The world seems to be gripped by a global war on plastic waste at the moment. The gang at Kappi HQ think that’s awesome - it’s why we first started this little business, and what keeps us motivated and inspired every day.
However, there’s another factor to the global waste problem that often goes untold. Food waste. Yep, we’re talking about that yellowing head of broccoli or the wilted few strands of celery left at the back of the fridge and discovered at the end of the week only to be thrown in the bin and forgotten. Seems like only a small issue right? Not quite as sexy as saving cute wildlife from the scourge of single-use plastic waste. However, when you start to examine the scale of the food waste problem in Australia, it becomes a little confronting.
Let’s look at some numbers:
- Globally, one third of all food produced is lost or wasted - that’s about 1.3 billion tonnes of food sent to landfill to decay. That’s a cost of around AUD $1.4 trillion.
- Closer to home, food wastes costs the Australian economy AUD $20 billion each year .
- In Australia, 4 million tonnes of food waste - the equivalent of 8,400 olympic sized swimming pools - ends up in landfill each year .
- Per household, almost 1 in 5 bags (they better be kappi bags!) of groceries ends up wasted and sent to landfill - that’s over AUD $3800 per household per year .
- 35% of of the average Australian household rubbish bin is comprised of food waste .
So why is this important, and what does it have to do with composting? For the moment let’s look beyond the heartbreaking contrast of such huge amounts of food being wasted while almost 1 in 9 people around the world are undernourished . Let’s talk about what happens when organic material like food waste and paper decays in landfill.
The figure above sums it up nicely. When organic matter decomposes anaerobically - without oxygen as it does in in landfill - methane and carbon dioxide is produced. Methane is 26 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas and is a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions  with almost 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions originating from food waste .
So what is composting and how does it help the environment?
Composting is a natural biological process carried out under aerobic conditions - in the presence of oxygen - in which organic matter is broken down. Microorganisms, including bacteria and fungi break down organic matter into simpler, nutrient-rich compounds. Better yet, the heat generated during the composting produces kills off potential any potential pathogens and seeds. This means the final composted material is weed-free and safe to use for agriculture, landscaping, gardening or other purposes. Better yet, since methane producing microbes are not active in the presence of oxygen, the process of composting produces only CO2.
BEGINNERS GUIDE TO COMPOSTING
What equipment do I need to start composting?
Thankfully, it is incredibly easy and relatively affordable to get started on your environment-saving, composting adventure. You will need the following:
- A small bucket to sit on your bench to collect daily food scraps. We bought this little bucket from Kmart for $9. It’s small, it’s cute and it’s cheap.
- A compost bin. There are several different types available.
- Simple barrels like this one. These are the cheapest options available, however there are several downsides. Firstly, they sit on the ground so they may attract households pests. They also will require you to turn the compost contents by hand to introduce oxygen and speed up the process. This can be cumbersome.
- Simple tumbler bins like this one. These are great as they’re relatively inexpensive, have a large volume and the whole barrel can be spin in order to mix up the contents and introduce oxygen. However there is only one chamber so once the bin is full, you’ll need another place to store household food scraps until the compost is ready to be harvested.
- We chose this particular two-chamber tumbler bin. It’s cheap, it has a large volume, and it has two chambers so that when one fills up, you can start using the other side for fresh food scraps. However, word of warning, this particular bin comes flat-packed and can be very fiddly to construct. For those with a bigger budget or those who hate putting together Ikea furniture, we recommend this one.
That’s all the equipment you’ll need to get started. Now onto the fun stuff, what to put in it.
What can I put in the compost bin?
Well, you can put pretty much anything in your compost bin - with a few exceptions. Fatty foods like animal products (bones, meat, seafood, whole eggs and dairy products) should generally not be put in the compost bin in order to avoid nasty smells developing over time.
We’ve put together a quick go-to list of no-go items:
- Waxed paper or cardboard
- Grease oil or fat
- Pet Waste (parasites and pathogens may not be killed off and could infect your compost)
- Dairy products
- Whole eggs
- Plant waste treated with pesticide
The general rule of thumb for compost is a Browns to Greens ratio of 2-to-1. It’s pretty much self explanatory; Browns are dry, carbon-dense materials like shredded newspaper, garden pruning and dry leaves, whereas Greens are mostly fresh organic material like food scraps, coffee grinds and grass clippings.
We’ve sourced a handy guide to Browns and Greens below.
When first starting your compost bin, it is best to give your compost a head start and add a little existing compost to the bin to introduce some healthy bacteria and get the composting process running smoothly. However, if none of your neighbours have any compost to spare, you can add a couple of handfuls of decent potting mix to your new bin. Once your first batch of compost is ready to be harvested, remember to reserve a few handfuls of the compost to help the next batch get started.
How to aerate my compost?
Old-school compost piles used to require turning by hand in order to introduce oxygen to the mix. However, with the new style tumblers, compost pile maintenance is super easy. Every few days, make sure to give your bin a couple of big spins. This should disrupt the compost pile and allow oxygen to get to all the healthy, non-methane producing microbes and ensure aerobic decomposition is occuring.
How long does it take for my compost be ready?
Compost can take anywhere from 1-month to 1-year to be ready for harvest, depending entirely on the method used and the climate in which you live. Old-style compost heaps thatrequire hand turning, or were just left to do their thing, can take up to a year to be ready for harvest. However, with newer, tumbler style compost bins where the material is turned more frequently, the time to harvest can range from between 1-3 months depending on the warmth of the environment and how well balanced the green-to-brown ratio is.
How can I compost if I live in an apartment?
This is a tricky one. As long as you have an outdoor space such as a small yard or balcony, you can technically start composting. However, this all depends on your relationship with your neighbours and whether they will object to sometimes objectionable smells coming from your bin if you don’t get the Browns-to-Greens mix right.
A better solution for apartment dwellers is to invest in a large 15-20L plastic bucket with an airtight lid that can be used to store your week’s worth of food scraps and organic waste materials. This can then be taken to your local community compost center where they will take your food scraps off you in return for some ready to go compost you can use for your houseplants.
Or, if you’re in Perth you can jump on this awesome initiative by Kooda, who are a subscription-based community composting service who will come to you apartment and pick-up your food scraps. In return they will give you worm-casings to use as fertiliser on a monthly basis.
A quick google should help you find any community composting centers in your neighbourhood.
jurisdiction=Commonwealth of Australia, corporateName=Minister for the Environment, and Energy. 2017. “Roundtable on Food Waste Marks the Beginning of Halving Australia’s Food Waste by 2030 - Media Release 11 April 2017,” April. http://www.environment.gov.au/minister/frydenberg/media-releases/mr20170411.html.