Bokashi Bins: the Whats, Hows and Whys

Inspired by watching Dive! last week, and thinking about reducing the food waste I send to landfill, I’ve decided to revisit the bokashi bin. We give most of our food scraps to our worm farm, but there are some things that worms just don’t like (onion skins and lemon peels, for example) and these end up in the rubbish bin.

When I attempted my first Zero Waste Week in June I used a Bokashi bin to process my food waste to avoid sending it to landfill. Having completed a full cycle with this system, I thought I’d explain what they are, how they work and how I found using one.

The Bokashi Bin: What Is It?

Bokashi bins are home composting systems that are designed to be used indoors.  (Technically, they aren’t composting, but fermenting.)The bokashi system comprises two parts: a bucket with a sealable lid and a tap, and also bokashi mix, which are fermented grains (such as wheat bran and rice husks) that contain microorganisms. There is a tray inside the bucket to separate the liquid leachate that drains off with the sold waste.

Removable tray inside the bokashi bin.

Removable tray inside the bokashi bin.

Bokashi Bins: How Do They Work?

Bokashi bins work by fermenting food, and need anaerobic conditions (no oxygen). The bokashi bin has a tightly fitting lid to seal the waste. (This differs from composting which requires oxygen). Food waste is placed in the bucket, the fermented grains are sprinkled on top, everything is compacted down and the lid is sealed. Because the food isn’t decomposing, there’s no terrible rotting food smell (although it’s not odourless), and it doesn’t attract pests. When the lid is on, there is no smell at all.

Bokashi bins have a tap on the bottom that allows the excess liquid to be drained off. A surprising volume of liquid is produced (how much exactly depends on the types of food you add to the bucket). Being very acidic, it’s not suitable to put on plants unless it’s heavily diluted, and even then it’s recommended that young roots are avoided as it will burn them. It does, however, make a great toilet and drain cleaner! No dilution is needed, you just pour it straight down.

Once the bin is full and the contents are fermented – usually after 4-6 weeks – the waste needs to be buried, or composted.

Bokashi Bins: Who Are They For?

Bokashi bins are touted as a great alternative for people who don’t have a garden and can’t compost their food waste. They are a fairly small and contained system suitable for indoors. They can deal with all types of food waste, including cooked food, meat bones, citrus peels/onion skins, egg shells and dairy – all things that you can’t put in compost or worm farms – so if you’re committed to zero waste, they are part of the solution.

The Bokashi Bin Review

I did not buy my bokashi bin – it was a gift from a friend who rescued it from a verge collection where it was destined for landfill. Conveniently, there was also a pack of bokashi grains with it. Bokashi bins are fairly easy to find second-hand, if you look in the right places!

I used my bokashi bin for citrus peel, onion skins, egg shells, corn on the cob waste, fruit stones and vegetable stems – things I can’t put in the worm farm. Because of the low water content of these things my bin filled up quite quickly: probably 4 weeks in total. Despite the low water content, I was surprised at how much leachate came off.

Bokashi bin first layer

The start of my bokashi bin filling…

Bokashi bin mashing

Each layer is covered with a sprinkling of grains, and then pressed down tightly.

Full bokashi bin

Filling the final layer of the bokashi 4 weeks later.

The smell of the bokashi didn’t bother me. When I opened the lid, it has a sour, fermented kinda smell (as you’d expect) that wasn’t unpleasant. I was quite impressed that with the lid on, there was no smell at all. The leachate smell, however, I could not bear by the end! It didn’t smell bad, just sour, but very strong, and I really didn’t like it.

Bokashi bin drained liquid

Bokashi bin leachate. It might look a bit like honey, but it most definitely does not smell like honey!

The frustration came when the bucket was full, and I had to empty it. The waste needs to be buried, so I found a corner of our communal garden to be the bokashi grave. The bucket was surprisingly heavy, and having to carry it down flights of stairs and across a car park was a pain, as was digging a big hole using only a trowel. (I’m sure a spade would have been easier, but bokashi bins are touted as solutions for people who live in apartments, and I’m sure most apartment dwellers with no garden don’t own a spade – I don’t). Fortunately the hole was big enough, so I emptied the fermented mass of waste into it and covered it over.

Digging a hole to bury the bokashi waste

Digging a hole to bury the bokashi waste…

Burying the bokashi waste in the garden

Filling the hole with bokashi waste.

Bokashi bin waste all gone (buried)

The bokashi waste final resting place.

I now understood why a lot of bokashi bins end up on the verge.

 Should You Give Bokashi Bin Composting a Go?

I didn’t find the bokashi bin the most practical thing in the world, but I love that they provide a solution to disposing of food waste that can’t be composted or given to the worm farm.

However, you need to buy the fermented grain bokashi mix, which comes in a plastic bag and isn’t cheap. Having to buy the grains would be a deal-breaker for me. (If you’re dedicated, there are instructables out there for making your own.) Needing somewhere to put the waste when the bin is full – either a compost bin or digging it into the ground and burying it – makes it impractical for many people. Bokashi bins are often touted as alternatives for flat-dwellers who can’t compost, but that often means they don’t have land to bury the bokashi waste either.

Should you give it a go? Yes! I’m a great believer that you should try everything once! How else are you going to know if it’s for you? See if you can find a bin second-hand, or borrow one from a friend. Before you begin, just be clear on what you’re going to do with the fermented waste – you really don’t want it hanging around your kitchen for eternity.

Good luck!

I really want to hear you! Have you ever used a bokashi bin? How did you find it? Do you have any tips or ideas to share? If you haven;t used one, what’s putting you off? Please tell me your thought and ideas an leave a comment below!

12 Tips For Reducing Food Waste

On Tuesday night I saw the documentary Dive! It’s a documentary about people living off America’s food waste. It’s one I’d recommend: short, to-the-point, educational and inspiring.

Here’s how the documentary is described by the makers:

“Inspired by a curiosity about our country’s careless habit of sending food straight to landfills, the multi award-winning documentary DIVE! follows filmmaker Jeremy Seifert and friends as they dumpster dive in the back alleys and gated garbage receptacles of Los Angeles’ supermarkets. In the process, they salvage thousands of dollars worth of good, edible food – resulting in an inspiring documentary that is equal parts entertainment, guerilla journalism and call to action.”

And the trailer:

Food waste is a problem in so many ways. It’s estimated that a third of all food produced for us to eat ends up in landfill. A third! Food that’s taken land and energy to produce, required water and nutrients, needed labour to ensure it grew, could be harvested and processed, fuel to transport…and then it ends up in the bin. If that’s not the biggest unnecessary waste of resources, then I don’t know what is.

Meanwhile, whilst we’re throwing all this perfectly edible food in the bin, people are going hungry. I’m not just talking poor people in less developed countries in overseas nations. I’m also talking about the people right here in our communities. In America one in six people are at risk of hunger. In the UK almost 1 million people have used food banks to get access to food.

The majority of this wasted food will end up in landfill, taking up valuable land space. Because of the sealed landfill environment, food waste breaks down here anaerobically, releasing methane gas (a greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere.

You’d expect there to be some food waste at all steps along the chain, but food waste on this kind of scale is completely unnecessary!

There’s clearly a broken system that allows this kind of food waste to occur, and there’s a need for change. However, as consumers, we can still take some responsibility. It is estimated that half of all the food we actually buy goes to landfill.  There’s plenty of scope for us to make changes to the way we shop, and the way we think of food.

Here’s some ideas to help you reduce the amount of food you throw away!

Things We Can Do to Reduce Our Food Waste

1. Understand best before and use by dates.

If something is stamped with a “use by” date, it should be used before that date. If it’s stamped “best before” it means the retailer thinks it would be better if you used it by that date, but it will be perfectly safe to eat after this date.  Remember, retailers have a vested interest in you throwing the old one in the bin and buying a new one!

2. Use your judgement.

Learn to recognise if something is bad or not, rather than relying on the ultra-conservative supermarket “best before” dates.

3. Don’t buy more than you need!

The special offers and bargains touted at you in every aisle and every corner of the supermarket are there to make you spend more, not save you money, and they can become overbearing and wear you down. It may seem counter-intuitive to only buy one if the second one is “free”, but if it ends up in the bin, you haven’t saved anything. Leave it on the shelf for someone who needs it. If you stop shopping at the supermarkets you will have less exposure to all the advertising, and will buy less as a result.

4. Store it properly.

When you get home from shopping, it’s easy to dump the bags down on the counter and think you’ll sort them later, or just stuff everything in the fridge quickly. But taking the time to sort things out means less food goes to waste. Ensuring that chilled food remains chilled, rotating the new food with the things that are already in your fridge, and putting anything that is prone to wilting in a salad crisper or suitable storage container will extend the life of your shopping and mean there’s less going bad.

5. Use the most perishable items first.

Plan your meals and arrange your fridge so the food that is most perishable gets used up before the longer-lasting stuff.

6. Cut the bad bits off.

If a piece of fruit of veg is bad, cut the bad bit off rather than throwing the whole thing away. If only part of a product has gone bad, use your judgement as to whether or not it’s salvageable.

7. Find alternative uses.

Milk that has started to sour may not be great on your porridge but will work wonders in baking. My mother  uses sour milk to make scones, and they are delicious. Fruit that is going soft can be stewed to make compote, and limp vegetables can be made into soup.

8. Make use of everything.

Rather than peeling your veg, give them a good scrub and cook with the skins on. If you do peel them, keep the scraps and use to make vegetable stock (you can store in the freezer until you have enough). Meat and fish bones can also be used to make stock. Egg shells can be ground down and sprinkled on the garden – they are a great source of calcium. Citrus rinds can be made into candied peel, or the zest can be frozen or dried; if you don’t want to eat them you can use them to infuse vinegar to make a citrus cleaner.

9. Don’t throw food away!

There are plenty of alternatives to sending scraps to landfill. Feed them to chickens (ask your neighbours if you don’t have your own), compost, worm farm, use a bokashi bin or even dig a hole in the garden. For dry goods and things you bought but don’t like, even if the packets are open, try donating to family and friends, or even listing on Gumtree or Freecycle.

10. Buy the ugly fruit and veg!

People from western cultures have become accustomed to buying perfect fruit and veg, but that’s not what it looks like in real life. Even though we know this, we still gave a tendency to look for the “best” ones in the stores. When you go shopping, keep an eye out for ugly, misshapen fruit and veg, and buy these instead. You’re probably saving them from landfill!

11. Speak to your local supermarket and / or independent grocer.

Talk about food waste. Find out if they donate to food banks, if they compost, or if they have any other ways that they reduce waste. Start the conversation.

12. Volunteer at a Food Bank. 

Food banks don’t just need food, they need people. The numbers of people (predominantly volunteers) needed to collect, wash, process and deliver this food  is what stops Food Banks being able to distribute more food to more people in need.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What struggles do you face when trying to reduce your food waste? What successes have you had? Are there any tips you’d like to add? Anything that has worked really well for you? Have you ever tried dumpter-diving?! Please share your experience and leave a comment below!

Share the Love…(I’d Love Your Help!)

For Valentine’s Day this year, I’ve decided to do something different. I’ve no intention of buying the obligatory card, box of overpackaged chocolates, fluffy teddy holding a red heart or whatever other tat the gift companies want to try to entice me to buy. I’m not going to spend my evening holed up in an expensive restaurant gazing into the eyes of my husband, surrounded by other couples seated on intimate tables of two doing exactly the same thing.

If Valentine’s Day (in the most modern sense) is about love, friendship and affection, then I’m going to celebrate it…right here. On the blog. I’ve met so many interesting people, read so many eye-opening articles and made so many great connections online, and I’m thankful that all of our paths have crossed in this way. I thought today was a good day to say thanks, and an even better day to share the love with you too! Happy Valentines’ Day everyone!

Sharing the Love – a Shortlist of My Favourite Blogs

I haven’t written an exhaustive list, and there are many more blogs that I love and would recommend. These blogs listed below cover topics and talk about ideas that I think will interest you, with writers that all share one huge thing in common – passion for what they write about.

Here we go… the Blogroll:

Lois started blogging at Living Simply Free, and now writes at Living in Denim. She writes about living simply, reducing waste and how she is encouraging her grandchildren to care for their environment. The conversations in the comments are just as inspiring as the blog posts themselves!

Gavin (from Melbourne, Australia) started blogging after having a “green epiphany” and his site The Greening of Gavin is all about sustainable living in the suburbs. His enthusiasm is infectious and his energy is (almost) exhausting.

What started out for Jen Gale as a buy-nothing-new challenge for a year ended up becoming a way of life! My Make Do and Mend Year has a focus on sewing and mending, but Jen is always up for a challenge and has tackled wardrobe minimalism, giving up supermarkets for lent and Plastic Free July amongst (many!) others.

Annemieke set up Plastic-Free Tuesday to encourage people to reduce their plastic one day a week. They have a great social media presence and a really useful site for people wanting to find inspiration for quitting plastic. They have a really collaborative approach and encourage guest writers (I wrote about making the plastic-free habit stick back in January).

Anne-Marie has a similar story to mine, going plastic-free in 2011 and now working towards zero-waste. In her food blog Zero-Waste Chef she writes about cooking from scratch, and has great posts with instructions for making loads of basics as well as tips for reducing waste in the kitchen.

Now It’s Your Turn!

Share the love! I’d love to hear about any blogs that you find inspiring! Are there any other blogs you’d like to recommend to the world at large? Do you write your own blog and think we should know about it? Please leave a comment below with a quick intro to the site you’re recommending and the link. All welcome, whether it’s yours or someone else’s, so long as it fits (even loosely) with the general themes or ideals of this blog!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

It Began With Chocolate Brownies…

On Wednesday it was my boss’s birthday, and I decided to make chocolate brownies to take to work. These raw chocolate brownies that I originally posted the recipe for back in 2013. (They are extremely simple to make, do not require baking and are so delicious – you must make them!)

I knew the recipe was buried deep in the archives of my blog, and I managed to find it. I realise though, that if you didn’t know that the recipe existed, you wouldn’t have searched for it, and you’d never have known it was there. That’s an awful lot of people missing out on delicious chocolate brownies!

The same goes for lots of other things I’ve written about. They’re lost in the depths of the internet. It’s pretty rubbish, not being able to find something unless you already know it exists. I’d like to think that some of that information would be useful to people!

Feeling inspired (and with the extra energy given to me by eating too many offcuts of chocolate brownie) I’ve set about rejigging my site to make it easier for readers to browse through old content. It still looks pretty much the same, but now there are four tabs at the top that link to pages that showcase some of the old archived posts.

The four new categories are:

Minimalism and Simple Living

Real Food and Recipes

Zero Waste

Plastic-Free

They aren’t perfect (I’m not a website developer!) and they don’t list every single post I’ve ever written, but it’s a much more user-friendly way to browse the site. I promise I’m going to work on making the introductory text a bit more exciting!

I hope you like them. Now you have plenty of things to do to keep you occupied this weekend – reading and chocolate-brownie eating! What a perfect way to spend your time! : )

Please give me your feedback! I’d love to hear your thoughts so please let me know any idea or suggestions in the comments below. Do you find the new pages helpful? Are there any categories you feel I’ve missed? Is there any other information you think I could add? I really want to make this site more helpful and user-friendly for you, the reader – so tell me your ideas!

A (Surprisingly Easy) Way to Generate Less Waste

On Sunday morning, my husband and I went on a big cycle ride around the river, and stopped at a cafe we’d never been to before for coffee and a snack. We ordered savoury muffins (I am currently a little obsessed with savoury muffins) and they were brought out to us, all toasted and delicious… with two plastic-packaged portions of butter on the side of the plate.

How I hate those individual butter portions! So fiddly, so unnecessary, and such a waste! Some barely contain more than a teaspoon of butter!

Normally, I send the butter portions straight back. (I figure if I do that, at least they can be re-used. If I leave them untouched on the plate, when everything gets cleared away they will probably end up in the bin.) The issue with this, and I’m sure most people will agree, is that anything toasted tastes far better smothered in buttery goodness.

When I handed the butter back, I did something completely un-groundbreaking.

I asked the waiter if I could have some butter cut from the block in the kitchen rather than the individually-wrapped butter portions.

Here’s the result:

plastic-free butter

Plastic-free breakfast!

It got me thinking. Sometimes there’s no need to get indignant. There’s no need to lament, or to start a petition, or to rally the troops, or organise a boycott. There’s no need to get frustrated, or to wish things were different.

The only thing we need to do is ask the question – can this be done a different way? Surprisingly enough, often it can!

(Of course there are times when asking gets you nowhere, and then all of the above apply! – But the first step should always be to ask the question).

Most people aren’t deliberately trying to create as much waste as they possibly can (even though sometimes it might seem like it). It’s just that they’ve never really thought about it. They’ve never thought about the consequences, the impacts, or the fact that there might be a different (and better) way.

What’s the worst that can happen? Somebody says no. It’s really not that bad!

Simple Questions to Ask to Reduce Your Waste

There’s no need to just accept things are the way they are! Starting the conversation is a great way to tell the world that there is another way. we can make others realise that waste is a problem, but it’s a problem with plenty of solutions.

Here’s some ideas to get you started:

  • Ask your local deli / butcher / takeaway if you can bring your own containers
  • Ask of you can put multiple products in the same container (if appropriate)
  • Ask for no straw
  • Ask for your coffee in a proper cup (even if they say they’re serving takeaway only, they will probably make an exception if you ask)
  • Ask for a glass for water rather than a disposable plastic cup
  • Ask to use your own plate at a takeaway food stand

Just give it a go! There’s no need to cause a fuss, or get angry or grumpy if the answer is no. There’s no need to feel nervous. Remember, the answer could just as easily be yes!

Now I want to hear from you! Have you ever had any great wins just because you asked the question? Have you ever had any dismal failures…and what did you do afterwards?! Do you have any tips for reducing waste when out and about? Any other ideas you’d like to add? Please leave a comment and tell me your experiences below!