Are you a time-poor urban apartment-dweller who’s put composting in the too-hard basket? Read on…
About half of what Aucklanders chuck in their rubbish bins is actually compostable material. That means a whopping 90,000 tonnes of Auckland households’ food waste ends up in landfill each year. Why is that a problem? It breaks down without oxygen and produces the potent greenhouse gas methane – and that, it goes without saying, is bad news.
Composting, on the other hand, returns nutrients to the soil to support photosynthesis, which removes carbon from the atmosphere. For those reasons, composting is one of the most important things you, as an individual, can do to fight climate change.
This is a point The Compost Collective, a collaborative project supported by Auckland Council, is trying to hammer home through the workshops it holds regularly throughout the city, as well as convincing doubters that composting really isn’t such a big deal.
“A lot of people visualise this big messy compost bin in the corner of a yard, and as soon as they’ve got that picture, that’s it, they’ve ruled out any opportunity of being able to do it,” says Pip Beagley, who runs workshops on the North Shore through The Compost Collective.
A hefty traditional outdoor compost bin is just one of several methods you can learn in the workshops. Renters, those who live in units or apartments in the city or anyone without much outdoor space – which is increasing numbers of us in Tāmaki Makaurau – can do their bit for the climate just as successfully as those Aucklanders who have big suburban backyards.
One option is ShareWaste, a resource that connects people who have food scraps with their neighbours who are already composting, worm farming or have chooks to feed. You can browse a map to see who’s near you, then send them a private message to arrange the transaction. Kind of like Tinder for composting. Of course, you can go the old-fashioned route by bypassing the website and simply asking around your neighbours, friends, family and workmates too.
In this scenario, you can keep your scraps in a basic compost caddy (top tip: in the sweltering summer months, put it in the fridge so it doesn’t get gross), or try out a bokashi system, which means less frequent toing and froing with your scraps.
Bo-what now? Bokashi is a Japanese system that basically pickles your food waste to create nutrient-rich compost. A bin with holes sits inside another bin, you add your food scraps and cover it with a couple of spoonfuls of a bran-like “sprinkle” that contains microorganisms to kickstart the fermentation process, then squish it down (a potato masher works well) and close the airtight lid. Get in the habit of doing this every day, even if you only have a small number of scraps. Every two to three days, drain off the liquid that collects in the outside bin, which you can dilute and add to your plants, or tip down the toilet or sink to help keep them clean. When the bin’s full, close the lid and keep it in a warm place for 10 to 14 days (but keep draining off the liquid).
Compost Collective workshop facilitator Jennifer Kerr says bokashi is her number one suggestion for apartment dwellers and others for whom space is an issue. “They’re very small and pretty simple – it can even go under your sink.”
Beagley likes to think of it as a storage unit. “It’s stored in a low-odour situation until you’re ready to deal with it, until you’ve got time to take it to your ShareWaste person or to the neighbours to be dug in.”
Yep that’s right, this is low-odour composting. “The best bokashis actually smell so good you almost want to eat it,” says Kerr. “In my workshops I pass around a sample of some bokashi juice and it smells almost like fruit punch – I have to tell people not to drink it!”
Hmm, that certainly wasn’t my experience when I attempted bokashi in my apartment, I admit – it kinda stunk. Beagley and Kerr are quick with the troubleshooting tips: was I adding fresh scraps every day, not letting them sit in a compost caddy to start going off before putting them in the bokashi? Ah, that could be the problem. Another piece of advice: if it does start to smell, just add more sprinkle.
Another benefit of bokashi is that it can take the vast majority of food waste, including meat and cooked and processed foods that other systems struggle with. Just make sure the scraps are in smallish pieces (golf ball-sized is a good guideline) and avoid liquids.
Once your bokashi bin is full and has had its fortnight rest period, the solid waste needs to be dug into a garden or simply added to a traditional compost bin. You shouldn’t find it too hard to find someone via ShareWaste or your neighbourhood social network who’s keen to take it.
Alternatively, see if there’s a community garden in your area – you could even get involved with your own plot. “Then you’re taking your scraps there and growing vegetables in it to take home – completing that natural cycle,” says Kerr.
For those who lack space, a worm farm is another option for dealing with food waste. Kerr and Beagley often suggest worm farms for families with children, as it’s a fascinating process for curious kids to get involved with. Worm farms produce castings (essentially worm poo) and “worm tea”, both of which are wonderful for the garden and you can share with grateful ShareWaste “hosts”. The downside is as worms are a bit fussy, you can’t add anything too spicy or acidic – citrus is out, for example.
The Compost Collective workshops are free to attend and if you go to one you’ll get a $40 discount code to spend on the composting system of your choice, which would take a bokashi bin and two bags of the “sprinkle” that will last you a year or so down to around $70, depending on size. Check out the website to find a workshop near you at a time that suits, or if you can’t make it in person, you can school yourself via the website and complete an online quiz, which will nab you a $28 discount. For an even cheaper option, The Compost Collective also holds workshops on how to make your own bokashi bin from scratch.
So there’s no excuse not to join the composting revolution. “We try to emphasise how easy it is,” says Kerr. “By providing discounts on products it makes it more affordable, and they’re delivered so you don’t have to go out to get them.
“We’ve taught you how to do it, and we’re always available – the contact details for the facilitators are on the website, and the Facebook page is a great place for support and follow-up – a lot of troubleshooting happens there.”
As Beagley says, in a time of uncertainty and fear around climate change, “it gives you the power. A lot of people are feeling worried and disempowered because the problem is so big – ’what can I do?’ But you can do a lot.”
This content was created in paid partnership with The Compost Collective. Learn more about our partnerships here.
This content was produced in paid partnership with The Compost Collective, an organisation working with Aucklanders to reduce food and garden waste. To learn more about their work, including how you can get a $40 discount on a composting system, click here.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.