Composting 101: What You Can Compost & The Best Options For Small Spaces

Reusable Nation - composting when living in an apartment

Being zero waste means sending as little waste to landfill as possible. This includes food waste, which makes up a large portion of landfill waste and is just as bad for the environment. Enter composting!

In Australia, 30% of food waste is from the home kitchen and up to 40% of what is in household bins is food. The majority of this can be avoided by composting your food scraps and using as much of each fruit and vegetable as possible.

This is how composting works: the natural process of decomposition is quickened by providing the perfect conditions for the aerobic organisms that create the high temperatures needed to change organic materials into compost. The outcome is nutrient rich soil.

Food and other compostable things sent to landfill do not compost because the conditions aren't right.

WHAT CAN I AND CAN'T I COMPOST?

The most common question about composting is what can and can’t be composted.

You can compost:

  • vegetables and fruit

  • paper and cardboard

  • greasy cardboard

  • plant material

  • egg shells

  • vegetable cooking oil

  • tea leaves and coffee grounds

  • vacuum cleaner dust

  • human and animal hair

You can’t compost:

  • meat and bones

  • dairy

  • fat

  • animal faeces (in soil that is going to be used to grow food)

  • diseased plant material

  • large branches

  • magazines

  • metals, plastic and glass

You may not want to compost:

  • bread or cake

  • pasta

  • rice

  • citrus

You can compost bread and pasta and rice, but it may attract pests like rats and mice, and rice can breed kinds of bacteria that you don’t want. Some say you can’t put citrus in a compost bin, but others have never had a problem with composting citrus. Apparently, it is a myth.

You can’t compost meat and bones, but they can be put in a Bokashi bin.

Whatever you do and don’t put into your compost bin, the input needs to be balanced. According to Sustainability Victoria, you should place carbon rich items in weekly (bark, cane mulch, dry grass clippings, dry leaves, egg cartons, hay, paper, shredded paper and cardboard, straw, tree prunings) and nitrogen rich items in daily (bread, egg shells, fresh grass clippings, human and animal hair, manure, wet newspaper, sawdust and wood ash, tea leaves and coffee grounds, used vegetable cooking oil, vacuum cleaner dust, weeds, vegetable and fruit peelings and scraps).

You need to turn your pile of compost heap every few weeks to aerate it. It will become smelly and slimy and emit methane if you don’t turn it. When the contents of your compost bin look and smell like soil, it is ready.

You may want to save some kitchen waste to make your own vegetable stock. Also ensure that you’re not unnecessarily composting parts of vegetables and fruits that can be eaten.

WHY IS MY COMPOST…

If your compost is smelly, it could be too wet, not getting enough air, or too acidic. Sustainability Victoria recommends adding dry material, turning the heap, or adding lime.

If there are maggots in your compost, it could be because there is faeces, seafood, meats, or fats in it, and if there are vermin in your compost it could be because there is breads or grains in it, or it is too dry. Sustainability Victoria recommends covering it with lime or soil if there are maggots and removing them, covering the entry with wire, turning the heap, moistening it if there are vermin in your compost.

If your compost is slow, it also may not be getting enough air, or there may be no active ingredients. Sustainability Victoria recommends turning the heap, adding water, and adding manure.

NO GARDEN NEEDED

Even if you don’t have a garden like us (we live in an apartment building), you can collect your food scraps (we keep ours in a bucket in the freezer) and look for a community composting hub in your area where you can add your scraps to the compost heap.

Alternatively, the ShareWaste app enables you to find someone in your area who is willing to let you add your organic waste to their compost heap or worm farm.

You can also get a Bokashi bin, which can be kept inside, or a worm farm, which only needs a small amount of outdoor space.

BOKASHI BIN VS COMPOST BIN VS WORM FARM

The choice between buying a Bokashi bin versus a composter or worm farm generally comes down to space. You’ll need a garden or decent sized balcony to have a compost heap or bin, while for a worm farm, while worm farms and Bokashi bins can be kept in a small yard, on a balcony, or inside so no outside area is needed.

A good amount of outside space is needed for a compost bin or heap, which should be in the shade, kept moist (but not wet) and aerated once a week. You can’t just add food scraps to your compost bin; you also need to add garden clippings and paper and these need to be added in layers.

Worm farms compost food scraps faster and produce rich castings (vermi-cast) and liquid fertiliser. They need to be placed in a shaded area that is sheltered from heavy rain and sunlight if outside.

To keep it going you just need to regularly add food scraps and drain the nutrient rich liquid from the bottom of the worm farm. It is recommended that you drain it weekly. You will also need to get rid of the castings (worm poop, which can also be used in the garden) every couple of months. Only add food to the tray above the tray where the worms and their castings are so that they move up to this tray and you can remove the tray with the castings.

Worms love to eat:

  • fruit and vegetable scraps

  • small quantities of citrus or onion

  • bread

  • tea leaves and coffee grounds

  • egg shells

  • torn up moist newspaper

  • egg cartons

  • vacuum cleaner dust

  • lime

Adding lime to a worm farm will make it smell less.

You can’t feed the worms:

  • dairy

  • fats

  • meat

  • oil

And, you can’t put too much kitchen waste in a worm farm. It’ll start smelling cause there will be too much food for the worms to eat.

Bokashi bins turn food waste into a rich soil conditioner via fermentation. You’ll need to buy and add a special mixture of effective micro-organisms. This mixture is dry and is made up of bran that has been fermented with friendly bacteria. You sprinkle it on top every time you add food scraps to the bin.

A full bucket of kitchen scraps and this mixture are sealed inside an airtight Bokashi bin for four to six weeks allow it to ferment. Having two bins means you can start using the second one while the first one is fermenting.

The tap at the bottom of the bucket opens to let out a nutrient rich liquid, which should be collected every few days and can be diluted and fed to pot plants. It can also be poured down the drain to stop it from smelling. If you don’t drain this, the bin can smell.

You can put these in your Bokashi bin:

  • fruit and vegetables

  • raw or cooked meat and fish

  • egg

  • cheese

  • bread

  • tea leaves and coffee grounds

  • wilted flowers

  • tissues

You can’t put these in your Bokashi bin:

  • mouldy items

  • excess liquid

You can use the liquid and compost on your pot plants or give it to family and friends or to a local community garden if you have too much.

Research which option will be best for you (consider the space, ongoing costs, and input required), make a plan to implement it and start composting all your food scraps. Also take a look at your food shopping, storage and cooking routines to make sure you are wasting as little food as possible.

 

 

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