/tea bags, vegetable and fruit scraps, plant trimmings and eggshells.

‘Browns’ are carbon or carbohydrate-rich materials. The main job of browns in a compost pile is to be food sources for all of the lovely soil-dwelling organisms that will work with the microbes to break down the contents of your compost pile. In most cases, these materials are brown, or naturally turn brown, like brown leaves, twigs, straw or hay, paper, cardboard and cotton fabric.

  1. Compost Bin

There are three main types of compost bin; an open compost heap (easy to DIY), an upright bin, or a rotating tumbler. A compost bin works by transforming organic matter into a rich nutrient-based soil amendment. This occurs through decomposition, which is made possible by the billions of microbes that feed on these scraps and produce compost as a byproduct.***

Pros: Takes most types of food waste, creates a great source of nutrients for your garden

Cons: Can attract pests (much less likely with tumbler style). Generally doesn’t take meat, bread and dairy. Requires turning (simple and mess-free with a tumbler style).

Worm Farm

Worm farming uses composting worms (usually tiger worms) to eat through a mixture of food scraps, garden waste, waste paper and cardboard to produce worm castings (composted material) and liquid fertiliser, known as worm tea.

Pros: Fast process (2-3 months). Simple, low maintenance system.

Cons: Limited capacity. A lot of food types can’t go in. Can attract fruit flies.

Bokashi

Bokashi is an indoor composting system. By adding a natural inoculant ‘sprinkle’ to your food waste, the airtight bucket actually ‘pickles’ your food waste, rather than decaying it as in composting and worm farming.

Pros: Can go indoors. Takes up little space. Fully airtight so no issues with pests. Takes almost every type of food waste including bread, meat and dairy. Processes food quickly.

Cons: Not a large capacity. You would need two if you wanted to use the system continuously. Mashing required. Some digging required. It’s a multi-step process. Microbe powder (sprinkle) or spray must be regularly purchased.

Trench Composting

Trenching is the most basic method of composting, and requires only a spade and some space! Basically you compost your food waste by burying it straight into the garden.

Pros: Eliminates smell and pest problems. No investment in equipment required. Can put anything in it.

Cons: Requires a lot of space. You cannot plant on the trenches until the food is decomposed.

“ONE bin for a WHOLE year!!??” This is the typical reaction people have when they hear about our ambitious/crazy aim for 2021. This is usually followed with: “But… won’t it smell?”.

I respond with: “Hopefully not, because there’s no food in there”.

You see, reducing and composting our food waste has not only been the key to stopping the year-old-bin-stench, it’s also been the single biggest thing that we have done in our home to reduce waste.

Like the Joe-average Auckland household, organic waste (food and garden) used to make up nearly half of our curbside bin. The average kiwi home biffs out three shopping trolleys FULL of food every year! All that food has to go somewhere**, typically that ‘somewhere’ is landfill. Landfills do not provide the conditions for food to biodegrade, instead they sit there rotting, and omitting methane, a potent greenhouse gas. While you may think that chucking out that over-ripe banana, wilting spinach or over-left-leftovers may not seem like a biggie, it all adds up. In fact, global emissions from wasted food are four times as much as those produced by aviation!*

If you only have the time, energy or resources to do one thing to tackle your waste, dealing with your food waste should be it.

Of course it’s a little more complicated than that. For starters, there is work involved in composting. Then there’s the issue of placement; not everyone has the outdoor space for a big compost pile or bin. Finally, there’s the pestering possibility of rodents, which can deter even the most devoted eco-warrior.

So let’s look at the nitty gritty of the different composting options, and get YOU, whatever your prior experience, wherever you live, however great your rat-angst, on track to cull the food waste in your home!

The first step actually has nothing to do with composting, and everything to do with reducing. The ultimate way to deal to your food waste, is to not create that waste in the first place; to not use up precious resources that are never eaten, and to not waste your money (on average $644 per year*) buying food that ends up in the trash. There are three key steps to reducing the amount of food (and money) you waste: store it better, use your leftovers and meal plan. The lovefoodhatewaste website is an absolute treasure-trove of tips to plan, portion, store and utilize your leftovers. You can find everything from how to make your carrots last ten times longer to turning your potato peels into oven baked crisps!

But even the most avid leftover-lover cannot avoid food-waste altogether, and that’s where composting comes in…

Greens and Browns:

The absolute key to composting is feeding your pile appropriately. Composting requires a balanced ratio of "browns" and "greens."

‘Greens’ are materials that are rich in nitrogen or protein. They are also the items that tend to heat a compost pile up because they help the microorganisms in the pile grow and multiply quickly. Green materials are often, but not always, green. Green waste includes: fresh grass clippings, coffee grounds/tea bags, vegetable and fruit scraps, plant trimmings and eggshells.

‘Browns’ are carbon or carbohydrate-rich materials. The main job of browns in a compost pile is to be food sources for all of the lovely soil-dwelling organisms that will work with the microbes to break down the contents of your compost pile. In most cases, these materials are brown, or naturally turn brown, like brown leaves, twigs, straw or hay, paper, cardboard and cotton fabric.

  1. Compost Bin

There are three main types of compost bin; an open compost heap (easy to DIY), an upright bin, or a rotating tumbler. A compost bin works by transforming organic matter into a rich nutrient-based soil amendment. This occurs through decomposition, which is made possible by the billions of microbes that feed on these scraps and produce compost as a byproduct.***

Pros: Takes most types of food waste, creates a great source of nutrients for your garden

Cons: Can attract pests (much less likely with tumbler style). Generally doesn’t take meat, bread and dairy. Requires turning (simple and mess-free with a tumbler style).

Worm Farm

Worm farming uses composting worms (usually tiger worms) to eat through a mixture of food scraps, garden waste, waste paper and cardboard to produce worm castings (composted material) and liquid fertiliser, known as worm tea.

Pros: Fast process (2-3 months). Simple, low maintenance system.

Cons: Limited capacity. A lot of food types can’t go in. Can attract fruit flies.

Bokashi

Bokashi is an indoor composting system. By adding a natural inoculant ‘sprinkle’ to your food waste, the airtight bucket actually ‘pickles’ your food waste, rather than decaying it as in composting and worm farming.

Pros: Can go indoors. Takes up little space. Fully airtight so no issues with pests. Takes almost every type of food waste including bread, meat and dairy. Processes food quickly.

Cons: Not a large capacity. You would need two if you wanted to use the system continuously. Mashing required. Some digging required. It’s a multi-step process. Microbe powder (sprinkle) or spray must be regularly purchased.

Trench Composting

Trenching is the most basic method of composting, and requires only a spade and some space! Basically you compost your food waste by burying it straight into the garden.

Pros: Eliminates smell and pest problems. No investment in equipment required. Can put anything in it.

Cons: Requires a lot of space. You cannot plant on the trenches until the food is decomposed.


To work out the best composting system for you, there are four main questions you need to ask yourself:

How much outdoor space do you have?

How hands-on you are willing to get?

How rodent-averse you are?

How much you want to spend?

Regardless of your answers to those questions, I believe there is a system that works for everyone. For us, we started with a worm farm which eliminated around one third of our food waste, and now have a rotating tumbler compost bin as well. Between the two of these we eliminate 99% of our food waste. The other 1% is bones, which we bury in the garden.

Despite that, four months into our one-bin-for-2021-challenge, our rubbish bin actually is starting to emit a rancid aroma! I’m not even sure where the smell is coming from; perhaps the little foil peel tops from the milk bottles, or an uncleaned ice cream pottle? I don’t really want to venture in to find out! I guess you win some, you lose some. For us, reducing and composting our food waste is a huge win, so I guess I’ll just put up with the aroma for eight more months!

Information sources:

If you’re looking for more information, The Compost Collective is a great source of information on all types of composting, and also offer free workshops in Auckland.

https://www.thespruce.com/composting-greens-and-browns-2539485


Juliet is passionate about Sustainability education for the individual, community groups, workplaces, school and the media. To get in contact with Juliet, here is her website and her email is JULIET@THEGREATECOJOURNEY.CO.NZ



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