Last week (and the week before) the documentary ‘War on Waste’ aired on the ABC. I had seen that it was coming up and had it tucked away somewhere in my sieve brain to try and catch it, and by some way of a miracle I remembered it was on! I watched on with interest, nodded a lot, gasped a bit, mmhmm-ed…but I had no idea that it would be so well received, so widely viewed, become hot topic ‘water cooler chatter’ and discussed so broadly in the aftermath. It has been all over the interwebs and throughout my social media feeds. You too? It seems it created just a few ripples, that turned into waves, and chatter that got louder, and discussion that evolved, and hopefully action. If you didn’t catch it you can watch it over on iView (again: interwebs, well done you, never ceases to amaze, the future: it’s here!)
We are by no means some super-Earth-saver zero waste plastic free household, hardly, but I’d also like to think we’re not completely lacking in common sense either…and a lot of the ‘waste’ I saw from average Australian households was easily avoidable, simple stuff, no? We are lucky enough here to have rubbish collection (some farmhouses we’ve lived in have not had this luxury and I think the ‘average’ Australian needs to include those in rural and remote locations), but we fill our red lid general rubbish bin about every two weeks, and our yellow lid recycling bin every 3-4 weeks. The idea of having to steal valuable bin real estate in your neighbours wheely bin just isn’t part of our equation, because a) we don’t really have neighbours and a street like that – ha! and b) our bin is never full, well not weekly anyway? We are obviously a family of four, and when I brought this up in my Instastories a few commented “but you grow most of your food, don’t you?!” “but you have cloth nappies!” Well, over Spring and Summer we grew a bit of food (tomatoes, zucchinis, cucumbers, corn, strawberries, beans) and obviously we have a very ready supply of potatoes. At the moment we don’t have anything coming out of our veggie patch (no Winter veg planted, slack, I know), we also don’t have on-farm meat here. And yes we use cloth nappies…but Eleanor is only in them half the time now (not because she’s toilet trained, trust me, but because she’s too big for cloth now!) and Harriet is in disposables a bit more recently with some nappy rash issues. Aaaaaanyway…I am just making the point that we are an ‘average Australian family’. I go to the supermarket, buy all sorts of groceries, fruit, veg, meat, yes most things are packaged unnecessarily to the nth degree…but still we don’t produce that much rubbish?
Apparently a third of household waste is food scraps, I can say that very little food goes in our bin. “But you have chooks!” I hear you cry. We have one chook…my dirty little secret that this crazy chook lady actually is without chooks currently! So, she doesn’t eat much. The chook that is, the crazy chook lady eats plenty #breastfeeding. If we have leftovers from dinner, it becomes tomorrow’s lunch…or the girls dinner…or our dinner…we throw out nothing. As for food wastage? Very rarely do I have a squishy tomato or soft zucchini. But still, I’m sure food waste and scraps makes up a fair proportion of our household rubbish. It must?! Mustn’t it? Although I think it might be minor compared to some, there’s always a way to improve. Always.
The point I am trying to get to is…
…we don’t compost! Disastrous. Another dirty little secret from this gardener. Having chooks, we just never really started a compost heap here when we moved back in 2014…most things just go to the chooks, the only things that used to go in my compost when we lived in South Australia were potato peels (fussy chooks wouldn’t eat them), banana peels, egg shells (which can be crushed up for shell grit for the chooks anyway) and coffee grounds (good to sprinkle around the garden as is for snail repellent). We dig in sheep manure from the shearing sheds for the garden, and sprinklings of lime and gypsum to fix any soil issues we have. But still, our own compost would be ideal, as well as getting rid of 100% of our food scraps. Win win. So let’s do this.
To start with, get a compost bin, or build your own…
We inherited this fairly standard plastic compost bin from my mum when she moved to Melbourne (no need for such a behemoth in a city apartment apparently!) Ideally I had my heart of one of those turn-and-tumble type bins, and Matt thinks that just an open air homemade scenario works best for air flow, and you can have a few bins on the go at different stages of decomposing, but I was worried about vermin (let it be known that the rats and mice will most definitely find their way into a plastic bin like ours anyway) and Mum had this, so that’s what we got!
For the the ideal ‘compost soup’ you need a few different important key ingredients…
The Brown Layer
In this layer you want things like cardboard, newspaper clippings, bark, leaves, sticks, straw or hay, crushed egg shells, any dry matter. Start with this as your base. Crunchy leaves are abundant at this time of year so it’s perfect timing to start a compost heap now. Things like leaves, sticks, newspaper clippings are also ideal as the shapes that they are create little pockets of air, essential for good bugs to grow and thrive and create compost!
In order for your compost to ‘grow’ and work efficiently, it needs to have the right level of moisture/air/light/warmth…a good sprinkling with the hose or watering can should ensure your compost is well on it’s way to doing it’s thing. The water will create the perfect environment for all the good yummy bugs to start growing and working away at your delicious compost. Water your dry matter/brown layer in liberally.
The Green Layer
This can include ‘softer’ ingredients with higher moisture content, like all food scraps, green garden clippings including grass cuttings. Add this layer on top of your wetted down brown layer.
A sprinkling of soil from your garden on top of your green layer can help kickstart or ‘seed’ your compost by introducing important bits and pieces of microorganisms already present in your garden. It’s a little piece of the puzzle, all these are important ‘layers’ in the lovely compost soup!
Now that you’ve started your compost…the hard bit is done! Honestly, as with most things, it’s just a matter of taking the first steps that you’ve been procrastinating about for months (hello: me! Years!) Add in your food scraps regularly, with a handful of dry matter/brown layer as well so that your compost creates a good balance. Pop the lid on (or cover with hessian if you’ve got an open air type arrangement). A warm position works best if you want your compost to work fast – ours is not in an overly warm spot though but I guess I’m in no hurry? It gets morning easterly sun but is shaded from afternoon sun by the shed. It’s nearby our veggie patch and chook pen though which is handy, you might also want yours easily accessible from the kitchen (ours is a bit of a trek). With a pitchfork every now and then turn your compost through, aerating it to get pockets of heat, light and air throughout. Over a few months the compost should start to work its magic and break down, and soon you’ll have delicious soil-looking compost. Nutrient rich and dense with the good stuff! If not, keep turning, keep adding, if it looks a little dry give it a sprinkle of water, looks a little wet add some more dry matter… It’s not rocket science but it is pretty amazing what can be created from some potato peels, coffee grounds and banana skins!
For more information on living a very low to zero waste lifestyle head over to fellow Gippsland blogger, Tammy’s amazing blog Gippsland Unwrapped.
She is a wealth of knowledge on how to reduce your household waste, whether that be in a very small way or a complete lifestyle overhaul. Like me, you might just think a little adjustment could make a big difference, or maybe you want to go big or go home and ditch plastic forever like Tammy! Either way, you’ll find Gippsland Unwrapped completely inspiring to live a life less wasted.