Many more Australians will soon be composting their food waste. The Victorian government is launching its four-bin system starting this year, and the federal government is considering a plan to turn kitchen waste into fertilizer for farmers.

However, it can be difficult to know exactly what to put in your compost bin – and there are different views on whether to add items like meat and citrus fruits.

Composting is pretty straightforward, but it’s important to do it right. Otherwise, your compost mix may be too slimy, smelly, or attract bugs.

We’re experts in food resilience and sustainability and we’ve created this guide to get you on your way.

Your own composting system

Composting is a method of doing what happens in nature, where organic raw materials are converted into soft and spongy soil-like grains. These help the soil retain water and provide nutrients to plants.

In fact, compost is so valuable to your garden that it is often referred to as “black gold”.

A small compost heap in a garden. Photo: Edward Howell.

For those of you who do home composting, here’s how to make sure the system delivers what you need for your home gardening projects.

Of:

• Use a few bottomless containers so when one is full you can start the other in a shady spot

• Have a good mix of “brown” (two parts) and “green” (one part). Combine brown materials (hay, straw, sawdust, wood chips, leaves, weeds that haven’t turned into seeds) with leftover food and other materials (fruit and vegetable bowls and shells, tea bags, coffee grounds, egg shells) and some animal manure (chicken , Cow, horse)

• Let the temperature rise. Heat in the center of your compost heap is a good sign as the microbes will break down what you put in it. As the compost matures, it cools down and creates a great environment for worms and other microbes to complete the process

• Make sure your coffee grounds and tea bags can break. Remove the bag before placing it on the compost heap. Moist tea leaves can help your pile break up faster. Citrus fruits (lemons, oranges), flavorful peppers, onions, and garlic are fine. Just don’t add them to your worm farm. The worms suffer from the acidic conditions that arise when these objects disintegrate

• Get creative with natural “brown” materials – as long as there’s no plastic mixed in, throw it in. This includes everything from cereal boxes to cotton balls, wine corks, fireplace ash, human hair and animal fur.

Continue reading: I live in an apartment and have been composting for a year. Here is my advice for beginners …

Prohibitions:

• Don’t let your compost bin become a feast for local rodents like rats. Lightly bury the soil in the ground, line the container with wire mesh and keep it covered. Avoid adding leftover meat, cooking fats and oils, dairy products, and bones that attract vermin

• Don’t let your compost get smelly or slimy – that means it’s too wet. Slimy compost means you need to add more “brown” materials. You can also speed things up by digging through the pile every week or so, or adding extra pieces at different stages (chook poo, crushed rock, and lime) to make things go faster

• Don’t let nasty chemicals and germs get into your compost. These include treated wood waste, animal waste (if they are taking medication or eating meat), and diseased plants. Home compost bins are limited in their processing. It is a good idea to wear gloves as an extra safety measure.

Council Compost Collection

The municipalities are increasingly offering programs to collect food waste, sometimes together with garden green waste. In such cases, these materials are processed at large composting sites.

Colorful garbage cans. Photo: Nareeta Martin.

In Victoria, a four-bin waste and recycling system is being implemented in collaboration with the councils. Most households will use this system by 2030.

Gold Coast City Council recently diverted 553 tons of food waste from the landfill during a year-long trial. The program helps address the home composting challenges for the region’s many apartment and high-rise residents.

If your local council offers food waste collection, be sure to follow their do’s and don’ts advice. It may differ slightly from ours depending on where you live.

Continue reading: 10 Ways To Improve And Refill Your Soil For An Edible Gardening Success

To pack or not to pack?

It can be confusing figuring out how to pack your leftover food – be it for your household garbage or for the community gathering. Check your local roadside collection instructions to make sure your food waste is properly packaged.

You can try putting home compostable bags in your own compost bin and experimenting with the temperature of your container to get the best result. Compostable plastic is designed to break down into nutrients again. However, most still require managed high heat conditions to activate this process.

Don’t be fooled by the “degradable” bags – these are likely made of plastic and will simply break into millions of tiny pieces. As others have written, some “biodegradable” plastics made from plant materials may not be better for the environment and take as long to decompose as conventional plastics.

The benefits of composting

Making compost at home not only makes our trash cans easier and helps our gardens. It also helps fight climate change.

In Australia, rotting food waste in landfills produces methane each year, equivalent to around 6.8 million tons of carbon dioxide. If global food waste were a country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world after the US and China.

So there are many good reasons for composting. And if you follow a few simple rules, you can create your own “black gold” too.

This article is republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Author: Cheryl Desha, Associate Professor in the School of Engineering and Built Environment and Director of Engagement (Industry) at Griffith University; Kimberley Reis, Lecturer in Griffith University’s School of Engineering and Built Environment, Griffith University; and Savindi Caldera, Research Fellow at Griffith University’s Cities Research Institute.

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Cover picture by Eva Elijas.

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