After you’ve finished your healthy fruit snack where does your apple core, orange peel or banana peel go?
After you’ve cooked dinner, where do your vegetable scraps go?
What about those lettuce leaves you never finished or the half-eaten tomato in the bottom of the crisper?
And those leftovers in the back of the fridge you forgot about?
One of the easiest things we can do to divert these materials from landfill is to compost.
Food waste in landfill
We as humans waste a lot of food. Consuming rather than throwing food away is the best thing we can do to divert food waste from landfill. However, even if we wasted less of the fresh food in our homes there would still be food scraps. The peels, the stems, the coffee grounds…
It is a common misconception that when organic material is sent to landfill, it breaks down naturally. This is not the case.
When food is sent to landfill it doesn’t get exposure to oxygen, and in this anaerobic environment decomposition happens VERY slowly. A popular example is that of the humble lettuce, which takes up to 25 years to decompose in landfill!
Did you also know:
- Up to 40% of the average household bin is food waste.
- Approximately 33% of the food waste in household bins is fresh food.
- When food rots in landfill, it gives off a greenhouse gas called methane which is 25 times more potent than the carbon pollution that comes out of your car exhaust.
- 8% of greenhouse gases heating the planet are caused by food waste.
- If food waste was a country, it would be the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after the US and China.
Did you also know that food waste is a valuable resource that can be turned into compost and used to feed the soil so we can grow more food?
Composting is happening in backyards, on balcony’s and in garages everywhere. And depending on whether you live – a house, townhouse or unit – there is a composting solution for you.
At home composting is great because you don’t have to leave your property to dispose of your food waste. It’s just like taking out the rubbish or the recycling. All that is involved is a small amount of maintenance in the form of turning the compost and providing a mixture of green and brown materials.
At home composting options
Compost bins or compost tumblers are large containers that are either placed on the ground (compost bin) or are on a stand that allows it to be rotated or spun around (compost tumbler). Both allow you to fill them with organic waste which is then turned and aerated to enable decomposition of the contents into compost.
Worm farms can be bought from hardware stores or you can make your own. Setting up a worm farm involves creating a damp bedding layer, adding composting worms and covering them with damp newspaper or hessian. You pull back the covering layer to feed your worms then cover them back up and let them munch through your food scraps. Worm farms can be stored in a cool spot in the yard or balcony.
Worm towers are simply a piece of PVC pipe or bucket without a base, but with a tight fitting lid. The tube is buried in the garden and food scraps can be placed directly inside. Compost worms turn the food waste into worm castings and worm juice and increase the fertility of the soil. The tubes can then be moved around the garden as required.
Indoor composter or bokashi is suitable for people living in units or small houses. All food scraps including meat and bread can be processed using this system. Food waste added to the bokashi ferments then can be placed in the garden. As the material is already fermented it will breakdown extremely quickly.
Community composting is gaining momentum as another way to divert food waste from landfill, and is a great option for people who aren’t ready to start composting at home. Depending on where you live, community gardens and even your neighbours are taking other people’s food waste and adding it to their composting systems.
Community gardens are always in need of nutrient rich compost and usually make their own compost on site. By encouraging local residents to contribute their kitchen scraps to the community garden compost bin, food waste is diverted from landfill and the community garden gets a steady supply of materials to make compost for the garden.
Another community composting option is to compost with your neighbours. Programs like ShareWaste connect people who want to recycle their kitchen scraps with neighbours who are already composting, worm farming or keeping chickens. It is a great way to divert food scraps from landfill while getting to know the people in your local community.
Councils are on the front line of the waste problems gripping our cities and towns. Councils recognise that food waste is dense and therefore heavier than much of the other waste in our rubbish bins. Because it is heavier it also costs more to dispose of then other lighter forms of waste.
To address the food waste problem there are some innovative programs being implemented. There are a number of councils that are collecting food waste as part of their green waste collection. These schemes take all the kitchen scraps you could put in a compost bin as well as other items such as meat, bread, citrus and seafood that aren’t suitable for home compost bins. They can take these additional items because the material is broken down in industrial composters which reach much higher temperatures than home compost bins.
These kitchen green waste schemes are highly successful in diverting food waste from landfill. Best of all, rather than food waste going to landfill, it is being turned into compost which can then be sold. This is what circular waste systems can look like.
While there are establishment costs associated with these schemes, over time the benefits can far outweigh the costs. These benefits include normalising the separation of food waste from general rubbish across a whole community, diverting a wide range of materials from landfill, creation of a new industry and new jobs, and turning waste that cost money to dispose of into compost that can be used in council managed green spaces or sold.
Why we take action
By turning to composting we send the message that we want to recycle our food waste, that we want to turn our food waste into a valuable resource and that we support circular waste systems.
How we can take action
- Use the food you have before you purchase more.
- Make the most of leftovers.
- Compost your food waste either at your house or at a community compost bin.
- Ask your local council about introducing food waste composting in your area.
FOA, Food Wastage Footprint Report 2013
FOA, SAVE FOOD: Global Initiative on Food Loss and Waste Reduction