Posts

How to Compost for Zero Waste Living Without a Compost Bin

When I gave up plastic, I quickly noticed that the only thing going into my rubbish bin was food scraps. Take out the plastic, and food waste is pretty much all that’s left. Glass, paper, cardboard and metal are commonly recycled, so these would go in the recycling bin.

It’s not that I was throwing perfectly good food away. You wouldn’t catch me doing that! Food waste includes spoiled fruit and vegetables, the peels, the skins, the outer leaves, the cores, the husks, the seeds. The inedible bits.

Food waste makes up almost 40% of the average domestic rubbish bin. Without the plastic, it was nearly 100% of mine! I realised that if I could set up a system for dealing with food waste, my bin would be empty.

The thing was, when I began living zero waste, I lived in an upstairs flat without a garden. The good news is, we managed. There is always a way! There are actually plenty of ways to deal with food waste without having a garden or even a compost bin.

A Zero Waste Guide to Composting (No Garden? No Problem!)

1. Regular Composting

Zero Waste Plastic Free Gardening Homemade Compost Treading My Own Path

A standard compost bin requires a patch of soil or dirt about 1m² where it can be dug in. That isn’t a huge amount of space. Even if you don’t have your own garden, there might be a shared area where you can put one.

And if the reason you’re not composting is simply because you haven’t yet got yourself a compost bin yet… Well, get yourself on the local classifieds sites or Freecycle immediately! There is no time to lose ;)

Suitable for: anyone with a small patch of dirt.

Not suitable for: apartment dwellers, those with no outdoor green space.

2. A Rotary Composter

rotary-compost

A rotary composter is a compost bin suspended on a frame, making it useful for small spaces and paved surfaces. They are also called barrel composters and spinning composters. They are often more expensive than regular compost bins, and it is worth paying extra for one that is well designed and sturdy. They can be difficult to turn when full, particularly the larger ones, so bear that in mind before choosing the XL model. Read reviews to find a model that suits your needs.

Suitable for: anyone with a balcony, yard or space outdoors.

Not suitable for: people with back or strength issues (who may find turning it hard).

3. Neighbours with Compost Bins (or a Garden)

You might not have a garden, but what about your neighbours? Would they mind if you put a compost bin on their land? How about family and friends living locally? It doesn’t hurt to ask, and it’s a great way to build good relations with your neighbours.

Alternatively, check out this great site Sharewaste.com, which lets you either find places to take your compost, or offer your compost bin to others. I’ve registered my bins!

Suitable for: anyone with friendly neighbours or friends/family with a garden.

4. Council collections

When I lived in Bristol (UK) I was lucky enough that the council would collect food scraps from my door once a week for composting. If you live in an area with this service, make use of it! If you don’t live somewhere where this happens, contact your council and find out if there are any plans to launch it in the near future.

(If your friends or family have this service but you don’t, maybe you can make use of theirs!)

Suitable for: anyone with a council composting collection service.

5. Collected Compost

This is similar to the council composting scheme, except they are run privately. Food waste is collected from your door and taken away for composting. Unlike the council services, there may be a small charge for these services.

Sometimes Farmers Markets offer this service, so you can take your compost waste to the Farmers Market.

Suitable for: anyone living in the catchment of a private compost collecting company.

Not suitable for: anyone on a tight budget who doesn’t want to commit to weekly collection fees.

6. Community Garden Composting

If you don’t have space to compost at home, and you don’t have neighbours, friends or family who are able (or willing) to help you out, community gardens are a great place to take your compost. Many are willing to take food scraps without the need for you to be a member (although being a member is a great way to support a local organisation doing good in the community). Find out where the nearest community garden is to your home or your place of work, and get in touch to find out how you can connect your waste with their bins.

Suitable for: anyone living or working near a community garden with compost bins.

7. Worm Farm (Vermicomposting)

Build a DIY Worm Farm

A worm farm is typically a box with air holes, drainage and a lid, and worms. Worm farms (also called vermicomposting) uses composting worms, which are fast growing and fast eating, rather than earthworms that you might dig up from your garden. They eat food waste and turn it into rich worm castings that is a great soil additive.

They are available for purchase (often in the second-hand ads) or you can make your own using waste materials.

Worm farms can be kept indoors or outdoors dependent on climate (worms don’t like the cold). If looked after properly they do not smell.

Suitable for: everyone, but especially apartment dwellers and those without a garden.

8. Bokashi

Bokashi Bin

Bokashi bins ferment waste rather than breaking it down. They are an indoor home composting system and can deal with all types of waste, including cooked food and meat/fish products. Inoculated bran is added to the bin to kickstart the fermentation process. The bokashi bin is sealed and does not smell.

Once filled the contents need to be dug into a garden or added to a compost bin, so access to outside space is necessary.

Find out more about bokashi composting.

Suitable for: meat eaters who have waste unsuitable for composting.

Not suitable for: anyone without access to outdoor space.

When we began our zero waste lifestyle, we started out with a single worm farm. That grew to two worm farms, and we added a bokashi bin to the mix too. Now we have a garden we still have the worm farms and the bokashi bin (although this is not currently in use) and have established not one but four compost bins! This means we have space not only to compost our own food scraps, but other people’s too :)

Now I’d love to hear from you! How do you deal with your food waste? Do you compost, or have a worm farm, or a bokashi? Do you have all three?! Or none of them, and you do something completely different? Have you tried any of these and not got on with them? Do you need help or troubleshooting? Which one is your favourite? Any that you’d like to get started with? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

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!

Zero Waste Week…The First Day

I have declared this week Zero Waste Week, and I am attempting to generate no waste at home. This means NO landfill rubbish and NO recycling (in case you’re wondering why no recycling, I wrote this post explaining why recycling isn’t the green solution we’re led to believe).

So at the weekend I dusted off the bokashi bin that was donated to me by a friend rather more months ago than I’d like to admit, on the condition that I blogged about it. Better late than never! Most of my food scraps go to my worm farm, but lemon peel, onion skins, eggshells and other bulky fruit and veg waste usually go in the bin (the worm farm is pretty small) – and I lament not being able to compost.

Installed Bokashi Bin

Bokashi bin installed in the kitchen. The donated bokashi mix comes in plastic – if this is something I want to keep up with, I’m going to have to learn how to make my own!

Not any more! Or at least, not this week. I’m going to give the bokashi bin a go (I will write a blog about it once I’ve used it for a while and can offer some wisdom!) and see how that works out for me.

So here is my bin system emptied and ready to go on Monday morning:

The Clean Bin Project

The black metal bin is for recycling. The paper-lined bin is for food waste – I lined it out of habit. We use the community newspaper to line once it’s been read. If it doesn’t need changing, then it doesn’t count as waste! The small caddy is scraps for the worm farm, and lined with Who Gives A Crap? toilet paper wrappers (read about that here). The bokashi bin is the shiny new addition to the line-up.

And we’re off!

I thought it might be useful to give you some context as we start the week, so here is a picture of my fridge:

Monday Fridge

Our vegetable box was delivered last Thursday (we currently get one large box a fortnight) so there’s still some fruit and left. The saucepan contains soup, the tin contains a cake and the glass Pyrex containers hold leftovers. The milk bottles actually contain cashew milk which I made on Monday morning (the recipe is here).

Note: yes, some of my veggies are in plastic containers! Slowly but surely I’m replacing them with glass and stainless steel, but sometimes I still have to use the plastic ones. I never use them for leftovers, only raw veg that will be washed, peeled and cooked.

I can’t really take a picture of our pantry as we no longer have one since the move! At some point we will get something, but for now half of my jars are living in a storage crate, which doesn’t make for good photos.

The pantry did need some restocking though, so yesterday morning I headed to Fremantle. Before shopping I met a friend for coffee (dine-in of course!); fortunately the shop only print receipts on request so I was still waste free.

I headed to a different shop to pick up some things – using my own bags. They didn’t print receipts unless requested either. I reused paper bags that I brought from home: I’m reusing until they disintegrate/get stained/turn gross, and then they will go to the worm farm.

groceryshopping day 1

Once home, these get stored in glass jars…except the brazil nuts and coconut, which got turned into cake.

Cake Prep
Cake

I used greaseproof paper to line the tin (I don’t always, but for this cake it’s necessary). I tend to clean my paper and reuse it if I can (as much because I’m too lazy to cut new circle shapes every time); usually I only get a couple of uses and this was the second go. If I can’t salvage the paper, it will go to the worms.

Cake paper

The Dilemma

I needed to go to the Post Office to send two parcels, and for this I received a receipt. My dilemma is this: it’s a thermal till receipt (you can tell because it’s slightly shiny and sort-of slippery) and thermal till receipts are coated with BPA. I’ve talked about why BPA is bad before, and it’s often recommended that we don’t recycle thermal till paper as it ends up as toilet paper, food packaging or even napkins, and these become contaminated with BPA.

Some people argue that because it is such a small amount it doesn’t contaminate the waste stream significantly. I have to confess, I currently recycle my receipts. But put them in the worm farm? Hmhm…I’m not sure I want to do that. So whether it goes to landfill or to recycling, it’s still in the waste pile.

I think I need to get into the habit of refusing receipts, and leaving them in the shop!Thermal Receipt BPA

What I’ve learned so far…

  • It feels good getting the bokashi bin going. I hate throwing all that food waste in the bin, especially as it’s mostly organic and I’ve heard that organic waste makes better compost!
  • My default action is definitely to go for the bin! When I sweep the floor, or wipe food from the counters I head for the bin rather than the worm farm,and this is making me think twice.
  • I need to start training myself to refuse till receipts. Practice makes perfect! We definitely have far too much paper in our house.
  • I have a feeling that the worm farm is going to struggle with the extra waste (particularly cardboard) and I’m going to have a think about whether I can steathily install a compost bin in the lawn area at the front of our building.

So far so good! I’m midway through Tuesday and nothing has gone disasterously wrong yet…but will it continue to go swimmingly as the week progresses?

I’ll keep you posted!