When we throw something away, we tend not to think about where exactly ‘away’ is. Disposal of waste is often regarded as someone else’s problem, something other people sort out for us and not something that factors into our daily lives. Indeed, our bin workers collect whatever ends up in the bin: out of sight, out of mind.
When it comes to food waste, we should be striving to use up our leftover scraps and avoid letting those forgotten veggies at the back of the fridge go mouldy.
But the best-laid plans of even the most practised zero-wasters sometimes go wrong. Then there are those items like eggshells, coffee grinds, and tea bags that are unlikely to appear on the menu no matter how much you spice them up.
So, what to do with the inevitable discards? If your local council collects food waste and provides you with a designated bin, the infrastructure is already there for you to start your composting journey! Just collect and deposit your food waste in the right bin, and you’re good to go. Some St Andrews halls of residency also offer food waste collection, such as David Russell Apartments and ABH.
If, like me, you are not in a position of such luxury, you probably put all food discards into your household waste to be carted off to landfill.
Given that about seven million tonnes of food waste are thrown away in the UK every year (most of it edible!), we’re here to give you some solutions for your food waste woes.
But what’s the problem with food going into landfill? Doesn’t it just break down?
Well, yes. But as it does, methane and carbon dioxide are released directly into the atmosphere.
Both are greenhouse gases. Both contribute to climate change.
When food waste is recycled on an industrial scale, the same gases are released but they are collected and used to produce heat, electricity or transport fuels. In this controlled environment, these gases become a renewable source of energy.
But won’t my food waste release the same gases whether it breaks down in landfill or in my back garden?
The fermentation process when food breaks down in landfill is anaerobic, and therefore releases both methane and carbon dioxide as greenhouse gases. Because of the scale of waste sent to landfill every day, the amount of oxygen present during food breakdown is very limited, meaning food waste cannot break down the same as it would naturally. Or in other words, through composting.
As long as you follow a couple of simple steps, the fermentation process in your compost heap will be aerobic. This means that you’ll avoid the production of methane (which is twenty-five times worse for the environment than carbon dioxide, and also stinks) and only carbon dioxide will be produced.
You’ll also be saving waste in landfill and, even better, you could use your compost as a natural fertiliser in your garden.
So, how to do it? Here are some ways to ensure that not another coffee ground or eggshell sees the inside of your household waste bin.
Option 1: the devil-may-care approach
For those with ample garden space to hide a compost heap (or simply little concern for the aesthetics of your backyard).
- Keep a container in your kitchen to fill with food waste (find an extensive list of what you can and can’t throw on your pile here).
- Locate a garden patch you’d like to reserve for your composting ambitions.
- Dump contents of container on garden patch, directly onto soil.
This is the route we’ve taken and it really is that simple (ours is hidden behind a bush, mind you). You may be surprised about what you can put on your heap — even your unwanted junk mail could find a lasting home there.
Have faith that nature will take its course. Small and microscopic animals are actually your friends. They won’t run rampant; they’re not pests.
If you’re an avid gardener, this method can be used to produce beautiful, rich compost. It just takes a bit more awareness of what you’re adding and when. Check out this site for more advice.
Option 2: go tidy with a container
For those with minimal garden space (and/or slightly more desire to maintain backyard aesthetics).
Choose a container to house your food waste rather than dumping it in a free-standing heap. Build your own if you’re feeling crafty (find instructions for a rustic wooden design here) or buy one if you’re feeling not-quite-so-crafty. Contact your local council to get it for cheap — mine offers them for £15.
The container still needs to be directly on the soil, but it’s tidy, clean and will fit into a snug space.
Option 3: take it indoors
For those with no outdoor space at all. And yes, it really is possible to do it without unwanted odours.
- Choose a lidded container (such as a plastic storage container or garbage can). It needs to be large enough to take, say, a week’s worth of food scraps yet small enough to fit into the space you’ve reserved for it.
- Make sure the container is aerated (remember, you’re going for aerobic fermentation). Drill holes if you need to.
- Put the bin on a tray to catch any liquid that accumulates.
If you are noticing any nasty smells wafting from the bin, there’s usually a simple solution. Find troubleshooting advice here. You’ll also find a recipe for ‘compost tea’ on this site (though it’s strictly reserved for plant consumption).
You do need a plan for what you’re going to do with your compost once it’s decomposed. Use it for indoor plant pots, spread it on window boxes, or perhaps a nearby green thumb would be grateful for some free fertiliser.
And there you have it! I remember thinking that composting was a complicated, time-consuming matter. It’s not the case.
We hope you find an option that works for you and that you enjoy your journey into the wonderful world of composting!