It’s the Little Things…
Over the last few years there has been a shift in mainstream culture towards ethical living and sustainability. For anyone who is lucky enough to have a garden, or even a balcony or small courtyard, there are numerous things that can be done to live more sustainably and lessen your carbon footprint. One of the biggest, and possibly easiest changes, is to start composting your own green waste. Composting is a relatively straight forward process and a massive step towards zero waste living.
Debunking the compost myths…
There are a couple of big misconceptions about composting:
A compost bin is smelly and difficult to manage and therefore doesn't work in a small space.
You only need to make your own compost if you are planning on growing vegetables.
Let's put those myths to bed.
If you compost correctly (and it isn't difficult to get the hang of) a compost bin won't smell. There are also countless types of small composters and worm farms on the market which make composting in small spaces an absolute breeze. Home made garden compost can also be used on more than just vegetable beds. It can be added to your garden borders, used to top up pots (both indoors and out), or used as a simple garden mulch. And if your garden consists only of a lawn and you really don’t think you would use any at all, how about seeing if any of your neighbours would take it off your hands?
My sister lives in Sydney in an apartment. She has a balcony but no other outdoor space. She wants to grow herbs and chillies and also be able to compost her kitchen waste. In her journey towards zero waste she has invested in an ingenious little composter for her balcony. Aptly name the 'Composta', it is small and fits neatly into the corner of her balcony and functions as a composter for all her kitchen scraps and also as a worm farm.
Kitchen food waste gets put in the top of the composter, the worms do their bit breaking down the waste and around the edge of the composter is soil (highly nutritious as a result of the compost and worms) that my sister is able to grow herbs and chilli plants in. By utilising this clever little composter, my sister is helping the environment in so many ways:
She is able to grow her own herbs and is therefore saving money for herself and saving on resources and productions costs which come from buying from a supermarket.
She is lowering her waste disposal, taking pressure off the council and lowering the amount of rubbish that the council have to deal with.
By composting she is stopping CO2 emissions from entering the atmosphere (this is all to do with aerobic and anaerobic break down of waste. For more information on this click here).
She is producing a natural plant feed in the form of worm juice (the liquid that collects at the bottom of the composter) that she can use on her own herbs or that she very frequently gives to friends to use on their own gardens. Thus saving the production costs of shop brought feeds and not relying on harmful chemical feeds.
This whole process (and the process of composting generally) is a perfect example of the circular society that we should all be working towards. Where waste products (the kitchen scraps) are turned into something useful (compost and home-made plant feed) which can then be re-used or, in this case, returned to our natural environment.
This urban composting system is a very small thing, but imagine if everyone who had a balcony in Sydney or any other town or city did the same? I've spoken to my sister about the composter and she has assured me it is smell and mess free (she wouldn't have it otherwise). And, as mentioned before, healthy compost should never smell.
So this is small scale composting – perfect for an urban environment, hassle free and functional.
What about larger gardens?
In larger gardens there is no excuse for not composting. A composting system can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. In my own garden I have three compost bins. I fill one up then move on to the next leaving the first to break down into crumbly soil which I then add to my vegetable beds or garden borders. As I garden, I rotate from one compost bin to the next.
In a smaller garden you may only have room for one bin. This is fine too. You can build your own compost bin using salvaged and second-hand materials or you can buy a bin (there are a lot of second hand compost bins available as well as new). With so many options available it is worth doing a little bit of research to determine what the best set up for your situation is.
In smaller spaces, you may want a straightforward worm farm, for example. Or you may want a bin with a slot at the bottom for removing compost from the bottom while continuing to add garden and kitchen waste to the top.
But how do I actually make a compost heap?
Once you have decided on the best compost bin or worm farm for you, how do you actually create the compost? The key is to add a range of different materials. You don't want only kitchen scraps to be added or you will end up with a mushy, smelly mess. Ideally you want approximately one third of the compost to be made up of green waste (e.g. tea leaves, coffee grounds, kitchen scraps, garden weeds, grass cuttings) and two thirds to be made up of brown waste (e.g. torn up egg cartons, shrub prunings, leaves, sawdust, wood ash, shredded paper, torn up cardboard etc.). Generally you will get away with a half and half mix.
In my compost bin at home we add a lot of kitchen scraps, grass cuttings and weeds to our compost bin. I balance this out with things like egg cartons, shredded paper, cardboard and leaves. So even if you will mostly be adding kitchen scraps, you can balance this out with old envelopes or paper (with the plastic removed), cardboard boxes and egg cartons. It is a pretty straightforward process. If you want to increase the amount of produce that you can compost (cooked waste as well as uncooked waste) then it is worth looking at hotbin composting or something like Bokashi composting.
I'm not going to include a full list of what compost bins are available and where to get them from because I think a simple internet search will help you with this. The method of composting that you choose will also be entirely dependent on your individual situation and the resources you have available.
If you do want any further advice on composting, for a small or large space, or aren't sure where to start or what to do, please get in touch. I'm always happy to help.