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Tips for composting at home

Turning food scraps into a resource

Published: 17 August 2020

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. Diverting food from landfill is one of the single biggest climate change interventions an individual can make.

Last year, more than 6000 households attended one of the 417 free composting workshops across the Auckland region, supported by Auckland Council.

These same educational materials are available online, so you can get started on your composting journey. There’s ongoing advice, and tips and resources in 11 different languages.

If you’re considering composting in the future, right now is a great time to learn about the different methods and prepare your household for the change. You can chat with the facilitators or watch videos on Facebook.

Choose the method that’s best for you

Worm bins are a great choice for a simple outdoor bin. Worms 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 sun 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.

Tips for the cleanest compost

Good compost smells earthy but not stinky. If your compost is starting to smell unpleasant, it might mean 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. Please remember to wear PPE when handling compost.

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 some 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 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 finish off your veggies and bread loaves.

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