Green Waste Composting

Black Gold: Composting as easy as 1-2-3!

by Christina Cannes

I wanted to title this piece ‘composting for slackers,’ but opted to lure in people who don’t necessarily consider themselves slackers—just well-meaning folks who ‘haven’t gotten around to composting yet’ (wink, wink)!

We moved into a new house last year and found a composting bin waiting for us in the garden. For years and years, I’ve been meaning to compost. No more excuses—I’m holding myself to it!

Composting is a win-win—less carbon, more food!

Based on 25 council audits conducted by EC Sustainable in 2011, approximately 50% of the rubbish Australians put in the everyday mixed-waste rubbish bin could be put to better use in the garden (approximately 33% of our rubbish is food organics and about 10% is garden vegetation). This organically-active material buried without air in landfills causes over 3% of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions annually through the production of methane gas (which has 25 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide). If we were to all join forces and compost, we could not only actively fight climate change, but also reduce our need for water by 30% as well as grow amazing fruit and veg crops!

A survey by The Centre for Organic Research and Education (CORE) discovered that 80 per cent of Australians don’t recycle properly, clogging up our landfill sites unnecessarily with organic garden waste and food scraps. Each year, Australian families generate approximately 13.7 million tonnes of organic waste (over 6 million tonnes of that rubbish is disposed of in landfill).

According to Sunshine Coast Council, burying organic waste such as food, garden waste, paper, cardboard, timber, and textiles in a landfill causes it to decompose anaerobically (without oxygen). Anaerobic decomposition produces carbon dioxide and methane gases (both greenhouse gases), which enter the atmosphere and contribute to global warming and climate change. Methane gas emitted globally from landfilled waste has been estimated at approximately 40 million tonnes per year. Waste currently occupies 66% of the Sunshine Coast Council’s carbon footprint.

CORE Spokesperson Eric Love said that if every household started composting we could save more than a billion dollars each year. “Landfill is the most expensive form of waste management with costs escalating by a whopping 10 per cent in the last 3 years. Places to dispose of our waste are filling up fast and becoming scarce, many have already closed for good. We have to stop making the situation worse, by throwing out what we can recycle at home.”

Let’s Compost!

First off, please don’t sweat composting! It’s super easy and simply entails putting stuff in a separate bin just like recycling.  What can make it complicated, are all the fancy ways to compost. For most of us who live in a house on a small block of land with a few veggies and some herbs, it should not be complicated—you don’t need to construct an overly-ornate compost bin and treat it like a science experiment that may explode if you don’t layer it properly. Trust me, I was turned off by composting because there are, like everything, composting extremists who scare normal people away from it. While we love these green warriors deeply, please know that you do not have to treat your green waste like a precious baby. Now, let’s go through the steps…

  1. Composting containers

There are heaps of different types and designs of containers for storing compost. The goal is the same: to ensure a storage space for the natural process of composting, which is basically just heat. The ideal container enables heat to be retained to create energy and efficiently breakdown the material. If your compost is covered, it will retain more heat and prevent rain from making the compost too wet. Moisture is a necessary ingredient, but should only be as moist as grass cuttings and other green waste. If you don’t have a covered compost pile, no worries—just make sure it’s in a sunny spot and turn it over regularly with a pitchfork or shovel to keep the process going.

I have a tumbler bin, which keeps the heat in, rats and other vermin out, the compost moist and speeds up the break-down process. You can however, make all sorts of different containers based on your needs. Some containers require a little more hands-on care than others. Just keep it simple and make something perfect for YOU!

I also have a composting container in my kitchen that is basically an old bin with a lid on it. We keep it next to the recycling bin and sort out the green waste accordingly. By doing this, it’s decreased the rubbish going out each week curbside drastically.

The Tumbler Composting

  1. What Goes In

The goal is to balance the compost with nitrogen + carbon to ensure it breaks down well and provides lots of yummy nutrients to your soil. This is where people sometimes freak out, but it’s super easy to remember: add as much green waste as brown waste and you’re on the right track!

Green Waste (nitrogen containing ingredients)

  • Fresh grass clippings
  • Vegetable & fruit peelings
  • Yard trimmings (leaves, flowers, weeds)
  • Tea leaves (w/o the bags)

Brown Waste (carbon containing ingredients)

  • Dead or fallen leaves
  • Shredded paper (no colour, non-toxic ink)
  • Coffee grounds
  • Brown cardboard (boxes, egg crates, etc torn into small pieces)
  • Woody hedge clippings and twigs

Other ingredients

  • Egg shells
  • Hair (pet or human)
  • 100% wool or cotton (lint or cut into small pieces)
  • Vacuum-bag contents
  • Wood ash (small quantities)
  1. What Does Not Belong

  • Meat & fish
  • Dog & cat or any faeces
  • Cat litter
  • Glossy magazines
  • Coloured newspaper
  • Plastic
  • Animal carcasses
  • Grease or oil
  • Large wooden pieces
  • Barbecue coals and coal ash
  • Pesticide treated plant waste
  • Bread or any products made from grain
  • Milk products
  1. Black Gold

Layering different materials helps the composting process and enhances the finished product. The goal of course is to balance brown and green waste so the carbon and nitrogen levels of your compost stay even. This creates healthier compost! For example, if you chuck in a bunch of grass clippings (nitrogen) add some dried leaves and newspaper (carbon) to balance your compost.

Also, courser layers in the compost allow for air to flow through the compost which will aid in the breakdown process. The process of composting takes between two to nine months. The compost breaks down as it’s added, so the black gold will be harvested from the bottom of the container. Feed the goodness to your plants and pat yourself on the back—not only did you make some DIY fertilizer, you just reduced your carbon footprint!

Composting Tips

  1. Set up in direct sunlight and begin with a layer of twigs or sticks at the bottom to assist aeration and drainage (unless you have a tumbler!).
  2. Feed your compost system a balance of rapidly decomposing materials, ‘greens’ or nitrogen rich foods (vegetable and fruit scraps and green garden waste). Follow this with a layer of slow decomposing materials, ‘browns’ or carbon rich products (dry leaves, dry grass, shredded paper, or cardboard) and create layers.
  3. If you feel like it’s taking too long to break down, the compost could be too dry (add water, not getting enough air (toss it around) or not the right mix of brown and green (re-balance the mixture).
  4. If it’s smelly, this means the compost is too wet. Add some brown and turn it regularly.
  5. If you’re getting flies or vermin, cover with a layer of browns or soil and do not put any meat or dairy products in your compost.
  6. If it’s too wet, add brown organics and some sticks for drainage.
  7. If there are lots of ants, add water and mix in moist greens.

Green Bins

Alternatively, if you want to separate green waste and garden clippings, but do not want to dedicate yourself to maintaining a compost bin, Noosa and Sunshine Coast Councils offer green bins for use and collection. Check out their websites for more information. Please note, green bins do not accept food scraps, i.e. no fruit and veg—just garden clippings.

For more information about green bins, visit the Sunshine Coast Council website.

For more information about green waste services in Noosa Council, visit the website.

Why Compost?

  • No chemical fertilizers needed!
  • Compost helps retain soil moisture which means less watering!
  • Reduce waste collection!
  • Extend the life of overflowing landfills!
  • Improve soil and plant productivity!
  • Reduce your greenhouse gas impact!
  • It’s easy, healthy and rewarding!

Inside the Tumbler CompostingThe power of transformation is an amazing thing—watching former rubbish become nutrient-rich fertilizer does my heart good.

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