Friday, May 27, 2011

Reducing the rubbish bin - food scraps

One of the biggest concerns I have is rubbish. Not many people think about the impact their rubbish has or where it all goes. Most people do recycle, including me, but only when it's convenient.

But everybody should be aware of what happens to their rubbish. Where I live in New Zealand with just over 4 million people, every month we throw out enough rubbish to fill a football field 30 stories high! Every month! This rubbish doesn't just disappear. It ends up in landfills and takes hundreds of years to break down. I do not want the earth I live on to end up as one big landfill.

So what can I do?

Well I found out one of the largest items of waste is actually food scraps. The percentage changes of course depending on who you talk to but in my own personal experience I'd say about 10-20% of my rubbish was food scraps.

Great so here was an obvious place I could start. I'd heard about compost bins and worm farms for food recycling but I'm not much of a gardener (I am trying but I have a lack of a green thumb) so it was all rather confusing. Thankfully I found out my local community centre ran a composting for beginners course so I decided to go along and I was able to learn exactly what would work for me. Why don't you have a look in your community and see if they have something similar. They are often run for free by volunteers and I can tell you from experience that having someone there to ask questions and to show you things was invaluable.

But if you don't have anything like that nearby. Hopefully I might be able to help you out. Below I will try and outline the types of food recycling options to help you decide which is best for you.

Composting

In a nutshell: You put all your food scraps into a bin and it all breaks down into compost. You then use the compost in your garden.
Equipment Needed: Buy one - you can buy compost bins from your local gardening centre. Make one - It is possible to make compost bins either from old plastic rubbish bins or open aired ones using wood, check out youtube for how-to guides. You'll also need a pitchfork to turn the compost.
Things you'll need to know: It is best to alternate between green (food scraps, grass clippings) and brown (newspaper, tree prunings, dry leaves) waste. It can take a long time to break down, anywhere between 2 - 18 months so you'll need to be patient.
Choose composting if you: Have a garden.
Composting may not be for you if: You don't have a garden or enough outdoor space for one.


Worm farms

In a nutshell: You put all your food scraps into a bin full of worms and they break down your food. From this you get worm tea (also known as worm urine!) and vermicast (also known as worm poo!). Both can be used in your garden or on your pot plants.
Equipment Needed: Buy one - it really is easiest to buy a worm farm but they don't need to be expensive, the basic ones do the same job as the expensive ones. Make one - Again it is possible, check out youtube if you want to go this way. Worms! Not all bins will come with the worms.
Things you'll need to know: Start slow. Only feed as much as they can eat to stop food rotting before they get to it. Also worms can't eat everything, things like citrus and spicy foods will need to be left out.
Choose worm farms if you: Have a few potted plants but not a full garden. Have children (watching the worms is great fun for kids and helps to get them involved). Have a large garden and want to vary up the nutrients or supplement your compost heap.
Worm farms may not be for you if: Worms make you squeamish (but honestly I hate bugs and all creepy crawlies but I'm quite fine with my worms so you may want to give it a go anyway). A lot of your food scraps are things worms can't eat. You go away a lot or for extended periods of time, if you feed them up worms can survive without you for about 2-3 weeks but any longer than that and you may need to get someone in to feed them.

Bokashi

In a nutshell: You put all your food scraps into a bokashi bin with some fermenting powder and once its full close it up for a fortnight. You get a juice in the bottom of your bucket that can be used in the garden or to clear blocked drains. You are left with fermented food that you can bury in the garden.
Equipment Needed: You have to buy one http://www.zingbokashi.co.nz/. And you will need to buy the powder ongoing.
Things you'll need to know: You can put anything in bokashi including bones, meat and cooked food. Anything you can't put in compost or worm farms can go into bokashi. Because your food doesn't decay you do end up with a bucket full of fermented food scraps which are great to bury in your garden. 
Choose bokashi if you: Want to recycle food scraps that your compost bin or worm farm won't take. If you don't have much space, bokashi bins are nice and small.
Bokashi may not be for you if: You don't have anywhere to put the end waste product. Interestingly bokashi pitches itself as fantastic for apartments and town houses, however you still need to bury the end result in a garden. If you don't have anywhere to bury it, this could be a problem. 

What I chose

You don't need to choose one or the other. Your solution might be a combination of all of these. As I live in a rental house and don't have a large garden I decided a compost bin wasn't for me. However I decided a worm farm could work and I also got a Bokashi bin to try it out. In future posts I will tell you a bit more about both. Maybe one day I can tell you a bit more about composting too, but for now we'll stick with my worm farm.

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