How to compost your food waste

Composting is one of the easiest things we can do to divert food waste from landfill and care for our soils.  

There are a wide range of options when in comes to composting. These include composting bins, compost towers, worm farms and Bokashi. Depending on your composting needs (i.e. the size of your home or family) there is a composting option that will work for you. Check out Choosing the Best Composting Option for you to help you decide.  

Once you have decided on the composting method that best suits you, how do you get started?

The first step is to start collecting your food scraps. You will need a container with a secure lid. This stops insects getting in and smells getting out. The container can be left on the bench or in a cupboard, however if more than a few days go by before you empty it, the contents can start to get a bit gross. If this happens to you, simply put the container in the fridge or even the freezer to stop the food going bad before you empty it into your compost.  

Stainless steel containers work well as they are easy to clean and don’t absorb stains and smells like some plastic containers. But really any container with a lid will do.   

Most composting options operate the same way. To ensure you get awesome compost for your garden, here are a few tips:   

  • Include a mix of green (nitrogen) and brown (carbon) materials
  • Green products include your kitchen scraps such as fruit and vegetables and fresh grass clippings  
  • Brown products are dried leaves, paper towel, cardboard and shredded paper
  • Don’t add dairy, meat or seafood as this can attract pests
  • Don’t add diseased plants as you could inadvertently spread the disease around your garden
  • If you have a worm farm don’t add highly acidic foods like tomato and citrus, and if you have a compost bin only add these acidic foods in moderation.
  • If the compost gets too wet add more brown materials
  • If the compost is too dry add more green materials, or wet it with some water
  • Aerate your compost regularly by turning it with a pitchfork or specially designed compost aerater.

The exception to these rules is a bokashi. All food scraps including meat and bread can be processed using bokashi because bokashi works by fermenting the food waste. The food waste can then be dug into the garden, and because the material is already fermented it will break down extremely quickly in the ground.  

Basically the only thing that can go wrong with compost is that it can get too dry or too wet. And that is an easy thing to fix by either adding more green material (or water) to make it wetter, or adding more brown material to dry it out. And always remember to aerate it regularly.  

It is virtually impossible to ruin compost!  

Once your compost bin is full you just leave it to break down. The time it takes for the material in your compost to break down will depend on the size of the bin, whether there is a good balance of brown and green materials and whether it is aerated regularly.

As a general rule it takes a few months. Check on it every week or two to see how it is going and to aerate it.   

Once you have filled your compost bin, what do you do with your food scraps while the material is breaking down? A good tip is to have more than one composting option. That way when one compost bin is full and slowly breaking down, you have another place to put your food scraps.  

Once you have your amazing nutrient rich compost, it can be added to you garden. Adding organic matter, like compost, to our soils is perhaps the single most important thing we can do to promote soil health.  

Healthy soils are important for a range of reasons. The most obvious is food production. If you are growing or wanting to grow your own food you will need compost. Another important reasons is that healthy soils retain more water. This means when it rains more of the water is absorbed into the ground rather than eroding top soil and running off into storm water. It also makes the soil more drought tolerant.

Organic matter like compost is also essential for the organisms that live in the soil. These organisms, such as bacteria and fungi, contribute to soil health by improving soil structure, drainage, nutrient levels and aeration. Healthy soil is quite literally living soil.   

And finally, by adding organic material to soils we help avoid many of the major threats to soil health. Threats like compaction where the soil has no air space and is hard,  erosion of top soil, and nutrient depletion of the soil. Healthy nutrient rich soil also reduces the need for chemicals that disrupt or kill the beneficial organism within the soil.

Why we take action

Almost half of household rubbish is food waste. When food waste is sent to landfill it doesn’t get exposure to oxygen, and in this anaerobic environment decomposition happens very slowly and the food releases methane into the environment.

When food waste is diverted from landfill and made into compost it is recycled into a new product that is of significant benefit to our land and food production.

How we can take action

  • Divert your food scraps from landfill by composting them
  • Choose the best composting option for you and start composting at home
  • Check if your local council has workshops on composting or community composting options
  • Use compost to regenerate the soils in your own yard
  • Support farmers that are using regenerative farming practices and caring for the soil