Faces of Food Waste, Episode 18: Urban Composting



Food scraps are characteristic to every household, no matter where it is located. Be it countryside, or city apartment - composting food waste is a good practice all around. Here’s how city dwellers should do it.


A Good Practice


Composting is truly a gift that keeps on giving. A holy grail for gardeners, a perfect answer for the environmentally conscious. By now it has become common knowledge that those who compost at home reap many benefits. It is a way to prevent recyclable organic matter from winding up in landfills and subsequently decomposing and entering air and soil [1]. Composting is the key to building high quality soil amendment; it has a lot of advantages, namely, it makes it possible for soil to store nutrients, water, and air, protects against drought, aids in maintaining a balanced pH, and shields plants from a variety of diseases that are frequently found in gardens. Additionally, it feeds the microbial life in the soil, including earthworms [2].


An absolute plethora of organic materials are suitable components of a compost, most obvious of which are bits and scraps of food - the waste that we all inevitably generate when storing and cooking food. That includes fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells, nutshells, grains, paper filters and paper teabags.

Composting in Urban Settings

City life often leaves little to no room for any garden setting due to high density of people, small living spaces and lack of accessibility to nature. Life in an apartment does not even guarantee a balcony or a backyard that would come in handy for installations like compost. These common conditions in urban settings lead many to believe that composting is not possible. Sure, in the countryside dumping all organic waste in a designated pile in the garden seems not only easy but also rather obvious for increasing the quality of soil in the garden all around. It may seem that in urban areas there is deficiency of space, means and applications for compost. But that is not entirely true.


Urban composting has been catching on in recent years; more and more city people are recognising that composting in their homes is not only possible, but advantageous, uncomplicated and fun, even. And all that there is to know - what are the required tools, conditions and ingredients to successfully compost from the comfort of your home.

Water, air, carbon, and nitrogen are necessary for a healthy compost pile or bin [3]. Dry materials like bread, wood shavings, shredded newspaper, pine needles, twigs, and brown plant components are typical carbon sources. There are called “brown waste” or “browns”.


Compost then needs nitrogen. Leaves, grass clippings, flowers, coffee grounds, fruit peels, vegetable scraps, and eggshells are examples of green, nitrogen-rich materials. These are the "greens". An appropriate ratio of carbon and nitrogen sources is essential. You run the risk of having dry compost if you have a surplus of browns. Then again, the compost won't break down quickly if there aren't enough greens as well. 25 to 30:1 is a favourable carbon to nitrogen ratio. This is equivalent to 25 to 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. To help with decomposition, your compost pile also needs appropriate amount of air and moisture. You'll observe that organisms that help in decomposition reproduce quickly when exposed to sufficient water and air. For indoor composting this requires a bin, tumbler or a bucket with a lid and some holes on the bottom and sides.


Alternatively, if you are ready for more of an investment, the market offers specialised compost buckets, bins and devices, called composters. These devices are already designed to have all the properties to start and execute effective composting, and with the help of technology can speed up composting processes while keeping unpleasant odours at bay and saving you time and effort. Nevertheless, these are not the only methods of recycling organic waste within your home.


Bokashi Method and Worm Farms


A popular indoor composting method is the Bokashi method. This Japanese compost technique follows the simple principle of fermenting food scraps with a compost accelerator that speeds up decomposition. To break it down, the process entails mixing food leftovers, including meat, dairy, and vegetable and fruit scraps, with a Bokashi inoculant in a specific bucket [4]. The inoculant typically contains sawdust, wheat germ, or wheat bran with molasses and effective microbes (EM). The microorganisms, which are naturally found in soil, are fed on the bran/molasses. Making your own Bokashi system is possible and a great solution for indoor composting. The Bokashi bucket has a faucet at the bottom to drain the generated liquid and an airtight lid. The liquid can be utilised as a very nutrient-rich "bokashi tea" that can serve as fertilizer for houseplants, but it must be drained off in order to keep the bucket from developing an unpleasant smell.


You may also purchase whole Bokashi composting kits online, from garden supply stores, or from stores that specialise in natural living. These companies also sell replenishment supplies like the microbes and bran/molasses.

Another method of indoor compost that is worth considering is worm bucket. Worm farm requires little effort and little space, as worms do all the work. The specific type of worms, called red wigglers, reproduce fast and are resilient to a range of temperatures, which means that with the help of high-nutrient worm castings, you will be producing rich compost in no time. Apply the worm castings to your houseplants, and they will undoubtedly thrive.


Getting Involved


Bottom line is, composting is useful no matter where you live. This practice instills smarter waste management and prevents the stream of food waste that ends up harming the environment. Even if your compost has no application in your own home or garden, there are ways to dispose of your compost in an environmentally conscious way. Fortunately, many cities recognise the pressing issue of food waste in urban areas, and as a result, more municipal compost programs are being introduced, where all residents are allowed and encouraged to discard their household’s organic waste [5]. If not municipal, then you might look into or even initiate community composting. This implies getting involved with like-minded people, putting heads together and making space in your area for the community to recycle their waste. A bit of effort and some good intention goes a long way for your household, your surroundings and the planet.



Author: Liva Puka



 
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References

  1. Composting at Home | United States EPA

  2. The Finished Product | Planet Natural Research Center

  3. Urban Composting and Compost Bins for Apartments and City Living | trvst

  4. The Basics of Bokashi Composting | The Spruce

  5. Composting in the City | Help Me Compost


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