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Turn over a new leaf and start composting this summer

Easy ways to start composting

Published: 18 January 2021

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Summer is a great time to start your home composting routine.

Summer is a great time to start your home composting routine. If food waste were a country, it would be the third-highest emitter of greenhouse gases. Each year, Aucklanders put about 100,000 tonnes of food waste into their rubbish bins.

Come along to one of the Compost Collective’s free hands-on courses, sponsored by Auckland Council, for an introduction to the basics of composting - including Bokashi composting, worm farming and cold composting.

Last year, more than six thousand households attended one of the 399 free workshops across the Auckland region, supported by Auckland Council.

The Compost Collective estimates that those participants then diverted 522 tonnes of food waste from landfill. Confirmed participants receive a $40 discount toward the purchase of a composting system. There’s ongoing advice, and tips and resources are available online in 11 languages.

Victor L shared experience attending a recent workshop, saying, “Attending the Compost Collective workshops taught me new skills and knowledge as well as expanded my social network. Getting outside is also very therapeutic. It’s also an easy way to feel like you are doing your bit to help the environment."

Choose the method that’s best for you

Worm bins are a great choice for a simple outdoor bin. They can eat their weight each day, but you have to avoid overfeeding them. The worms will eat their preferred food first but like to have some variety. Avoid lots of meat, citrus, onions or dairy. If the food is high in preservatives it won’t harm your worms, but they will avoid them, so those foods might rot in the bin. The smaller and softer the scraps, the easier it is for the worms to digest and process them into castings.

Compost is made by mixing ordinary food and garden waste with a little water and plenty of sunlight and air. They require a bit more attention to stir the top layers, avoid mixing them with the bottom layers, and keeping it slightly wet like a sponge. It takes about six months before the bottom layer of compost is ready to create a healthy and abundant garden for you. To do it all at once, you can follow the hot composting method, where the right mix of moisture, air, green and brown materials heat up your pile very quickly.

Bokashi bins are the preferred option for people with limited outdoor space and are popular with people living in apartments. This method uses two air-tight bins and fermentation to break down all food waste, including meat and bones. A micro-organism is sprinkled in with the food scraps to avoid smells and expedite the fermentation process. The liquid compost can be diluted and applied to your houseplants or garden, and the solid compost can be buried directly into your yard.

Share Waste. You can compost even if you don’t have a place to put your great new garden materials. Share Waste connects people who want additional food scraps for their own compost. Now you can divert waste from landfill while getting to know your neighbours.

Tips for the cleanest compost

Good compost smells earthy but not stinky. If your compost is starting to smell unpleasant, it might means that the bin has too much nitrogen or not enough oxygen. If that’s the case, give it some air, and add some brown materials like leaves, paper bags, newspaper, cardboard, paper towels or other organic matter high in carbon.

As a basic rule of thumb, three parts of brown materials for every one part of green materials is a good method to avoid smells.

Smaller pieces also create more surface air, which allows the microorganisms to do their thing.

If you are using a caddy to hold your food scraps inside, clean it the same as you would your rubbish bin. Or, keep the food scraps in the fridge or freezer.

Unusual compostable items

So many more things can be composted than just food scraps. You can add tea bags, pencil shavings and untreated sawdust, pet fur or fleece, cotton or wool fabrics, or bamboo items like chopsticks.

When meat, dairy, or other oily foods break down, they tend to smell and also attract pests. Best practice is to skip those items, unless you’re doing the Bokashi bin method.

Getting to zero waste

As a nation, we waste $1.17 billion on food that we buy and then throw away uneaten. According to Love Food Hate Waste, an average family in New Zealand will throw nearly three shopping trolleys of edible food in the bin every year. That adds up to be an average of $644 per family. Whichever composting method is best for your family, you can avoid food waste by using these recipes to love your leftovers and compleat your veggies and bread loaves.

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