How to Compost ‘On The Go’
Having a compost bin (or worm farm) at home is great, and I’d thoroughly recommend it as a place to put all your food scraps, peels, bad bits and other things you might like to compost rather than put in the general waste bin. But we tend to eat food when we’re out and about too, and we all go on day trips and holidays… so what do we do about food waste then?
Whilst it isn’t as easy as stepping outside the back door and opening up a compost bin, there are still things we can do to ensure we’re still composting whilst on the move.
How to Compost on Day Trips
I always carry my reusable coffee cup in my handbag: it is most used not for takeaway coffee but for food waste scraps. Apple cores, pips and peels, the occasional teabag, a dirty napkin or anything else I might be left with when out gets stashed in here until I get home.
I’d recommend a glass, ceramic or metal coffee cup (or other container) for this. Plastic tends to absorb the flavours of whatever it’s holding, and coffee that’s flavoured with yesterday’s banana peel isn’t great. If you do use plastic, wash throroughly and leave overnight filled with water and a spoonful of sodium bicarbonate to try to lift any stufbborn smells.
If I ever wrote a ‘ten things I use my KeepCup for’ post, carrying around bits of compost would be number 1 (leftovers would be number 2, and actually, takeaway coffee would probably be number 10).
If I take snacks from home, I’m always conscious of any ‘waste’ they might create. Take a banana, I’ll be left with the peel; take an apple and there will be a (smaller) core; take grapes and I’ll be left with a couple of pips. I think about where I’m going and if I want to be carrying around these things before choosing.
If I go on a picnic, It’s pretty easy because I take my food in reusable containers, so I can simply use my containers for scraps.
How to Compost on Longer Trips and Holidays
If I’m going somewhere far from home, the absolute first thing I do is check ShareWaste, the free compost networking service. It’s one of my favourite resources. I see if anyone has a compost bin in the areas I’m travelling to.
I’ll also do an online search for local community gardens, as these often have compost bins.
Sometimes it’s a yes, but often it’s a no. In which case, these are my options.
In an ideal world, I’ll take my food scraps home with me. If I’m away for several days they will start to get a bit stinky, so I either store in the freezer (if there is a freezer) or fridge, which helps slow down any decomposition.
Ideally I’d have a cool box (Esky) for the trip home. Failing that, any container that can seal tightly will work. You won’t want to be spending time in a car with decomposing food waste smells, promise.
If you don’t have the luxury of a car, you’re camping or for other reasons can’t refrigerate or transport food scraps home, your options are more limited.
Does the local council have a food scraps collection service?
Councils are increasingly offering doorstop food waste collection services, and compost those scraps. It’s worth checking if this service is offered where you’re staying.
Could you bury the food scraps?
Ideally, food scraps need to be buried 25cm (10 inches) deep and covered with soil to deter pests. Burying is more practical in the countryside or bush than in the city. If there are signs specifically telling you not to do it, then don’t do it.
What about local parks?
Parks are not there to accommodate our personal food waste, although burying a single apple core deep in a planter box is a little different to dumping a week’s worth of trash on the lawn in Central Park. It’s not ideal, and it’s not really recommended.
As tempting as it is to take food waste to public places, remember that if everyone did this, it would turn into a garbage heap pretty quickly. Food will attract wildlife, and even if you bury it, you might be inadvertently adding pests or invasive species to the area (those fruit pips might sprout trees that are not welcome).
When you’re out of options…
Try to reduce food waste wherever we can. I try to make choices to reduce food scraps. If I need to cook, I’ll often choose vegetables like broccoli and mushrooms, where the whole thing can be eaten, and be less likely to choose foods like mango and pineapple that have huge amounts of skin and or a big stone to deal with, just to keep my waste to a minimum.
I don’t want to put my food scraps in the general waste bin, but if I really don’t have any other options, that’s what I do. I remind myself that it’s not my fault: governments, councils and businesses need to recognise food scraps both for the resource they are (nutrients) and the burden they are if not composted properly (methane emissions).
They need to make it easier for people to do the right thing.
When I say easier, I’m not meaning that we should appease people’s ‘apparent laziness’. I mean this: when I visited Exmouth in 2017, some of my food scraps travelled 1,248km home with me because there was no composting anywhere on the route. Sharewaste now has a few additions on their map, and it’s currently a ‘mere’ 835km from Exmouth to the closest compost bin.
Most people aren’t going to do this.
So whilst I encourage you to set up a compost bin at home, try to plan ahead, bring a container, think about the waste you might create it and attempt to avoid it, and look for local services that might be able to help, I also want to remind you that sometimes, trying to do what’s right feels like (or is) an uphill battle.
It isn’t always accessible or practical. That’s not our fault. Do what you can, celebrate your successes, don’t feel bad if you can’t make it work, and resolve to keep on trying.
Now I’d love to hear from you! How do you reduce food waste? Any tips to add? Any situations you particularly struggle with? Any questions about composting? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Love it! Thanks x I do this too. On another note you speak of having a car as a luxury – https://carbusters.org/ – a luxury indeed is the car, and not one that the planet can afford. I’m not saying don’t save the food waste – and with your awareness raising you could probably run 10 cars and it would even out ;) but still, it’s worth thinking about our relationship to our metal companions. (I’m sure you have thought about it a lot, of course). I’m about to buy a car having fought against the impulse for ages.. and am now pondering on how I can use it in a beneficial way.. if it is even possible!
Hi Sue, thanks for your thought-provoking comment. Always so much to consider when it comes to lowering our footprint! With your car, have you thought about signing up to one of those carshare type schemes – you can ‘rent’ out your car when you’re not using it, so it isn’t just sitting there. I don’t know too much about them, but something to explore?
I’ll be honest, I often prefer to hide a banana peel or apple core behind a bush in a municipal green area than putting it in the municipal bin …. I will start using your method of putting it in my portable metal box, though I must admin, I don’t have it 7/24 with me, and it tends to happen that I always need it when I don’t have it ….
Hehe, I think the odd banana peel or apple core hidden from view (and ideally buried) in an urban area isn’t such an issue – especially when birds etc can get into the bins anyway. Natural bush or national parks are a bit different, as is an entire weeks worth of scraps!
At work, I’ve rededicated empty coffee tubs for collecting the spent coffee grounds and any other organic materials from people’s lunches. They have a nice tight snap lid. I usually have several stacked in the car, going one direction or the other, to my garden. I’ve been known to collect kitchen scraps from friends I’m visiting if they don’t practice composting themselves. I hate the thought of any organic matter being entombed in landfill.
Oh I hear you Ruth – I hate the thought of that too!
We have a small caravan and I re-use two plastic cereal containers as trash bins…one for any unavoidable landfill and one for any compostables. I take both of them home but not recyclables as UK campsites usually have recycling bins.
That’s great, Mel! Not having to take recyclables home is a bonus, too.
Would a Bokashi set up work?
Hi Catherine, you mean to take with you? It’s pretty bulky. Could work for some people… I’ve thought about taking some composting worms on trips with me but it’s usually easier just to bring scraps back in a container (ideally frozen or chilled so there’s no smell).
Thank you for the tips! The coffee reusable cup is one thing I never thought of as a container for food scraps! You are very creative
Haha, thank you Laura! I think it probably started out with spent teabags, and progressed from there!
Thank you,for the tips! I must agreed with you on the communities and government not being up on providing us people who try to do our part in saving the planet one person at a time. They need to get on the wagon too. We need the help.
Sometimes it can feel like change from above never comes fast enough, Rene! But progress is being made, even if it feels painfully slow!
I must say using coffee cups as mini compost bins is indeed a simple yet innovative idea. Loved it!