Wow! The wonder, beauty and cost savings of turning food into soil into plants, trees

FACT SHEET: Composting

by Jillian Meehan

Key Facts:

· Each of us in Australia produces around 180 kg of food waste per year and 493 grams per day

· Each person produces roughly 276 kg of carbon per year and 15.3 kg of methane per year from their food waste

· Every household, on average, puts 345 kg of food waste in their garbage per year while 1 million tonnes of total food waste ends up in restaurants’ garbage

· 4 kg of food waste can produce 1 kg of compost soil

· range of nutrients in compost soil include: nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, carbon, magnesium, calcium, boron, copper, iron, iodine, zinc, manganese

· impact of compost on plant growth

  • Quadruples soil’s water holding capacity which reduces runoff. This reduction keeps more nutrients and water in the soil. Overall, erosion is decreased so potential chemicals used in gardening don’t end up in the surrounding environment.

  • Improves aeration and compaction levels

  • Suppresses disease

  • Supports beneficial organisms critical in transferring nutrients to plant roots

  • Regulates soil pH and moisture

  • Improves soil texture

Impact on your hip pocket of putting food waste into compost, not your bin

  • In Sydney City Council - Depending on the size of garbage bins, you could save anywhere between $140-$431 in garbage collection costs just from composting your food waste

What is composting?

Composting breaks down organic matter, like certain foods and plants, into rich soil. By mixing these organic items together, they naturally work together to break down into usable fertilizer.

Why compost?

Composting takes care of food waste in a healthy, environmentally friendly manner all while producing nutrient-rich soil that can be used for gardens and more. Overall, it eliminates the need for food waste to go to a landfill.

From the 5.3 million tonnes of food that reaches landfills each year, 16.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide get released into our atmosphere – contributing to climate change.

Landfills contaminate groundwater with acids and poisons harmful for humans, animals, and the environment.

The benefits of composting are significant.

Besides eliminating the need for landfills, composting captures and eliminates 99.6% of volatile organic compounds from the air. And, like trees, composts trap carbon – so, instead of harmful carbon floating through the air and damaging the atmosphere, it is safely trapped in the ground.

Kristin Hunt describes further benefits of composting in her GreenMatters article, “What is Composting?”:

“Compost boosts water retention in soil, which means the budding plants in that soil need less irrigation. It also tends to facilitate bigger crop yields, giving food producers a better harvest. This all adds up to more growth with less water — and, in turn, a more affordable way to create food, flowers, and other plants.”

How do we compost?

There are many ways to compost. For example, cold composting is easier but takes longer to yield soil (about a year), while hot composting is slightly more complex but takes around 3 months to see results. Regardless of the method you choose, composting is helping both you and the environment.

Foodwise provides a helpful guide for beginner composters and suggests we take these steps:

1. The right location: find somewhere that is easily accessible from your kitchen. Although your compost bin can sit in the shade or sun, finding a warmer, sunnier location is beneficial because a warmer environment speeds up the process.

2. First layer: place dried leaves and twigs at the bottom of your bin and water thoroughly in order to encourage healthy bacterial growth.

3. Second layer: place clippings, plant scraps, and other green materials on top of your first layer. Both layers should be about the same thickness.

4. Third and Fourth layers: repeat the first two layers! This time, you can include materials like shredded newspaper or straw and veggie scraps. Make sure to add water.

5. Optional: add a thin layer of soil that you already have, whether from your garden or elsewhere. This helps to spark the bacterial processes that your compost bin needs to be successful.

6. Add food! you can now add food and other green materials to your bin. After adding around a bucket’s worth of food to your bin, make sure to add more dried leaves, twigs, and other ‘brown material’ to keep the process going. Once your compost looks like dark soil, it’s ready!

You can still compost if you don’t live in a house. Many cities have compost collection sites where you can bring your compost items. Just store your compost collection until collection day.

What can be composted?

Anything organic - that’s anything that has lived - can be composted. A good rule of thumb to live by when figuring out if something is compostable is to ask yourself if that item came from the ground. If the answer is yes, then you can feel free to toss it in your compost pile.

Vegetable and fruit scraps, like avocado pits, banana peels, apple cores, or carrots are excellent compost options.

Any organic grains (bread, pasta, cereal) can be composted as well. Even coffee grounds, filters, tea, spices, egg shells, flowers and plants are suitable for your compost pile – just make sure none of the plant material is carrying diseases, as this can infect the soil. Some things you cannot compost include meat, fish, butter, yogurt, cheese, milk, or animal fat. So, nothing that comes from animals is compostable (egg shells are okay, though).

Here’s a good list of things we can compost, and many will surprise you.

Spreading the word about composting

The Compost Revolution is a multi-award winning program aimed at cutting waste through composting and worm farming. It educates residents and councils about what they can do to cut down on their waste through its “all-in-one education, infrastructure logistics and marketing program”.

A statement from the Compost Revolution website:

“All you have to do is approve orders and we take care of the rest. The Compost Revolution comes with a suite of customisable tutorials, marketing materials and free digital marketing program (Facebook/Google Adwords) to get the word out for you, an easy to use online ordering system and our bin-to-door delivery service which ensures hassle-free delivery direct to your residents’ doors.”

Compost and cut your garbage costs

Tips for cutting your local council garbage costs are here and here.

New composting kid on the block - the Subpod

I’m supporting a new composting device we can sit on, smell no odour, and make part of our garden furniture, integrate with cafes and restaurants and parks, the Subpod and this blog describes it with a short video . Subpod say:

"Compost Central’s Subpod is a “low maintenance, efficient, and mess free composting that feeds soil”. This odorless mechanism can be placed in virtually any outdoor area. It has a flat top surface that allow for various seating or table uses. It’s smart design and ample air flow promotes plant growth and composting. Furthermore, it is very reasonably priced – ranging anywhere from $138-$187 depending on the size."

May the good soil and healthy plants be with you.