Recycling your food scraps by turning them into compost is a surprisingly easy way to significantly reduce your household rubbish output. You will also improve the soil on your land and save a whole lot of greenhouse gas going into the atmosphere.
Food waste usually ends up in the tip, along with the rest of our rubbish. When food decomposes without oxygen in the landfill it releases methane which is a harmful greenhouse gas.
New Zealand’s yearly food waste produces 409,234 tonnes of carbon emissions. To offset this we would need to take 150,453 cars off the road for one year or plant 163,693 trees.*
*Source: Love food, hate waste.
Why bother composting?
According to Wellington City Council, over 50% of our City’s kerbside-collected rubbish is organic waste that could be composted. And according to the team from Project Drawdown, reducing food waste is one of the top 3 ways we can all individually help reverse the climate crisis.
As an added bonus, I have also learned it’s a great activity to do with a toddler!
Our three year old has his own indoor collection bin and each night we empty our food scraps/paper/tissues/vacuum cleaner dust into a big outdoor compost bin.
It has massively reduced the amount of rubbish we produce as a family.
What is compost?
Compost is broken-down organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow. Most residential compost bins are filled with a combination of lawn clippings, leaves, twigs and household food scraps. But you can add a whole lot more, too.
Basically, you chuck all the above into a big black bin and incredible little microbes go to work turning it all into beautiful nutrient compost.
Making compost keeps food scraps and yard waste out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
How to start your own compost bin
This article will run you through some key tips for getting started. If you are keen for a more in-depth breakdown you can read more about composting options at https://compostcollective.org.nz/
Starting a home compost bin is an easy way to help reduce our own food and garden waste. It will also save you money if you normally pay for rubbish collection.
The key to starting a home compost bin is to make it easy and safe.
You can buy pre-made compost bins from any major hardware store, or build you own using cinder blocks or wood. It helps to have a cover over the bin if you get a lot of rain in your area. So if you are going down the DIY route, one option is to use a piece of plywood or a hessian sack as a cover.
When you first set up your compost bin, pick a corner of your section where it is out of the way, but ideally not miles away from your kitchen. Next, layer the bottom of your bin with twigs or hay. The idea here is to allow air pockets below the compost pile. When it comes to compost, ventilation is key.
Here are some other tips to keep in mind:
Tip 1: Use a smaller inside bin and have an extra small one for kids.
The trouble with your typical large outdoor compost bin is this: You make the most compostable mess at dinner time and when you’re just about to sit down to eat, no one wants to traipse outside in the dark to drop carrot ends in the compost. Especially if it’s at the far end of your lawn. The way around this is to keep a small bucket with a lid somewhere in your kitchen (or nearby) that you only need to empty once every few days.
If you have little ones in the house, one way to make composting more fun is to give the kids their own compost bin. Make this a small one that you keep somewhere they can reach so they can put their own apple cores or banana skins into it and learn how it works. Once they are big enough, they can even empty the indoor bins without your help!
Tip 2: Avoid putting meat, excessive bread and dairy products into your compost.
These food groups are more likely to attract unwanted visitors like rats and mice.
Tip 3: Add brown materials.
Food scraps and lawn clippings are considered high in nitrogen. You need to balance this out with materials that are higher in carbon like dried fallen leaves or wood chip/mulch.
Without enough brown material, your compost bin can turn into a sludgy mess.
Cardboard is useful but too much of it can get soggy and compacted. What you ideally want is material that creates little air pockets in your compost pile – that’s why dried leaves and mulch work so well.
Tip 4: Turn it over every few weeks.
You can do this with a spade or a compost turner (which looks like a big cork screw). The goal here is just to move the compost around so that it decomposes evenly and to let more air in. If you have a big compost bin this can take a bit of energy. It’s a great way to get some exercise in!
Tip 5: Start a planter-box
Once you’ve generated some compost, which can take 12-16 weeks or longer, you can just leave it in your compost bin, or you can put it to good use in a veggie garden or planter box. If you don’t have space to build an outdoor veggie patch, it’s easy to set up large plastic tubs as planter boxes on a deck or balcony. You don’t need a lot of space to grow beautiful salad greens or herbs.
Did you know – you can also compost pet hair (and human hair), ash from your fireplace, cardboard, fabric, and some teabags?
So many benefits…
Once you start a compost bin your indoor (and outdoor) rubbish bin will no longer smell as bad. You’ll reduce the amount of rubbish you produce, and you’ll be improving the quality of the soil on your land. Making it easier to grow anything and everything.
Most importantly, you’ll be reducing your carbon footprint and helping to make the world a better place.
One cool initiative we have discovered on this journey is sharewaste.org.nz. It’s a website which connects people who are wanting to recycle their kitchen scraps with neighbours who are already composting.
This could be really useful if you are keen to recycle your food waste but don’t have the time or space to start your own compost bin.
We have registered to start receiving food scraps (we’re in Grenada Village, Wellington). If any of you are keen to get involved, then check out the link below. It’s free to join:
You can read more about composting options at: https://compostcollective.org.nz/